Free Black Mamas

by Nnennaya Amuchie

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“It is our duty to fight for our freedom.
It is our duty to win.
We must love each other and support each other.
We have nothing to lose but our chains.”

Assata Shakur

While freedom is our collective duty, freedom is also a long journey. A fundamental part of freeing oneself is re-imagining the impossible. One must step outside their comfort zone and think beyond material constraints to map out a future grounded in Black love and Black liberation. What started as a dream for Black women like Mary Hooks and Je’nae Taylor, spread like wildfire across the country and the fumes have not halted. #FreeBlackMamas is the full embodiment of Black radical love. With over 20 cities and counties participating, we collectively bailed out over 100 Black women and girls.

If you needed something to celebrate or needed a piece of hope to grasp on, this campaign will surely ignite your passion and commitment to the movement. #FreeBlackMamas is a tribute to the legacy of Black women supporting each other through economic, moral, and spiritual support. The campaigns tagline, “Money kept them in, but Black love got them out” was posted all over social media and repeated by on-the-ground organizers.

While Black love got them out, we must recognize that it is not enough for us to physically remove people from jail cages. Cages exists in every aspect of Black life.  The DMV Bail out team bailed out Shalice, a Black mama of three. Shalice was bailed out on a Friday and by Monday she was in court for a custody hearing. While Shalice was locked away in a cage and separated from her family, child “protective” services took her children and did not allow contact between her children and their grandparents. After connecting Shalice to several attorneys, I learned that it can take 6-12 months before a child is returned to their parent. One minor mistake can completely disrupt the family unit and the greater community. Point blank, incarceration ruins families and without support and resources it is difficult to reunify and mend broken families. Courts claim that parameters are put in place to ensure the best interest of the child, yet the process is unsettling and burdensome to a parent who is abruptly separated from their child and for the child who loses a sense of safety and security.

Cages do not just exist in the jails. They exist in the form of structural barriers that funnel Black women into the carceral system. There are many Black women who are incarcerated but have no family or friends to support them. Some of these women want to remain in jail to complete in-patient drug treatments. Others want to be bailed out, but must pay monthly fees to use a tracking device ordered by the court. Some Black women are in jail because they do not have a phone number, housing, or an identification card. A majority are suffering from abusive relationships and chronic homelessness. Many Black women do not even have the option of bail though they have not been convicted of a crime. In fact, many attorneys had a long list of Black men who were eligible for bail but were scrambling to find Black women who could use our funds. For Black immigrant women, mandatory 6-month detention before the ability to be bailed out is a norm.  The stories are complex, diverse, and disheartening.

Many times these cages come in the form of individuals. When our DMV bail out team attempted to identify Black women who needed bail money, people were appalled and shocked. Our organizers were belittled and ridiculed by attorneys, judges, and jail staff.  We were questioned about whether we were solely bailing out Black women (because we can never just focus on Black women) and whether we had the funds to complete the process. We all gave an affirmative YES. Part of the #FreeBlackMamas and #Endmoneybail campaign is to reaffirm the fact that Black mamas are loved, valued, and appreciated. While those who are tasked with providing care for incarcerated folks find jest in bailing out Black women, we are committed to continuing the legacy of Black radical love.

Although aligning organizations are facing retaliation, from increased bail amounts to change in bail options to moving Black mamas around; the resistance will continue. The retaliation demonstrates the impact that #FreeBlackMamas and #EndMoneyBail campaign is having across the country. Last week, U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions issued a memorandum to federal prosecutors, urging them to seek the harshest penalties and to invoke mandatory minimums. We know the deadly effects of mandatory minimums on Black women especially as it relates to drug offenses. Between 1986 and 1996, the number of women incarcerated in state prisons for a drug offense rose by 888%, in contrast of a rise of 129% for non-drug offenses. The Sentencing Project found that from 1986 to 1991, the number of black female drug offenders in state prison rose by 828%, Hispanic women by 328%, and white non-Hispanic women by 241%. Given these stark numbers, we must collectively commit to abolishing prisons and working on campaigns such as #FreeBlackMamas to disrupt incarceration and curve recidivism.

Like many organizations across the country, the DMV Bail Out team will continue #FreeingBlackMamas until Juneteenth. The DMV bail out team is still taking donations that will help support bailing out more Black women and connecting Black women with re-entry services and tangible resources to re-integrate into society.  None of us are free until all Black women are free. As Assata Shakur said, we need weapons of mass construction and weapons of mass love. During these dire times, lets commit to grounding our work in radical Black love and creating the future we wish to live in. A future without prisons and police.

Nnennaya Amuchie is a social justice attorney, diehard unapologetic Black Nigerian feminist, organizer with BYP100, published author on police violence against Black women, and an If/When/How fellow at URGE: Unite for Reproductive & Gender Equity. She is also the author of Ako na Uche. Nnennaya believes in a world without police and prisons and a world where reproductive justice is actualized. Follow Nnennaya on Twitter @theafrolegalise.