Keilee Fant was jailed for 50 days over an unpaid bond.
Most years, Mother's Day arrives with plans for brunch and last-minute orders on flowers. But in 2017, social justice organizations across the country — including those inspired by the Ferguson protests and the Black Lives Matter movement — are seeking to accomplish something much more meaningful than anything you'd find in a Hallmark card.
For Mother's Day this year, St. Louis activists want to set moms free. All it takes is paying their bail.
Inspired by Black Lives Matter organizers in Atlanta, St. Louis groups ArchCity Defenders, St. Louis Action Council and Decarcerate St. Louis launched the crowdfunding campaign on Wednesday. Using the hashtag #BlackMamasBailoutSTL, it took less than one day to blow past the initial $5,000 goal. By the time the fundraiser ended on Thursday afternoon, 183 donors had raised more than $13,000.
For ArchCity Defenders executive director Thomas Harvey, that's amazing news. ArchCity staffers were still evaluating cases when we checked in on Thursday, but Harvey told Riverfront Times earlier this week that the groups plan to begin freeing black moms charged with misdemeanors or municipal violations as soon as possible. According to an ArchCity Facebook post, the first mom was released Thursday night.
Important to note: These are not women who've been found guilty of crimes. (In that case, money wouldn't solve the problem.) These are women awaiting trial, people who in some cases can't afford to post even a few hundred dollars of bail.
Efforts to abolish the U.S.'s cash-bail system have increased in the past few years, but even before the Ferguson protests cast a national spotlight on the St. Louis area's web of municipal courts, Harvey and the ArchCity attorneys were fighting to end the practice of jailing people who simply couldn't afford to pay their bonds.
A misdemeanor or traffic violation doesn't sound like much of a burden, but those who are too poor to pay up commonly find themselves losing jobs, homes and even custody of their children. These are the cases ArchCity is highlighting in videos and memes attached to the fundraising campaign.
"It is clear that this system impacts both white people and black people, and all poor people," Harvey says. "But as is the case with virtually every other indicator that’s tied to poverty in America, it impacts communities of color at a a disproportionate rate. This is an effort to highlight the way in which these systems impact African American women, and we are using Mother’s Day as a way to lift that issue up."
Kayla Reed, of the St. Louis Action Council, says the campaign's focus on black mothers is a way to prioritize the needs of those arguably hurt the most by the cash-bail system.
Eight years ago, Reed saw the damage wrought by that system first-hand, during a full year in which her mother languished in the Clayton Justice Center because of unpaid bail fees.
"I’ve experienced it myself, and I know too well just from being from St. Louis the reality of our arresting and incarcerating system," she says. "We need to start figuring out ways to alleviate the pain and suffering that comes from these systems while we’re working to reform them."
In addition to planning a similar crowdfunding campaign to coincide with Father's Day, Reed and the St. Louis Action Council are seeking volunteers and donations to assemble care packages and other assistance for the freed moms.
Those interested in helping those efforts should reach out to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Follow Danny Wicentowski on Twitter at @D_Towski. E-mail the author at Danny.Wicentowski@RiverfrontTimes.com
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