Kalief Browder was arrested at age 16 and charged with stealing a backpack. His bail was set at $3,000 but because his family didn’t have the cash, he ultimately spent 3 years at Rikers Island awaiting trial. Prosecutors eventually dismissed the charges against him but it was too late; Browder would later commit suicide. 5 out of 6 people in America behind bars awaiting trial are simply unable to afford bail. Those individuals are disproportionately Black. What, to them, is the Fourth of July?
“What, to the American slave, is your Fourth of July?” That was the question Frederick Douglas posed in his famous Fourth of July speech, given in 1852. Douglas went on to say, “your celebration is a sham,” blasting the notion of celebrating independence while Africans were literally in chains. Today it is worth considering what a celebrate of independence means, when so many Black men and women are rotting behind bars, having not been convicted of any crime; they simply don’t have the cash. It is a sad indictment on this nation that this system is allowed to persist. It is also certain that, for Black people, allies will not come save us.
There are those who advocate eradicating the cash bail system and indeed there has been progress — states like California and others have begun eliminating or restricting it. Still, there is a long way to go and plenty of politics to navigate. So when we stress the importance of buying Black it’s not simply because it allows us to have a nice social media following. Rather, it’s because the matter is one of life and death. There is no certainty that cash bail will be eliminated anytime soon. It is certain, however, that those who do make it out of jail need employment and if our community can’t employ them, they have nowhere to go. It is certain that many who are currently in jail because they cannot afford bail wouldn’t be there in the first place if they had been employed before their arrest.
What, to the men and women unable to afford bail, is the Fourth of July? It is certainly no cause for celebration, for those individuals. Maybe we can’t do anything about the fact that they are incarcerated today. Our concern, however, must be what happens when they get out. If every Black owned business could hire one person, Black unemployment would virtually disappear overnight. If many of those companies could hire two employees, every brother and sister who got out of prison would have a safe landing spot, for sure. This Fourth of July, think about independence for our community — those who are at the cookout and those behind bars. Universally, the solution is to buy Black.