Updated May 15 with ongoing fundraising — The creators of #BlackMamaBailoutSTL — Arch City Defenders, the St. Louis Action Council, and Decarcerate St. Louis — want to continue helping the women they bailed out long past Mother's Day.
Eight women were able to spend Mother's Day out of jail and with their families thanks to the money raised by the campaign. Riding the initial success of the effort, the three organizations have now created #BeyondBail, a fundraiser to offer holistic support to the women released over the weekend. As their donation page states, "whether that is defending a woman in court, taking her to look at an apartment, or picking her up from a job interview."
Original story from May 13 — Surrounded by a dozen or so protesters, Kennard Williams stood outside of St. Louis City Hall on Thursday staring skeptically at city officials who were locking the gates to the building’s front doors. The protest, planned by Williams and others, called on Mayor Lyda Krewson to close the city’s Medium Security Institution, also known as the Workhouse.
It was part of a larger challenge to the city’s cash bond system from St. Louis activists with an unlikely partner in mind — Mother’s Day.
#BlackMamaBailoutSTL is the local arm of a national effort to get moms out of jail who would otherwise be missing Mother’s Day with their children because they can’t afford to post bail. The fundraising effort was coordinated by three organizations, the St. Louis Action Council, Arch City Defenders, and Decarcerate St. Louis.
“Outside of getting mothers out of jail, our goal is to draw attention to the system that put them there,” Williams said. “We need to have have real conversations about dismantling institutions that are empowered by locking people up because they can’t pay. It’s criminalizing poverty.”
“The community really pulled together around this concept that money should not be a reason that mothers are not home with their children,” said Kayla Reed, an organizer with St. Louis Action Council. “The true faceless, nameless victims of this are these kids who have to figure out how to survive while mom is away for days or weeks or months.
The money raised went directly to posting bail for black mothers. The bail amounts range anywhere from under $100, to well over $1,000.
Part of tying bail reform and Mother’s Day is humanizing what can sometimes feel like an obscure, bureaucratic topic, said Darian Wigfall, another organizer with St. Louis Action Council.
“If you were in that situation yourself, how would you want to be treated? Would you want people to politicize your case, or would you want them to help you get out of jail?” Wigfall asked. “You can’t forget the human element — once you have that empathy is when people tend to act. The empathy gap is what really allows us to vilify a whole group of people and never think twice about it.”
Backed by a small army of volunteers, Reed and other organizers put together care packages for the women including flowers, cards, makeup and perfumes. But, for them, it’s even more important to make sure the mothers are supported for every step that comes after being released from jail.
“That’s the most important work to stop this from becoming a cycle — making sure these women we’re bailing out have support on the back end after they’re released,” said Reed. “Arch City Defenders has worked very hard to ensure they have access to legal support and resources that can help them find stable housing and employment.”
Once the cases of the bailed out mothers are resolved, organizers hope the money raised can continue cycling back to help even more people who aren't able to afford their bail payments. A similar effort is also planned for Father’s Day.
Reed says she sees #BlackMamaBailoutSTL as a continuation of the work many local activists have done around municipal court reform since Michael Brown was killed in 2014.
“I think as St. Louis and the movement here continues to grow and situate itself to a long term commitment to change, we need to keep building relationships with people who live in the margins,” Reed said. “It really is an action that is deeply rooted in the idea of community and love and support.”
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