By now, you know Michael Brown’s story. Hands up. Don’t shoot. For Black Americans, this is just reality. It feels like it takes no time for you to get pulled over by the police, but we couldn’t cover his body or get him out of the street for four hours. That type of trauma, it really seeps into the soil of a community. The thing about Ferguson you have to remember is people weren’t just protesting the death of an unarmed Black teen. People were protesting revenue-generating policing and the resurgence of the modern-day debtors’ prison to make people poor and keep people poor. Who are we? Mike Brown. Who are we? Mike Brown. Days of protests turned into weeks. Weeks into months. Prominent voices became leaders. And leaders took charge of a movement. This country has always devalued Black bodies; has never seen Black people as worthy of protection or their rights. If you look around today, those same protesters are still on the ground, reimagining what justice should look like. Cash bail is the driver of this institution, and it’s punishing people strictly for their poverty. Mike Brown, and the work that we’re doing right now is a continuation of the fight that he had in the middle of that street when he was literally fighting for his life. In this new vision of St. Louis, Missouri, elected officials answer to them. We’re not gonna stop. Every single tool that has literally oppressed communities just like this? We on the attack. I think what was very different about Mike was that everyone understood the interaction. You walk down a street. You’re coming home from a store. You’re hanging out with your friends. And the police pulls up. The conclusion of that interaction was far beyond what anyone thought possible. Kayla read is the co-director of Action St. Louis and one of the leading voices for justice reform in the city. I was a pharmacy technician that went out because she couldn’t believe what happened and five years later, I lead an organization that is building authentic power in St. Louis. Ferguson is a community that really speaks to a lot of the racialized history in a lot of cities like St. Louis. So pulling people over became the standard. Then Black people became something that you could exploit for money. A year after Michael Brown was killed, the U.S. Department of Justice released the Ferguson report. It found that Black residents were far more likely than white to be arrested and charged for minor traffic violations and petty citations. These are things like: speeding, running a traffic stop, broken taillights, expired registration, suspicion. If you have to choose between paying your rent or paying fines on a ticket, you’re gonna pay your rent. People were getting six and seven tickets per stop. And if they weren’t able to go to court and pay those fines, those fines will turn into warrants. And then when they were being pulled over they were not only being issued tickets, they were being arrested for previous tickets and then being jailed. And families having to pay to bail their loved ones out of jail for municipal tickets. Ferguson, in these direct and systemic, abusive practices, was making millions of dollars off the backs of poor people and people of color. Those who are most victimized by the current systems have known for a very long time the truth of how these things operate. Z Gorley and Blake Strode are part of ArchCity Defenders, a civil rights law firm that’s suing St. Louis over its unfair bail practices. This was never about public safety. It’s about making people poor and keeping people poor. A quick refresher: In Episode 1 of this series we explained how the bail system works. But if you can’t afford it, you stay in jail, even if you’re innocent. We are more likely to be pulled over. We are more likely to be ticketed. We are more likely to be arrested. We are more likely to be convicted. We are more likely to be sentenced to death. That’s across space and place. In St. Louis, Black residents are twice as likely to be arrested as white residents. And what’s more, the amounts they have to pay in bail are completely unaffordable for the average resident. $500, $1,000, $5,000. In communities where families are one check away from devastation, and we know that to be the case for most Americans, bail is devastation. People are sitting in jail for days and weeks for $150 or $300. Then you lose your job. And you lose your job, you can’t pay your rent. You can’t pay your rent, you get evicted. You get evicted, you’re forced into subpar living conditions. Your children are having to bounce from school district to school district. And it creates devastating impacts on Black people in this region. What we wanted to do was say that this is your table, your community, you have agency, you have joy. Mike Milton runs the St. Louis chapter of The Bail Project. It’s part of a nationwide effort to bail people out of jail who can’t afford it. Cash bail is absolutely unnecessary. And The Bail Project in St. Louis has proven it. 90 percent of the time, people who they’ve bailed out return to court. So, we’re headed to the bank now to get cashier’s checks for the clients we’re posting for today. What we’re able to do is provide some of that aid so that people can actually fight their case from the best position possible. I’ve gotten locked up for not having money to pay for these fines and fees. Me and my mom were driving to work and we got pulled over. And both of us had warrants. Both of us got locked up. Both of us was in a cell next to each other. And we both lost our jobs at that time. It’s about literal generations of poverty being attacked because people cannot afford their freedom. That’s why in St. Louis they’re not just trying to end cash bail. We want to close this facility. This is Montague Simmons. He’s a social justice advocate who’s been fighting for decades to shut down the St. Louis Medium Security Institution. Better known as the Workhouse. It was first established as a literal workhouse. Folks were taken there, especially when they had debts, to break limestone. They would