Black Led and Black Centered Grassroots Organizations Urge Black Leadership in Albany to Reject Rollbacks to Bail and Discovery Reforms

By Black Led and Black Centered Grassroots Organizations | April 5, 2022

(NEW YORK) – Black Led and Black Centered Grassroots Organizations released an open letter to Black statewide elected officials urging leadership to reject rollbacks to bail and discovery reforms and demanding that Black legislators vote no on the budget if it includes rollbacks.

The letter reads:

For the third consecutive year, New York leaders are actively working on cleaving back the historic bail and discovery reforms that have saved unknown lives from the trauma, violence and dehumanization of unjust pretrial jailing. This capitulation to political pressure – driven by insatiable mass incarceration preservationist law enforcement and Republicans, and built upon antiBlack, fearmongering narratives that pit Black lives against “public safety” –has to end.

Bail reform has been working to reduce jail and prison populations, to make it harder for prosecutors to railroad our communities into unfair guilty pleas and to ensure fewer Black families have to make the choice between putting food on the table and paying for our loved ones’ freedom. We are safer for it. We are talking about saving our mothers, fathers, sisters, brothers, cousins and neighbors. This is not hypothetical.

And these precious gains have only made all of our communities safer. The white supremacist status quo will always try to villainize any policy or practice that meaningfully frees Black people. But endless data and lived experience has repeatedly shown absolutely no link between these reforms and the higher rates of reported interpersonal violence. Less than two percent of cases impacted by bail reform led to a rearrest on any violent felony and in over eighty-percent of the cases impacted by bail reform, the accused was not rearrested at all.

In spite of these facts, bail reform is in danger of being overhauled yet again. As our elected leaders enter the final days and hours of budget negotiations, the policies on the table would prove catastrophic for Black people in this state. The Governor’s 10-point mass incarceration plan is by far the most harmful. It codifies racial and class bias into bail legislation by adding a “dangerousness” standard, criminalizes poverty on the street and in courts by jailing Black people on the lowest of charges like petty theft, criminalizes Black youth as adults, and would undo Kalief’s Law which requires prosecutors turn over evidence before stating that they are ready for trial. The intersection between these bail rollbacks and Mayor Eric Adams’ mass policing plan essentially incentives and rewards police for making repeated, often unlawful, targeted violence arrests of Black and poor people, disproportionately youth.

We expected our Black leadership to reject these proposals outright and instead call for investment in housing, mental health, and jobs. But that has not been the case. Instead, the Black-led New York Senate put forth a proposal that would expose countless more Black people to pretrial jailing, most egregiously for extremely low-level accusations like petty theft. Prior to bail reform, Black New Yorkers were twice as likely as white New Yorkers to be incarcerated pretrial. Outside of New York City, 60 percent of people held on bail had only a misdemeanor or violation as their most serious charge. Unsurprisingly, in the city 50% of the people arrested on misdemeanors are Black even though we only make up a quarter of the city’s population. This amounts to a targeted attack on poor and low-income Black people who are most acutely impacted by social inequities worsened by the pandemic and are also the least likely to be able to afford even low bail amounts. If the central principle of bail reform was to end the criminalization of poverty and reduce racial inequities in the pretrial system, then the Senate’s proposal undermines that entirely.

We will no longer allow for the lives of Black New Yorkers to be used as bargaining chips for political games.

We are calling on our Black leadership, Senator Andrea Stewart-Cousins and Speaker Carl Heastie, to be the leaders that we elected them to be and place people over politics by resisting any rollbacks to bail reform and discovery reform.

We are also calling on Black Senators and Assemblymembers to vote no on any budget that rolls back discovery or bail reform. We would be remiss to not uplift the fierce and admirable advocacy of Assemblywoman Latrice Walker who has been both holding the line and putting her body on the line to protect these lifesaving reforms. The stakes are high. This is the type of leadership we need. No rollbacks!

