“The unfairness of waiting in jail because you can’t pay your bail and it’s connected to a lot of the bigger things that we were thinking about this year,” said Andrew Yang, a principal member of Circle Mobilizing Because Black Lives Matter, about the group’s upcoming festival.
The local group is a compassion team that works as part of the Circle of Hope church in Philadelphia and New Jersey, and it core focus is bailing out Black mothers and fathers.
Yang spoke with Billy Penn about how the unfairness of not being able to pay one’s bail is connected to the group’s work on criminal justice reform, within what he called the racist law enforcement system.
In November, Circle Mobilizing Because Black Lives Matter will hold its first festival event, TurnUp to BailOut, aimed at raising awareness of the cash bail system. The festival will showcase music from Kingsley Ibeneche, Jasmine Cassell, Lauren Scott and Jon Williams, with all proceeds going toward bailing out Black mothers and fathers incarcerated during the holiday season.
Billy Penn was able to speak to three of the members of Circle Mobilizing Because Black Lives Matter — Yang, Bethany Stewart and Kris Eden — about the event to learn what they hope people will take away from attending.
Why is it important to have an event like TurnUp to BailOut in Philadelphia?
Andrew Yang: It’s important because we’re raising awareness of the cash bail system and this is a big forum that we can advertise about it.
We can invite Black artists and Black-owned business people to participate in it and also raise money for the Philadelphia Community Bailout Fund.
These people are sitting in jail because they’re poor. Combined with these discriminatory arrest practices and stop and frisk practices, it becomes a racial justice issue.
Bethany Stewart: The Philadelphia Community Bailout Fund is currently expanding and the event is kind of a kick-out to that expansion, so the Philadelphia Bailout Fund began with the Mama’s Bailout Day that happened back in May. This event is in support of it in expanding not only to mothers, but fathers who are incarcerated and more as time goes on.
Do you think this event will allow people to better understand the challenges that families are faced with on a daily level?
Stewart: I’m not sure if this event will necessarily do that, but I think it will make people pursue more information about mass incarceration and the cash bail system. We will touch on some things, but I’m hoping that this night of Black joy will help people pursue more information.
The Nov.18th event is open to the public for the cost of $15. Who do you hope will attend this event?
Kris Eden: What I think is really inspiring about this event is that I’m hoping it can exonerate people who have family, friends who are in [the] jail system. In my mind they kind of have been the target audience. Beyond that, I think people in our congregation will be a big part, and also other partners. I really hope this is a way for us to build connections to keep doing this kind of work and make plans for next year.
With the event still a month away, there has been positive interest online. Have people seemed supportive of the concept for this event so far?
Stewart: I’ve noticed that people are almost surprisingly really supportive. I think especially because of the Kalief Browder story that came out earlier this year. A lot of people are more aware of the injustice of the cash bail system, so that’s kind of been a good kickoff for this event. The fact that people are already aware because it’s been talked about.
The cash bail situation in Philadelphia is a hot-button topic, especially within the current race for district attorney. What do you say to people who are looking from the outside and just don’t understand what your group is doing or why?
Yang: I think there are people that are actively resistant to this idea. What do you say to people? I don’t know. I think when you have limited resources you have to be smart about what you do with those resources. There are people who are ignorant and just don’t know, but there are people who are persuadable. I think as a church team, as a team that arises out of the church, out of faith tradition, we believe that we do this work because Jesus calls us to do it.
Maybe this is the evangelical in me, but sometimes I think, what are you going to say when you’re in front of Jesus and he asks you why didn’t you visit me in prison? That’s what I would say to a Christian.
To a person who’s not Christian, I’d point out the importance of this issue in people’s lives and also economically. The fact that we keep people in jail who don’t need to be in jail cost the city tens of thousands of dollars every year.
How will the money raised through the event be used and distributed?
Stewart: There’s a coalition that interviews women who approach us right now and the coalition reviews the interviews and we talk to [the inmate’s] support system to see who’s going to be there for them when they get back and what they need once they get back from prison.
That’s kind of how we decide how we’re going to distribute the bail money, by talking to their support system and setting up a structure to support them when they get back.