actually work off their debt. Over 95 percent of the people held in the Workhouse are here in pretrial detention. We all know someone who’s been in the Workhouse. We all know someone who’s been impacted by bail. Over 90 percent of the people held in the Workhouse are Black, despite the fact that less than half the population of St. Louis is Black. There’s a huge segment of our community that’s literally being kept in cages and we want to see them set free. Bail is a perfect example of the kind of everyday injustice, everyday oppression, that folks took to the streets in Ferguson to protest, to say: this isn’t just some accidental tragedy that’s happened. There’s actually a scheme afoot to privilege some and disadvantage others. And the courts are starting to agree. In June 2019, a federal judge ordered the city of St. Louis to stop detaining people just because they couldn’t pay. The thing is, bail reform is a policy effort, but it’s also a political moment. Stunning political upset still making national headlines. This afternoon, St. Louis county prosecutor Bob McCulloch soundly defeated. Bob McCulloch was the prosecutor who refused to bring charges against the cop who killed Mike Brown. The answer in Ferguson when the officer wasn’t indicted for killing Mike Brown was that the prosecutor is an elected position. Just days into office, the winner, Wesley Bell, fired another veteran prosecutor in the Mike Brown case. We went through this political transformation where we understood that protest alone was not going to bring about the change. The thing you have to remember is: the criminal justice system in America is profoundly local. That means: You don’t need to wait for Congress. You don’t even need to wait for the Supreme Court. It turns out, change can happen as soon as people want it to. Or better, as soon as they vote for it. Judges have that power to make change in the bail system. In 2016, a lawsuit was filed against Harris County, Texas, that basically said the bail system is screwed up, and these are the people responsible for it. Judge Darryl Jordan was one of 16 judges named in the lawsuit. And he’s very clear on the problems with bail. We have people who could possibly lose their house, their car, their job, simply because they didn’t have the $200 or $300 to post money and go home. And so, Judge Jordan did something that most people named as unwitting defendants in a major lawsuit probably wouldn’t do. I agreed with it. I just told the truth about our practices as judges and basically what I thought needed to be changed. It’s important to note that, at the time, Judge Jordan had just been elected. So he wasn’t so much a part of the legacy of problematic bail as someone who really wanted to reform it. Two years go by, and nothing really changes. But then something big happened. Something really, really big. The 2018 elections. It was a sweeping decision 2018 win. 17 African American female judges won races for the first time. The other two kept their seats in Harris County. The Black girl magic campaign. Together, they made history and are about to make some big changes. Every single judge in Harris County Misdemeanor Court was voted out, except for Judge Jordan. And as for that Black girl magic? Six of those women are my colleagues now. Within 17 days of the new judges being on the bench, we had come up with a framework to settle the lawsuit. And just like that, cash bail in Harris County, Texas was – for the the most part – on its way out. But this is bigger than Harris County. Across the country, reformers want a smarter, more just pretrial release system. And it’s poised to be a major issue during the 2020 Democratic presidential primaries. But a lot of folks in St. Louis and around the country believe that the real solution lies in how we approach the criminal justice system as a whole. We cannot depend on police and cages to create safety in our communities, because it has never created safety in communities that look like me. By going out and asking folks what they actually want in order to have safer communities, they talk about things like parks and better schools, and after-school programs, and mental health facilities and job training. We have the power to put stuff in place that is more loving and compassionate, and more of an investment into the poor folks in St. Louis. One of the really beautiful things about the struggle that grew out of Ferguson is that so many of those folks have stayed in the work and are really leading the work in inspiring ways. I think, five years later, the uprising is alive and well inside those of us who were in Ferguson, and continue to do the work. This year, we saw Mike Brown’s mother run for Ferguson City Council. The uprising is in her. I worked on her campaign. I talked to her every day. The uprising is in me. There are people nationally who are demanding police accountability in ways that we haven’t seen. Ever. The uprising lives in them. There are moments that stick with Mike, back on those nights when they were hitting the streets, demanding change. And I remember getting shot by rubber bullets. And I remember seeing the tanks coming down the street. And when I looked around and I saw all of these Black faces passionately crying out. I saw Kayla and Montague at the front leading us and giving us the language that we wanted to give that said this is our freedom and there is a war on Black people in St. Louis and there’s a war on Black people in America. And in order for us to love each other well, we have to fight for our freedom. And we can’t stop. And we gotta, we gotta go to war for him. And for his family. And for – every Black boy that wanna walk down the middle of the street again. Hey guys, this is Angie. That was our final episode in our series about bail in America. If you want to learn about how the bail system works, head back to our first episode. And if you’re interested in learning about how black women, in particular, are impacted check out episode two. Thanks for watching and don’t forget to like, share and subscribe to AJ+.