Justice Gatson founded the Reale Justice Network in Kansas City, Missouri. Among other social justice issues, it focuses on ending the cash bail system, a national issue that disparately affects people of color.
Justice Gatson founded the Reale Justice Network in Kansas City, Missouri. (© 2020 Kelcie McKenney)
Three in five people in U.S. jails haven’t been convicted of crimes. What should people understand about the cash bail system?
It criminalizes poverty and being poor. Someone arrested for even a minor crime or a municipal code violation can be ordered to pay bail, and if they can’t afford it, they will sit in jail until their court date. In that time, they may lose their job, their home, custody of their children. Many plead guilty when they’re innocent simply to get out of jail—which then means they might lose the right to vote, lose their housing, and worse. It affects more Black and Brown people than anybody else. Not to say it doesn’t affect white people. I bailed out a woman who was in jail for having tall weeds in her yard. She happened to be a white woman who lived in a poor neighborhood.
Have there been successes since you spoke at the UUA General Assembly in 2018?
More people are aware of the system, and we’ve seen [Missouri] try to move towards getting rid of cash bail. This is happening across the country in various forms, but there’s much more to be done.
What’s Mama’s Day Bail Out?
We work with National Bail Out, a collective of Black-led organizations around the country that coordinate the Mama’s Day Bail Outs to bail out Black mamas and caregivers on Mother’s Day so they can return to their families. We raise money and put out information about the cash bail system so people can understand why it’s a bad thing. Here in Kansas City, we also try to hook our mamas up with the services they need once they’re out, like housing and mental health services.
You have a close relationship with Black Lives of UU, which organized a panel on cash bail at GA 2018.
BLUU just amaze me with all the ways they show up and support us. They recently were helping us raise funds for a very high bail for a young man, although the bail was reduced after the authorities found out I also work for the ACLU. I love the UUs.
How can allies help?
Educate yourself on the issue of cash bail so that you can articulate it to friends and family. Support Black- and Brown-led organizations that are doing bailouts. There are all kinds of bailouts happening around the country, including immigration [detention] bailouts. We already have organizations that are doing great work. Support them. If you can donate, please do (realejusticenetwork.org). Support the organizers who’ve been working on this for years. That’s what helps us move this forward.
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