Militant Journalism

Defying local government’s threats, Chester County rallies against cash bail

“End cash bail! The whole damn system is guilty as hell!” echoed from Ash Park in Coatesville, Pa., on April 10 to demand an end to the cruel and unjust practice of assigning cash bail to those arrested by police.

The protest was held despite attempts by Coatesville city officials to illegally prohibit the rally by calling constitutionally-protected political speech a “special event” requiring a permit, which they initially claimed they could not issue. Organizers argued successfully that the demonstration falls under free speech and assembly, and went forward without a permit.

Kenya Elliott, an organizer with the Party for Socialism and Liberation, describes the use of cash bail as “a way to even further oppress the poor and working class. Over 70% of people who are imprisoned are pre-trial and haven’t been convicted, and over 40% of those being held pre-trial are Black. In addition, since 1983, pre-trial detention has been the cause of over 60% of jail population growth.”

Neighbors joined the demonstration from their doorsteps and passers-by gathered to participate. A coalition made up of the Downingtown Community Focus Group, Chester County Stands Up, and the Party for Socialism and Liberation’s Chester County branch organized the event.

Nydea Graves, an organizer with Chester County Stand Up and a Coatesville City Council member, sees fighting cash bail as an important part of the liberation of poor, Black and Latino communities in Coatesville and the county at large. They stressed the importance of the rally as “it’s important to show solidarity with our community around ending cash bail, especially in Coatesville, because the most people who have the most bail assigned in the county are in Coatesville. I know that people of color, especially Black people, are disproportionately targeted by the criminal justice system. It’s just the criminal justice system was created to disproportionately target people of color. And that’s really its whole reason for existence.”

Over the past months, the End Cash Bail campaign has gathered momentum and increased its community support. Every weekend, volunteers from the coalition knock on doors asking for community members to sign the petition to demand that District Attorney Deb Ryan put an end to the practice of assigning cash bail. And many neighbors agree that this should be put to a stop.

Community organizer Elgin Bailey describes the system of cash bail as unjust and harmful to the people, saying “if you can’t make the bail, you have to sit in jail. You typically are going to lose your job, which is going to cause you to be behind on your utilities, which is going to cause you to be behind on your rent. Let’s say you’re someone who pays child support, you can’t make your child support payment, so now you have a whole other set of issues that come from people thinking that you are not going to show up to court. … It’s a horrible system when people have to sit in jail and then get tried again when they actually get tried for the so-called crime that they committed. We want fair, equal accountability and responsibility.”

Bailey explains “I can’t understate how important it is to be here in a number of ways. For one, we are just building power, building power in a community that has largely been powerless and oppressed in a variety of ways, to come out and demonstrate. … So its huge, but its also a huge example of standing up collectively against an oppressive system that deliberately came and tried to squash this rally in ways that were intentional, but ways that we expected also. None of the things that the local government has tried to do, whether it be intimidating or coming up with false rules about why we can’t, none of us were surprised or caught off guard.”

Attendees were enthusiastic and determined to continue until the District Attorney Deb Ryan stops arbitrarily assigning cash bails.

Related Articles

Back to top button