Last week, Harvey Weinstein went to jail. After decades of using his wealth and power to cover up his systemic abuse of women, Weinstein faces charges of raping two women — just two out of the 85 women who’ve come forward to report being sexually harassed, assaulted, or raped by the powerful Hollywood producer.
Hours later, Harvey Weinstein posted $1 million in bail and strolled out of jail smiling. Harvey Weinstein, who preyed on women for decades, is walking free — while nearly half a million Americans are sitting in jail tonight because they can’t afford bail.
Perversely, Weinstein was released on bail the same day that Kalief Browder would have turned 25, if Rikers hadn’t killed him. Kalief Browder was a black Bronx teen who was held on New York’s infamous Rikers Island jail for three years, left to rot behind bars while his trial was repeatedly delayed for years. Browder spent nearly two years in solitary confinement, which psychologists consider torture, before the case was dismissed for lack of evidence. He was accused of stealing a camera. Two years later, he died by suicide.
Kalief Browder didn’t harm anyone. But Kalief Browder didn’t have Harvey Weinstein’s one million dollars, so New York’s so-called “justice” system left Kalief to die and let the serial rapist wait for trial in a fancy Manhattan condo. Weinstein is proof that people aren’t kept in jail pending trial because they’re dangerous, but because they’re poor, black, and brown.
We need to end this money bail system that lets the rich and privileged buy their freedom, while leaving poor people of color in pretrial detention for days, weeks, or even years while they wait to make their case in court.
Over a five year period, over 90,000 New Yorkers spend a day or longer in jail — before being convicted of a crime — solely because they can’t afford to pay bail and be released while waiting for trial. According to the New York Civil Liberty Union’s (NYCLU) analysis of eight New York counties, 60 percent of people held on bail had only a misdemeanor or violation (a non-criminal offense) as their most serious charge, most commonly on charges of petit larceny or misdemeanor drug possession. NYCLU found that from 2010–2014, 21,000 New Yorkers were kept in cages on bail of $500 or less. Defendants who can’t pay that — who are among the two-thirds of Americans who don’t have $500 in savings — are kept in cages simply because they’re poor.
Like every part of the criminal legal system, bail assessments are highly racialized. Black pretrial detainees in New York are twice as likely as white pretrial detainees to spend a night in jail because they can’t afford bail. On top of losing their freedom, people kept in jail awaiting trial can lose pay while missing work, which can lead to losing their jobs, which can lead to losing their homes, all while they’re waiting for their day in court.
Our criminal system is supposed to presume that everyone charged with a crime is innocent until proven guilty. But as long as we have money bail, the presumption of innocence is reserved for the powerful, privileged, and rich.
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