Kidnap & Ransom: Cash Bail System

The cash bail system creates misery and poverty among in poor and minority communities. A system that was designed to allow folks accused of crimes to be let out jail has become a mechanism to keep them in jail. A bail of $200 can seem insurmountable if you are poor enough. We live in a country that prides itself on the presumption of innocence, but we spend $14,000,000,000 (Fourteen Billion Dollars) a year keeping innocent folks locked up. We are a nation that was founded on principles of freedom but we have the largest prison population in the world.  

The right to bail is established in the Bill of Rights. The Eighth Amendment states; “Excessive bail shall not be required, nor excessive fines imposed, nor cruel and unusual punishments inflicted.” The intentional vagueness left terms such as excessive, and cruel and unusual open to interpretation. It is easy to point to contemporary situations that anyone would consider, excessive, or cruel and unusual, but let me describe a situation to you that happens far too often in our country. 


An urban situation, a brother coming out of the store. Black male, 27 years old, works for an auto supplier. He is picking up a beer after working his shift. Ten minutes and a questionable car stop later, he is getting into the back of the cop car, charged with whatever, or perhaps for a warrant. The bottom line is he is not going to be released before he sees a judge and it will likely cost him some money to get out, in most U.S. jurisdictions.  

He will usually get to see a judge, sometimes in person, sometimes via video, within a day or so of arriving at the holding facility, likely a county jail in all but the tiniest areas. Ostensibly, bail is set according to severity of the crime and the likelihood that the person would continue to commit crimes or not show up for the next court date. Our hypothetical young man is not accused of a serious crime, he is working and is a decent risk to show up to court. However, because he is charged with a felony and has failed to show before, his bond is set at $10,000, he is required to post 10% of this, or $1,000 in order to be released from the county jail. 

One thousand dollars. How many of us have that much put away for an emergency? Our young man earns $14 per hour on his non-union job. He and his girlfriend, who works 15-20 hours a week making $10 per hour, rent a house for $700 month, and have two children. The tight financial situation will make coming up with the money on their own, nearly impossible. A decent lawyer could get bail lowered at a subsequent hearing, but someone unable to come up with a one thousand dollars likely is being represented by a public defender. Whether or not you get a competent, interested public defender who will skillfully advocate on your behalf or some empty suit is up to the ancestors. 

The criminal justice system is a business in this country. There is at least 200 Billion dollars being spent in this country annually to run the prison industrial system. This money is used to police, arrest, jail, try and house the 2.4 million people that we in some way incarcerate each year. The 2.4 million who are locked up contribute to the revenue by providing the bodies to be locked up. By being accused, arrested, jailed, tried, and incarcerated the inmates are creating wealth for the folks who make their livings by working in this system. When uninformed people try to tell me that folks in jail are not contributing to society, I will beg to differ. 

If things do not go exactly right for our young man, he could be sitting in jail for months because of a relatively minor charge. With the main breadwinner locked up, the entire family is put in peril of homelessness or worse. (We acknowledge that in the United States the criminal justice system is a part of the institutionally racist systems that control our institutions. I don’t believe I have to argue to any relatively awake and well-read person that the institutions in our country are inherently racist. I can certainly make this the subject of a future essay.) The present cash bail system allows an inherently racist criminal justice system to control and terrorize poor and minority communities by holding folks hostage who have not been convicted of a crime. 

Our perception of the criminal justice system will vary widely depending on race and economic situation. Think about this for your family; would having to post $1K in cash bail to buy your freedom put you in a serious hole? Many would suggest that most folks making the salary that our young man makes, should have some savings, but a little math is all we need to arrive at reality. 

Making $14 an hour would give you a bi-weekly paycheck of $1,120 before taxes and $900 after taxes, a total of $1,800 every two weeks. Expenses are; $700 rent, $300 auto expenses, $300 food, $300 misc. including cell phone, utilities. That leaves $200 a month for savings/discretionary income. Even if he saved every cent his discretionary income, it would take 5 months to get $1,000 in the bank. When our young man was arrested, his car was towed and impounded. This will cost him $200 to start, plus $30 dollars a day. Our young man needs his vehicle to go to work, without it, he can’t earn his income. 

