When I was only 18-years-old, I was attacked by Walmart security guards. My alleged “crime” was eating a muffin from a package of three $0.99 muffins that my mother was paying for in line. But my mother was white, and I am not. The Walmart security guards in Simi Valley, California assumed I was an “illegal immigrant” and violently attacked me, even though I had broken no law.
I fought back against my attackers, and for my troubles, I was arrested and jailed on a bail that my family could not possibly hope to pay. It took over a decade of legal battles to get my charges all dropped. Eventually I did. I was not convicted of even on of the numerous trumped up charges against me.
There are many people like me who are locked up on various spurious charges. Many of them remain behind bars for weeks – or even longer – because they cannot afford bail.
Now, thousands of detainees accused of low-level or non-violent offenses in New York City will soon be freed without being required to post bail. This would not have helped me much, as Walmart colluding with the Simi Valley Police Department even managed to charge me with “attempted murder” for fighting back. Again, these charges were all dropped, but they were enough to disrupt my life and delay my collect education for two years (I am now a masters student).
New York is like my second home, and in many ways laws it sets the pace for the rest of the nation. Under the city’s new plan to reduce the number of inmates in the city’s beleaguered jail system, thousands of low-risk defendants will be able to return to their jobs, school and lives even after being arrested for low level crimes which they may, or very well may not, have been guilty of.
The de Blasio administration announced Wednesday they are creating a $17.8 million fund that will allow judges to substitute bail for an estimated 3,000 low-risk defendants starting next year. Instead of bail, the money will be used on a modern supervision system, requiring daily check-ins, text message notices and linking them with drug counseling and behavior treatment.
It’s far from perfect, but it seems a marked improvement over locking people in cages and asking questions later.
“There is a very real human cost to how our criminal justice system treats people while they wait for trial,” Mayor de Blasio stated.
“Money bail is a problem because — as the system currently operates in New York — some people are being detained based on the size of their bank account, not the risk they pose.”
This will primarily effect non-white and otherwise poor suspects, who are often stuck in jail, even on the most trivial of offenses due to lack of funds. This jail time – without conviction – can cause one’s life to fall apart at the seams, due to losing a job, getting kicked out of school and the like. But the system seems designed to make the poor and so-called “minorities” fail.
“That is unacceptable,” de Blasio said, in his statement responding to this disparity. “If people can be safely supervised in the community, they should be allowed to remain there regardless of their ability to pay.”
If this law would have been in effect when Kalief Browder, at age 16, was locked in a cage for a trumped up charge of “backpack stealing” then he would never have been required to pay the outrageous $3,000 bail that his family could not pay.
His lengthy detention without conviction led to a downward spiral that eventually resulted in his own suicide. All over allegations of a stolen backpack – not even a conviction.