Broke in Philly

Philly bail funds raise over $1.8 million as protests and marches roil the city 

The influx of donations follows a similar surge in Minneapolis.

Police arrest some of the protesters who'd flooded I-676 during a rally against police brutality

Police arrest some of the protesters who'd flooded I-676 during a rally against police brutality

Emma Lee / WHYY
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Two Philly nonprofits that bail out people who can’t afford it have raised a collective $1.8 million since protests erupted across the city on Friday in the wake of George Floyd’s killing.

The Philadelphia Community Bail Fund and the Philadelphia Bail Fund, two separate groups which work in conjunction, said the money is already helping release protesters and others who can not afford to pay the 10% needed for release.

The surge in bail fund donations is not exclusive to the city. The Minnesota Freedom Fund, a Minneapolis-based nonprofit that has gained national spotlight since Floyd’s death, reported raising over $20 million in the last week.

Over the weekend, rapper and North Philly native Tierra Whack posted $1,000 to the Philadelphia Community Bail Fund and urged others to match her contribution.

Candace McKinley, lead organizer of that fund, said they received more than 14,000 donations since Friday, totaling over $789,000. That’s nearly double the group’s previous high mark, when a campaign raised $363,000 over the course of an entire month.

“For two or three days, that’s amazing,” McKinley said.

Malik Neal, director of the Philadelphia Bail Fund, said his group raised more than $1 million in donations over the last three days, coming from over 22,000 individual contributions.

The money moves quickly, however. More than 400 people were arrested over the weekend, including 314 for failure to disperse and curfew violations, Police Commissioner Danielle Outlaw said.

In a seven-hour period on Monday, Neal’s team posted bail for 19 people at a total of $45,000.

Neal praised the donations, but noted they pale in comparison to the scope of the total cash bail obligations that pile up in Philadelphia’s court system every week. Bail arraignments over a seven-day period in May totalled nearly $40 million, according to the Bail Fund’s latest report.

Due to its recent surge, the Bail Fund is encouraging people to spread their contributions to other organizations.

Using mostly volunteers, both funds rely on referrals from 24-7 arrest hotlines, monitor bail hearings and also check court dockets hourly in hopes of identifying cases where they can post bail before an individual is transferred from a district precinct to the city’s main jails on State Road.

“We’re really trying to get folks before they get to jail, and the only way we can do that is by monitoring the dockets, so sometimes we have folks up at 2 a.m.,” Neal said.

Proponents of cash bail say it helps ensure defendants show up in court for their necessary appearances. Last year, the Philadelphia Bail Fund reported that, among 130 people it helped secure early release, 90% kept up with their court obligations.

Both funds were already working at a frenzied clip due to the pandemic. Since March, the coronavirus has infected nearly 200 people in the city’s four correctional facilities, though the city reported zero “active” cases as of Monday. The crisis has also led to distressing lockdown conditions for people incarcerated there, who report spending more than 23 hours a day in their cells.

Since its founding in 2017, the Community Bail Fund has posted bonds for 387 people worth a total spent $1.5 million. The group also tries to connect individuals with other necessities, like food and housing. Nearly 40% of its bailouts have happened since March of this year.

“I’m worried about people being sent up to the jails on State Road because we already know conditions there are appalling,” McKinley said. “We know people aren’t fed regularly, not getting cleaning supplies.”

She added: “There’s no reason to add people to the jail population for these protests.”

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