Imagine doing something dumb but relatively harmless in your youth.
Maybe stealing a T-shirt or smoking marijuana with a friend.
Instead of a reprimand and a route to attain things right, you’re thrown into jail at 15 years old to await your trial. Maybe if you’re from a lower socioeconomic family in a larger city like New York or Los Angeles — where bail can run $2,000 – $5,000 or more — neither you nor any close family members can afford to make bail.
So you’re stick, sitting, waiting, and expending some of the most important point years of your life in a space that’s historically inhumane and unsafe and a foundation for anger, loneliness, and depression.
This is the reality for thousands of adolescents and and adults across the country, and Grammy-winning musician John Legend wants to stop it.
“While many white people charged with crimes largely expend their period before their trial free, district attorneys and magistrates have different rules for black people, for poor people, demanding bail in the first place and defining it far out of reach financially and threatening them with long sentences if they don’t take a plea, ” Legend explains in the video.
A former English major and lifelong proponent of social justice for all, Legend made a compelling lawsuit to objective the system that corners people of color more than others and often throws off young, promising, and redeemable lives.
He demanded that we hold our governments accountable on changing the decadeslong system.
Photo by Charley Gallay/ Getty Images for WGN.
So what exactly is the money bail system?
It’s the monetary system that technically prevents suspects from committing any other criminal acts while they await trial and aims to ensure they abide by the judicial process. But the system is largely corrupt — according to a study by the Pretrial Justice Institute, the first commercial bail bond business beginning in San Francisco in 1898, functioning as a payoff strategy among crime boss, magistrates, lawyers and police.
This tradition of the rich and empowered benefitting from the bail system has persisted well into the current day. If you are wealthy or have person in their own lives who is, you can post the proposed bail quantity and re-enter society regardless of whether you committed the crime or not. However, if you don’t got money, a petty crime can force you to remain in jail for months or even years.
Photo by Spencer Platt/ Getty Images.
“In America, you’re better off being guilty and rich than innocent and poor, ” Legend says.
Such was the case for Kalief Browder, a teen who Legend references in his video. Browder was a mere 16 years old when he was put in jail for three years after being accused of stealing a backpack. Unable to build the $3,000 bail, Browder was forced to reside in Rikers Island, one of the most notorious prisons in America. Browder went through traumatic experiences while incarcerated and ultimately committed suicide after he was finally released.
It’s a traumatic tale that broke the hearts of thousands around the nation, but it’s a narrative that’s all too common for our nation’s poorest someones, particularly those of color.
In the video, Legend explores how the for-profit bail bond industry builds money off freedom and why it’s imperative to our morality as a nation that we objective it.
“Hundreds of thousands are pulled out of school, pulled out of their jobs, pulled out of church, pulled out of their families and communities, trapped in an oppressive and racist criminal justice by attorneys, magistrates, bail bondsmen, and everyone else who profits from it, ” he notes.
Photo by Alberto E. Rodriguez/ Getty Images.
Color of Change partnered with Legend’s Free America campaign — a campaign that aims to end the prison industrial complex — to surface the commercial bail bond’s inhumane industry practice of money bail. And other celebrities are supporting his mission .
New York state gubernatorial candidate and former “Sex in the City” actress Cynthia Nixon made a public declaration of her support to end the problematic system.