We asked Candace McKinley, the lead organizer for the Philadelphia Community Bail Fund to answer our questions in the wake of the police killing of Walter Wallace Jr. and the ensuing protests and arrests in West Philadelphia.
Generocity: What does this mean for your organization? Are you likely to be swamped from the arrests last night? Do you have a reserve of $ to draw upon or do you anticipate needing people to contribute so that folks recently detained can get bail?
Candace McKinley: We are coordinating with the Philadelphia Bail Fund to post bail for those arrested and given bail during these uprisings. We don’t anticipate being too swamped as we expect several people might be given citations or be released without bail. Unfortunately, we also expect that a number of people will be unable to be bailed out due to having detainers, their arrests being deemed a violation of their probation.
This is a problem we saw a lot of during the George Floyd Uprisings in June. The issue of detainers is a problem that disproportionately impacts Black people from low-income neighborhoods which are over policed and thus have a higher proportion of people who already have contacts with the criminal justice system.
As for our funds, PCBF is currently low on available bail funds. This summer we got about $2.5 million in donations following the police murder of George Floyd. We were doing accelerated bail outs due to the COVID-19 pandemic to combat the spread of the disease and the First Judicial District and DA [Larry]Krasner’s refusal to release a significant amount of prisoners.
"We welcome donations so that we can keep purchasing the freedom of our neighbors."
Since March, we’ve bailed out 256 people and spent most of the money we raised in June. We were able to bail out people we would not have been able to consider normally because their bail was so high. We are now back in the position of having to turn folks away because of our low funds.
We are always actively fundraising and we welcome donations so that we can keep purchasing the freedom of our neighbors. Folks can donate at phillybailout.org/donate or by phone by texting “GIVE” to (833)608-5511.
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Generocity: You’ve written for us ‘Yes, defund the police, but also abolish prisons’. Does that message change at moments like this? How do you amplify it, activate it?
McKinley: No, in fact that message is all the more relevant.
The murder of Walter Wallace, Jr and of so many people at the hands of the police shows that we need to create and invest in systems that actually keep our communities safe. The Washington Post reported that 1 in 4 people shot and killed by police were experiencing a mental or emotional crisis at the time of their killing. Black people suffering from a mental or emotional crisis are even more likely to be killed by police.
"Black people suffering from a mental or emotional crisis are even more likely to be killed by police."
Someone in Walter Wallace’s family or community called the police because they genuinely were concerned for his health and wellbeing. Rather than helping, two police officers drew their guns and shot him over 10 times. This was despite the cries of neighbors that he was not dangerous and his mother literally putting her body between the police and her child.
We need to abolish the police, but while we work towards that, we need to build systems that serve us and keep our neighborhoods safe. We need viable well-known alternatives to the police so that when my loved one or neighbor is experiencing a mental health crisis, I can call on community members trained and dedicated to caring for other human beings in crisis. This alternative would be so well-known, that I would think of them first and not invite the police into my community who carry with them the very real threat of death and violence.
This isn’t just a pipe dream or even the least bit impractical. Our communities have the power to build and implement these alternative structures.
"Our communities have the power to build and implement these alternative structures."
Bail funds are one real life example of this. American’s have been organizing to collectively buy back the freedom of their neighbors since before the Civil War. Philadelphia is home to two such bail funds and we are a city rich in mutual aid networks and grassroots organizations dedicated to promoting safety, mental health, and violence intervention.
We have all the tools we need to start building and collectively funding the alternatives to police that we need now. The fight to divert millions of our tax dollars from police to the alternatives that we build is connected to this.
Generocity: Almost immediately after a Black life is lost to a police shooting, the media and public attention turns to any property damage that occurs afterwards, and the conversation shifts into blame, shame and othering. What is the right way to foreground the life lost while not ignoring the business owners who are/have been impacted?
McKinley: I think one way to do this is by changing the way we talk about property damage. I don’t think that property damage is just an inevitable next step when the police kill someone. A well known quote from Dr. King is that “riot is the language of the unheard.” But, when asked by Esquire Magazine to define “looters” in 1968, James Baldwin had this to say:
The question I’m trying to raise is a very serious question. The mass media — television and all the major news agencies — endlessly use that word “looter”. On television you always see black hands reaching in, you know. And so the American public concludes that these savages are trying to steal everything from us, And no one has seriously tried to get where the trouble is. After all, you’re accusing a captive population who has been robbed of everything of looting. I think it’s obscene.
I think property damage and “looting” are both caused by the fact that the state and society at large refuses to hear and see Black communities who have long been disenfranchised, actively divested from, and over policed and surveilled for hundreds of years in this country.
Instead of the focus being on protesters looting or local business owners who are impacted, the focus and scrutiny should be on our leaders who continue to enable, encourage, and legitimize police violence against our communities and who continue to enact policies that are designed to keep us poor, sick, and disenfranchised.
I also think that small locally owned businesses impacted by this need to start seeing themselves as in the same boat as the “looters.”
"I also think that small locally owned businesses impacted by this need to start seeing themselves as in the same boat as the 'looters'."
What are the government policies and budget allocations that will help you and your customer base thrive? When “riots” occur as a direct result of the state’s long standing policies of over policing, disenfranchisement, and divestment, what are the government programs to help you recover and rebuild? Why does this cycle continue to reoccur decade after decade? Why do you feel like you are living in a tinderbox? And who keeps drying your community out like kindling?
Generocity: How should nonprofits respond to the community’s trauma without retraumatizing?
McKinley: I think nonprofits need to listen to the community and be led by those living in the communities they serve and who are directly impacted by the focus of their mission. I think having listening sessions and being present in the community is one way to do this.
I also encourage nonprofits to invite community members to be a part of their leadership and to develop structures of accountability.
At PCBF, we set aside four seats on our Core Organizing Committee (essentially our board) for formerly incarcerated people and people we’ve bailed out. We have monthly community meetings that we actively recruit folk we’ve bailed out and their support people to attend. We save our bigger policy decisions and planning for these meetings. We invite folk we’ve bailed out to be on our weekly calls and we have quarterly Community Dinners reserved for celebration and relationship building. We even try to involve the voices and wisdom of those still in Philadelphia jails through letters, calls, and visits (pre-COVID).
Generocity: Beyond expressing solidarity, what can the white, Latinx and Asian communities in Philadelphia do that would make a difference to Black families and Black neighborhoods now?
McKinley: I think non-Black communities need to understand that the things that impact Black communities also impact them. Segregation and white supremacy has a way of building up false walls between us where we can assume that an issue or problem has nothing to do with us but just impacts some other group.
"I think non-Black communities need to understand that the things that impact Black communities also impact them."
One example of this is US immigration policy. While it may be easy to characterize this as an issue that impacts Latinx folk, we know that our country’s immigration policies hurt us all. People don’t often think about African, Caribbean, and Black Latin American’s who are harmed by US immigration policy. Or how immigrants from all continents are treated by the system. Or even how immigrants from European countries have been mistreated during different decades when our definition of “whiteness” was less expansive.
Similarly, police violence and killings also impact all communities. Native American, Latinx, and Black people are more likely to be killed by police, but Asian and white people are at risk as well. And police who kill are likely to receive little to no punishment no matter who they kill.
Secondly, people need to vote, spend, and pressure their leaders as if the issue that harms one community harms them as well.-30-
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