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Black Lives Matter Recruiting Court Watchers For Bailout Program

Olivia Butts speaks
Tiffani Jackson
Olivia Butts from the BLM Bloomington-Normal leadership team speaks at Sunday's public meeting in Bloomington.

As the holiday season arrives, Black Lives Matter BloNo is calling for volunteers to help monitor McLean County courtrooms as part of its ongoing efforts to reunite families with loved ones who can't afford bail.

"We need people at the courthouse watching what's going on, taking notes, finding out the bail amounts, and feeding that information back to us so we can be more effective through our efforts," said Ky Ajayi from the group’s leadership team.

Black Lives Matter hosted a public meeting Sunday at Wayman AME Church in Bloomington.

According to the ACLU, more than 267,000 people are locked up pre-trial every year in Illinois. Typically a person must post 10% of their bond amount to be released.

"We know that most of those (people) are there simply because they don't have access to wealth," said group leader Cinnamon Porter. "They’re innocent until proven guilty, so we're trying to help these folks because what is lost while sitting pre-trial is kids, houses, and jobs, which affects our community greatly."

Among those affected by discrimination leading to excessive bail are women, people of color, and those of low income, according to BLM. Research suggests that the use of money bail by judges to detain suspects may actually be creating more criminals than it punishes.

Through court watching, citizens can observe proceedings and assess whether the court is serving residents in their communities fairly.

"Right now, it's very hard for us to get the statistics on who's being incarcerated, why, and their statuses," Porter said. "We hold our bailout (program) but need folks to bailout. Court watching allows us to know who to bail out and who to access."

For its second year, Black Lives Matters is raising funds to continue its bailout program, which not only helps reunite family members but raises awareness for the impact of incarceration and the bail system, especially on people of color. 

"The longer a person stays in jail, the more folks will assume that person is guilty, but we know that's not always the case. Sometimes it's because of their lack of access to wealth," Porter said. "We know this disproportionately affects black folks, women, and poor folks, so we need to help those people out."

To donate to the BLM Holiday Bailout, visit its GoFundMe. To volunteer as a court watcher, contact the group via Facebook.

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