Walker, Wright, Black Mothers Rally For Bail Reforms During Coronavirus Crisis

Assemblywoman Jo Anne Simon (1)

A band of activist organizations and women of color gathered in a digital rally with elected officials Assemblymember Latrice Walker (D-Brownsville) and Assemblymember Tremaine Wright (D-Bed-Stuy, Northern Crown Heights) to reject any rollbacks on bail reform that ordinarily would be addressed in the budget on April 1. 

The rally was led by Monifa Bandele of MomsRising and Anthonine Pierre of Brooklyn Movement Center, citing emotional cases like Kalief Browder’s unfortunate suicide in Rikers Island as motivation for Black and brown mothers to advocate against cash bail. 

“We have represented, from all over the state, Black women and mothers to say no bail rollbacks. Too many families are forced to experience the inhumane realities of what it is to be incarcerated inside of a New York jail,” said Bandele. 

Before the coronavirus outbreak, the divisive bail reforms that went into effect at the very beginning of the year had politicians at each other’s throats about possible consequences for the city’s crime rates.

“We know that jails don’t trap disease, they spread it, both among the incarcerated population and beyond,” said Clarise McCants of Color of Change, a nonprofit group aimed at strengthening the political voice of Black Americans. “There’s overcrowding, poor sanitation, pest infestations, all of which make these cages incubators for disease.”

The feuding was interrupted by the current lockdown in New York City that called for the immediate release of as many incarcerated people as possible to lessen the impact the virus will have on jails and prisons. Nonviolent and misdemeanor offenders were let out under the new law but also once the situation in the city became dire enough to curb the spread. So with only a month or so of real data, it’s still hard to substantiate how the legislation is affecting the city. 

Assemblywoman Latrice Walker

“We are in the midst of finalizing the budget,” said Walker as she popped onto the video screen. She had a surgical face mask pulled down and was sitting in the stairwell, after checking on her diabetic and elderly mother to take the video call. “The conversation has basically been about the Governor and the Senate trying to push rollbacks on bail.”

Walker said the bail reform conversation centered around a “dangerousness” that often hurts communities of color because its criteria is so subjective.

“We need to let the Governor know he’s doing a great job when it comes to COVID-19 and keeping the people informed but we want you to have the same stance in public about bail that you’re having with the crisis we’re in,” said Walker. “These backroom door deals don’t make sense.”  

Brunilda Rivera from New Hour for Women and Children in Long Island spoke tearfully about her daughter, who is on Rikers Island. “She is a parolee on hold,” said Rivera, “This bail reform thing is so important. If it wasn’t for me not being able to afford to get her out on that hold she would’ve been out and probably getting the treatment she needed. Right now she’s sitting on Rikers Island scared to death.”  

“They’re still being forced to pay for soap and basic necessities during a time of crisis,” said Charis Humphrey of Black Love Resists in the Rust, which is a leadership development organization for young people of color in Buffalo, New York. “We need our family members to be released from prison before COVID19 wildly spreads throughout the prison system and raises the mortality rate we will have to endure from this virus.” 

Walker maintained that a decision like this needed everyone in Albany to make either way, and with the coronavirus outbreak numbers surging, wasn’t worth the risk to her family for rollbacks she doesn’t agree with. 

Tremaine Wright
Assemblymember Tremaine Wright

“I promise you the Black, Puerto Rican, Hispanic, and Asian Caucus is in support of us holding the line. We are very firm that we do not want to see rollbacks. We do not understand how after less than 90 days, we have the information necessary to make changes to a law,” said Assemblymember Wright. 

No one can travel and show up in person at this time, but that doesn’t mean that public officials and advocacy groups are giving up the fight.