The cash bail system should be eliminated because it uses poor people as fodder or raw material in the 200 billion prison industry. Without prisoners, poor folks who can’t bail out of jail and end up pleading to crimes they did not commit just to be released. Our cash bail system is a mess, and it is symptomatic of our criminal justice system, which is also is also a travesty. 

Follow me on Twitter @Wilkes36

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All my skinfolk…

Black folks in this country, those who were brought as prisoners of war and those that emigrated of their own accord, have a long history of names and labels that have been applied to us. The list is exhausting. The term that is now popular with white folks is, “African-American.” It is a nice polite term, but to me, it describes a voluntary immigrant from any number of African nations. It does not describe me. 

I am, unquestionably of African descent, but that is only the beginning of my story. I am descended from slaves. I am a survivor of people who were kidnapped from their native lands, held as prisoners of war and forced to labor as slaves. This was not the first time a stronger nation had enslaved the people of a weaker nation, or that a conquering nation had enslaved the folks of a conquered nation. What made American chattel slavery was the generational aspect of it that us, the descendants of slaves, are still suffering the effects. 

I am old enough to remember whispered conversations about old family photos. I would ask who the subjects of the photos were, how they were related to me. As a child, it would thrill me to hear that some image cast in the shadow and light of an impossibly old photo was my great, great, great, great…something. I would study the regal poses and their largely unsmiling eyes and realized that being photographed for them was not some lark or a folly, but that they were bearing witness.  

They were bearing witness to the fact that millions of people were kidnapped from a foreign country, brought to these colonies and forced to labor. The children of these slaves could not escape the cycle of servitude, even if they were fathered by the so-called master. Even under these conditions we invented a language that is still in use in some parts of the black community world-wide, we invented music that was so good white folks Columbused it and claimed the music as their own. We worked as smiths, carpenters, cobblers, tailors and seamstresses, cooks, and in food preservation and canning arts among countless others. We used the proceeds from this labor, earned after giving a full six-day work week for free to the slave owner, to purchase our and our families freedom.  We are an amazing people because we are descendants of slaves. 

We are amazing, but like folks going thru trauma and PTSD, it is often difficult for us to see the ways are amazing. I am asserting to you that even though we do not see it, other people do and try to appropriate our cultural history as their own. Rachel Dolezal re-invented herself as a black woman to try to tap into the sacred magic of being descended from American slavery 

I do not know what is in this woman’s heart. I have no idea why she decided to “become” a black person and claim to be a descendant of American slaves. I do know that we come in all colors, textures of hair, eye color, etc. There is no “paper bag” test to determine if you are descendant of slavery, generally folks, no matter how light or unlikely you look. However, if we find out that you have lied or misrepresented your background, you are dead to us. Rachel Dolezal lost her position as head of the Spokane, WA branch of the NAACP, lost her job teaching black studies and, to add insult to injury was convicted of welfare fraud. 

Kamala Harris has arguably committed the same offense. She is not descended from American slaves. Her mother is a Tamil Indian and her father is Jamaican. She may be able to claim to be a descendant of Caribbean slaves, but that is an entirely different dynamic than descendants of American slaves. Kamala Harris was the daughter of privileged academics, but she chose to attend Howard University and join a traditionally black sorority. This seems to be part of long-term plan on Senator Harris’s part to use this appropriation of culture for personal gain. She dated a noted black politician, Willie Brown, who by her own admission introduced her to California’s black political power brokers. Senator Harris used those connections to get herself elected to statewide offices. 