“Our elected officials casually ignore that our criminal system is direct lineage from chattel slavery. It is a longstanding cycle that when Black people get an inch of freedom, the system takes back a mile. So just like opposition forces did back then after “emancipation,” reconstruction, and the civil rights era, the status quo is here to collect and take us backwards. We cannot take that any longer. It is time to break the cycle and not give into racist fearmongering. The truth is bail reform works and it is up to us to protect it and our people. Otherwise, we will never see progress and we will never be free,” said Kasey Charles, Black Abolition Directive

“Investing in policies that encourage more cops, cages and criminalization will not prevent or reduce crime or improve public safety. New York has come too far to cave to bad faith, racist fear-mongering that deliberately seeks to undo hard-fought crucial wins through reforms to bail, discovery and other critical pieces of legislation. The policies proposed will only increase mass incarceration, further fuel the deadly crisis on Rikers, cause even deeper entrenchment of our Black and brown sisters and brothers in poverty and keep them ensnared in an unjust legal system. If we want thriving communities, it is time to invest in people. No rollbacks. Not today. Not ever,” said Donna Hylton, Founder/CEO, A Little Piece of Light.

“As Black diasporic woman and survivor, my safety and that of my family and community is paramount. That is why I support the bail reform laws. There is nothing safe about a system that collects Black people and holds them in jail for ransom. This system certainly did not keep me safe from child sexual abuse and rape. For true community safety, we need resources for culturally specific services for survivors, and investments in culturally relevant mental health, employment, and education. I am calling on my Black elected leaders to do the right thing and follow the facts, not fear mongering for political gain,” said Luz Marquez Benbow, Troy for Black Lives

“Prior to Bail reform Black NYers were twice as likely as white NYers to be jailed. As an organization that cares for so many returning citizens we have seen the destruction of lives of mostly people of color and more so Young Adults of color being negatively impacted even though they never had a first chance to succeed,”said Five Mualimm-ak Incarcerated Nation Network.

“We cannot incarcerate our way out of crime. All the available data proves that the reforms are working, having a positive impact, and haven’t made our communities less safe. Undoing these life saving measures will only harm and banish the most vulnerable Black New Yorkers to deadly jails statewide. Albany needs to focus resources and investments in the communities that need it the most with public health and violence prevention interventions that work. We urge Leader Stewart Cousins and Speaker Heastie to use the budget as intended and make crucial investments to support the infrastructure needed to strengthen communities that have too long been devastated by the criminal system,” said Monifa Bandele, Malcom X Grassroots.

“I am saddened to be a New Yorker today, because we criminalize those in poverty. Prior to bail reform, judges would set bail at $250 – $1000 which our people could not pay. In this time of healing from the pandemic we shouldn’t be condemning our residents to be held behind bars on bail for a misdemeanor or violation as their most serious charge. We cannot allow BAIL REFORM to be rolled back,” said Marketa Edwards, Community Rising.

“The underhanded proposals to quietly repeal Kalief’s Law, ensure that Black and Brown people sit in jails for unknown amounts of time, and increase racial disparities in the jailing and court systems is nothing less than a direct attack on New Yorkers – specifically impoverished, Black and Brown residents of the state. We cannot allow the hard work put in place by thousands of people to be washed away quickly and quietly by elected officials with no regard for the humanity of our people. This is paramount to maintaining the good reform we have seen, and furthering the push for a better state and country moving forward. The Black Abolitionist Directive stands with the people of New York State, and will be steadfast in our commitment to decarceration and Bail Reform,” said Mikayla Froster, Co-founder, Black Abolitionist Directive (B.A.D).

“To see the New York State legislature co-signing Mayor Adams’ efforts to implement regressive bail policies is truly a crisis of moral political consciousness. The fear mongering machine that aims to criminalize and incarcerate Black New Yorkers is simply powered by lies—only 4% of those released on bail in NYC in 2020 were rearrested for violent felonies that year. The most certain impact of changes to our bail public policy is diminished livelihoods and opportunities for sustainable futures across the state, from Brooklyn to Buffalo. We call on our legislators, in particular those who represent Black communities in NYC, to reject these policies that will result in their constituents being further harmed by the structural violence of the carceral state.” -Anthonine Pierre, Executive Director, Brooklyn Movement Center