Across the country yesterday, Mothers’ Day gatherings were both joyful and fraught. But for one group of black mothers—imprisoned but not convicted, languishing in jail without bail money—deliverance came from a group of activists. A large coalition, including the Movement for Black Lives, organized the “National Mama’s Day Bailout,” which aimed at getting black mothers (and mother figures) out of jail to reunite with their kids in time for yesterday’s holiday.
In Atlanta, the scene looked like this: “Folks were so grateful and some women were weeping. Some women had been in a cage for months, for days and were non-responsive and overwhelmed even though they knew that this was happening. I don’t think they realized how much love [was in the community for them],” Mary Hooks, co-director of Southerners on New Ground, an Atlanta-based queer liberation organization, told NBC News.
Last week, writer Dani McClain examined the intention behind the “bail out” movement in The Nation, reminding us that “ any of the women who will be freed are in jail for low-level offenses such as loitering or small-scale drug possession. Nationwide, nearly a third of all women in jail have serious mental health issues, and the racial disparity is clear: Black women make up 44 percent of women in jails.”
As to why the organizers chose to focus on black moms on Mother’s Day, McClain explains the symbolism:
“Mother’s Day, with its idealized notions of family and womanhood, is the right moment to force an examination of women in jails, said Arissa Hall, a national Mama’s Bail Out Day organizer and project manager at the Brooklyn Community Bail Fund. “All mothers are not celebrated,” she said, adding that this is especially true of women who struggle with poverty, addiction, and mental-health issues—in other words, the women who fill our jails. “Black moms especially have not been granted that title of motherhood,” she added, going on to describe how slavery shredded kinship bonds. Black women, too, she noted, have historically taken on caretaker roles that have put them in charge of other people’s children and away from their own.”
One of the most discriminatory aspects of our criminal justice system is the high price of bail, ensuring that many people simply cannot afford bail and sit in prison without a conviction or even a trial date. If you’re in touch with local politicians, advocating for reasonable bail prices is a great way to take action for racial and economic justice.
Watch the video from the bail out coalition below: