I’ve recently written about the Des Moines Mutual Aid Bail Fund. Concentration camps versus abolition
A Quaker friend reminded me that some early Friends (Quakerism began in the mid 1600’s) refused to be released from prison by posting bail. For some it related to why they were incarcerated. Refusing to take oaths, for example. So paying bail could be seen as an implicit acknowledgement of wrongdoing. Or refusing to pay bail could be related to causing a continuing financial burden and/or embarrassment for the government.
What do we do about posting bail today?
The bail bond system currently exists as a part of the unjust criminal justice system in this country. Those with money can bail out. Those who can’t are incarcerated until their trial. If you or your supporters have the money do you pay?
I believe our work should be to abolish the criminal justice system as it exists now. A bail bond system would not be part of a just system of community justice.
But while that is happening, I believe we should pay bail for those who are arrested for agitating for the abolition of this very system. They are arrested to silence their voices. We need them out in public to continue the work of abolition of policing and prisons. This is financial privilege. But when we abolitionists are successful, no one will be incarcerated just because they don’t have money. (see #FreeThemAll below)
The idea of abolishing police and prisons seems threatening to our safety, at first. Of course who is “our” is the fundamental part of this. The current system of policing and incarceration is certainly not making things safe for black, indigenous and other people of color (BIPOC). It’s not only the dangers of engaging with police. It’s the constant state of terror in BIPOC communities.
I’ve been participating in the Quaker Abolition Network that was started by Mackenzie Barton-Rowledge and Jed Walsh. The following is from an article they wrote in the Western Friend.
Mackenzie: Let’s start with: What does being a police and prison abolitionist mean to you?
Jed: The way I think about abolition is first, rejecting the idea that anyone belongs in prison and that police make us safe. The second, and larger, part of abolition is the process of figuring out how to build a society that doesn’t require police or prisons.
Mackenzie: Yes! The next layer of complexity, in my opinion, is looking at systems of control and oppression. Who ends up in jail and prison? Under what circumstances do the police use violence?
As you start exploring these questions, it becomes painfully clear that police and prisons exist to maintain the white supremacist, heteronormative, capitalist status quo.Abolish the Police by Mackenzie Barton-Rowledge and Jed Walsh, Western Friend, November December, 2020
Abolition of slavery and its afterlives arises from a sense that the system of policing, prisons, and detention, including U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and U.S. Customs and Border Protection, is corrupt at its root: we cannot reform or tweak our way to a better system. The story of the Walnut Street Jail and Eastern State Penitentiary, both arising from Quaker and Protestant efforts to ameliorate suffering, demonstrates the dangers of innovating on systems and methodologies that foundationally dehumanize; criminalize; and do not offer justice and healing for victims, or true transformation for those who cause harm.
Abolitionist thinking is holistic—that ending the system of punishment and incarcerating control itself is necessary—and invites us to imagine a whole new way of not only dealing with harm but of how we think of ourselves in community. It provokes questions like, what does true justice look like? What does it mean to center healing and transforming relationships and create community safety from authentic accountability and relational reconnection? Abolition does not minimize the reality of harm or violence but rather invites us to consider a way of doing things that interrupts cycles of harm, violence, and trauma, and restores perpetrators and victims into community and their humanity.
What would it mean for us to take seriously and collectively as a Religious Society a call to finish the work of abolition, hand in hand and side by side with those affected and their loved ones? What would it mean for us to stand fully with the calls to abolish the police and fully fund community needs instead? What would it mean to reckon with our past complicity with harm and fully dedicate ourselves to the creation of a liberating Quaker faith that commits to build the revolutionary and healing faith we long to see come to fruition? What would it look like to finally and fully abolish slavery?A Quaker Call to Abolition and Creation by Lucy Duncan, Friends Journal, Friends Journal, April 1, 2021
Historically, the police and other law enforcement were formed to protect the interests and property of the moneyed classes from the rest of the People. This “property” included the bodies of the enslaved, and was the justification for brutally repressing the righteous and inevitable revolts born from the atrocity of slavery. This same philosophy of endless possession was the bloodlust that fueled the “Indian Wars” and the theft of Indigenous land and bodies that continues to this day. (Wampanoag, 2020)
Today, this same war of conquest, the repression of the many for the benefit of the few, continues.
Currently, Des Moines Mutual Aid and it’s many accomplices have been fighting a battle with the city of des moines and it’s foot soldiers trying to repress our houseless population from utilizing unused “property”. The basic universal need of a place to rest and be safe is trumped by the need of the wealthy, and the wannabe wealthy, to control every inch they can possess. It is a war for control, and the pigs have enlisted willingly.
This same war of conquest is currently using the mass incarceration machine to instill fear in the populace, warehouse cheap labor, and destabilize communities that dare to defy a system that would rather see you dead than noncompliant. This is the same war where it’s soldiers will kill a black or brown body, basically instinctively, because our very existence reminds them of all that they have stolen and the possibility of a revolution that can create a new world where conquest is a shameful memory.
As bleak as this is, there is a significant amount of resistance and hope to turn the tide we currently suffer under. We stand on the shoulders of giants that have been doing this work for centuries, and there are many lessons we can learn from.
The first, and possibly the most important, is that it was not always this way, which proves it does not have to stay this way.Ronnie James, The Police State and Why We Must Resist
The Des Moines Mutual Aid Bail Fund provides bail for protesters arrested in Central Iowa. Call us or leave a voicemail to request aid! Organized by Des Moines Mutual Aid, a group of street medics, social service providers, and community members.
Des Moines Mutual Aid Bail Fund
My friend Ronnie James told me how Des Moines Mutual Aid was started.
It started as group of my friends working with the houseless camps some years back. It has now grown into a solid crew that runs a free food store started by the Black Panthers, still work with the camps, we organized a bail fund that has gotten every protester out of jail the last few months, and we just started an eviction relief fund to try to get a head of the coming crisis, in cooperation with Des Moines BLM. We have raised $13,000 since Wednesday and the application to apply for the grants goes live this week.
The American Friends Service Committee (AFSC) supports #FreeThemAll
Immigration activists, prison abolitionists, and those calling to defund the police are organizing across the country under the call to #FreeThemAll. Together, we’re calling for the immediate release of people from behind bars as we continue to work for a future without incarceration.
#FreeThemAll booklet FreeThemAll_one-pager.pdf (afsc.org)
The peace testimony challenges Friends to be critical of the coercive aspects of imprisonment and to think creatively of ways of responding to crime that are less damaging.
Truth and integrity led many individuals to become prisoners of conscience. They are equally fundamental to restorative justice approaches. These seek to work towards the truth as represented in the experience of those involved so that they may be able to learn about others whilst experiencing that their own story is validated. Truth and reconciliation processes that seek to enable individuals and societies to move on and experience a degree of healing are forms of this. Friends in Rwanda were very active in this after the 1994 genocide.
Community is also a key motivation for advocating restorative justice, as it reminds Quakers that members of the community are damaged by crime. Quakers also have a longstanding concern for the relief of suffering due to famine, natural disasters and war. More recently concerns for situations nearer at home have emerged, especially for homeless, disadvantaged or elderly people and those who are particularly vulnerable, such as political prisoners, those with AIDS and those who are addicted to drugs. All these matters have a close connection to the causes of crime and Friends’ wish to meet needs, rather than punish behaviour.
The equality testimony leads Friends to seek a fairer distribution of wealth, and equal opportunities for employment, education, housing and health services. Fairness in these areas is key to preventing offending and to addressing the underlying causes rather than the symptoms.Quakers in the World, Testimonies and Crime and Justice
If we are proud of our heritage of opposition to slavery, we have no choice but to take a stand on mass incarceration. Last spring Central Philadelphia Monthly Meeting passed a minute in opposition to mass incarceration. As one step in bringing that minute to life, to test the role of outside observers in the effort to end cash bail, several members of our meeting recently ventured through a metal detector and down to the small basement room in Philadelphia’s Criminal Justice Center where bail hearings take place. There we found the court players separated by a glass wall from a few benches for observers. People who have been arrested appear via a video screen from where they are being held at different police districts around the city.
It was hard to watch people attempting to dispense justice in the midst of such an unjust system. There was no uniform treatment here. The Commissioner and DA’s rep in the second session were both much more punitive than those in the first. At one point, the latter recommended a bail of $300,000! That the Commissioner came down to $50,000 was probably of scant comfort to the guy on the screen. The $5000 required up front was clearly beyond his reach or the reach of anybody else we saw that day. Even the challenge of finding $500 for bail of $5000 would keep most of these folks in jail or send them straight to the bail bondsmen and their extortionate rates.
Did any of the thirty or forty people we observed need to be behind bars before their arraignment? Maybe the guy who had missed 23 of his last 26 court appearances. Possibly the two who had threatened family members. If so, then why not just say that those few need to stay in jail, rather than using a bail system that punishes the poor and lets the rich buy their way out? Looking at the bigger picture, the people who are seriously endangering us and eroding the quality of life in our country have fat wallets, work in high places and would never be caught by this system.
We now carry the weight of what we witnessed. How can those of us who have some protection from this part of our penal system take in its enormity? How can we face squarely the incredible injustice and pain that permeate it, and acknowledge how we have acquiesced to its existence? In a situation where silence implies consent, what needs to happen for us to speak out?Slavery, Mass Incarceration, and Ending Cash Bail, Central Philadelphia Monthly Meeting, by Terry Roberts 06/19/2018
David Wills (1903-1980) was a centrally important figure in the development of what is regarded as being one of the most just and humane types of holding regime. In the 1930s and 40s he developed the concept of therapeutic communities in Hawkspur Camp and the Barns Hostel School, based on principles of relationships and self-learning. His was a strong influence at Glebe House in Cambridgeshire, set up in 1969 as a therapeutic community for teenage men. His understanding of punishment as intrinsically evil led British Friends to take up this issue, and ‘Six Quakers look at Crime and Punishment’ – published in 1979, was the result.
Quakers in Action: Reformers in Criminal Justice, Jane Coppock, New Haven Friends Meeting 01/17/2018
In the story Diary of a Jailbird, my late friend Sherry Hutchison was arrested at a protest at the National Guard in Johnston about sending the Iowa National Guard to the Middle East in 2002.
After a long morning, it was time for lunch — a repeat of last night’s supper menu. A person could get malnutrition while gaining weight on jail food. It was late afternoon when a jailer came and told me to bring my mat and blanket; I was being bailed out! (Owen & D.J. Newlin were my benefactors.) The bail money had been brought that morning; it took all day for the jail & court people to labor through their paperwork.
Wendy and Carla had spent the night in the holding tank with Desiree and another young woman who was brought in. She’d been arrested on a warrant for missing her court date; she’d been giving birth to a baby at that time.
It was a relief to be able to change back into my own clothes, get my wrist watch back, and to be able to discipline my hair again with the clips and hair band I’d had to take off — and to see cars driven by friends ready to take us all back to our cars or home. I was thankful merely to feel like a human being again.