Rachel Dolezal was widely condemned in the descendant of American slaves community for her cultural appropriation. It can be argued that Ms. Dolezal was the more authentic in these two cases of cultural appropriation. Senator Harris only dated a black man to use his status and authentic blackness as her entrée into the black political system. She married another privileged lawyer, who happens to be a white man of Jewish heritage. Ms. Dolezal has been married to a black man who is descended from American slavery, she also has sons that share that are black. She had authentic connections with the black community outside of her public life. Senator Harris only appears to only appropriate black culture in her public life. 


I am not suggesting that Senator Harris would not make a good president. I am asserting that personally, I would not support a candidate who misrepresented their cultural background. Zora Neale Hurston famously said, “All our skin folk ain’t our kinfolk.” Just because you look like a descendant of American slavery does not mean you are one. 

Why is this important? In the long run, whether or not someone is a descendant of American slavery is not a good indicator of their fitness to hold public office. Someone’s honesty and integrity, however is certainly important. Senator Harris is smart, she will not directly say she is descended from American slaves, but she will lament about being bused as a child. She also attended a historically black college and joined organizations set up by descendants of slaves. She is doing everything to demonstrate that she is one of us, except saying it. I say, we have already had our non-descended from American slavery black president. His name was Barack Hussein Obama, Sen. Harris, you are no Barack Obama. 


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Gentrification Part I

Gentrification is slowly making the city I live in, inhospitable to me. I live in Detroit, but sometimes when I am out and about in my city, white folks look at me like I’m lost. This is offensive to me on a lot of levels. Looking a little deeper at the problem uncovers some of the root causes.

I am a native Detroiter and I lived here full time until I joined the military. I returned to Detroit for a couple of years after the service, then I moved to Chicago. It just so happens that Chicago was the perfect place to study gentrification and displacement. I lived on the South Side of Chicago in a neighborhood that was adjacent to Hyde Park. I saw all the public housing in this neighborhood systematically emptied and torn down, with residents displaced to nearby suburbs.


I also saw 20 blocks of high-rise public housing torn down. The units were emptied by employing the controversial one strike program. Meaning that anyone who lived in your household had to have a clean criminal or the Chicago Housing Authority (CHA) would immediately end your lease. This policy did more to empty out the projects than any other, and though it sounds reasonable, it really was not. Read more about it in the link below.

Family dynamics in poor and underclass households is different from typical family dynamics. In a lot of public housing families, there were large extended families living together. They are not living together in the neat, suburban ways you may be thinking, but there are people literally stacked on top of each other. Imagine the lease holder is a 51-year-old woman, she has 4 adult children, two of which live with her, and six grandchildren living in the unit. If you add in the partners of her children, and a partner for the lease holder, there could be 8 adults and any number of teenagers piled up in that 700 square foot apartment. In CHA, no strikes meant that if any of those folks was convicted of or even charged with a felony, you would use your lease.

The apartments that were emptied were stripped of anything useful and boarded up. When a big enough percentage of the building was emptied, it would be torn down. The former residents of public housing would be dispersed, largely to low income suburbs that had been historically off limits to black people. The public housing was demolished and “market rate” housing replaced it, often with retail. On the first levels of many high-rise public housing buildings were government and social service agencies that the residents could use. For instance, if you lose your EBT card, you could usually walk or take a short ride on public transit to replace it. It can become an ordeal to discover where to go to find help or services and then to actually get there from a suburban location that may be beyond the reach of available public transit.

In short, gentrification is destroying Bronzeville in Chicago, for example. Bronzeville was a large center of black life and culture. When I initially moved to Chicago, my grandfather told me of his visit to the city in the 1930’s. He was a young man from rural Georgia who had seen Atlanta but had never seen anything like the varieties of black folks, black businesses and black wealth in area that “was allowed” to thrive as Bronzeville once did. There are many examples of thriving black areas that were destroyed by urban renewal. They built a freeway thru Detroit’s black bottom and dispersed the residents. Numerous black areas in cities around the country have been likewise destroyed.

These black areas destroyed by gentrification often have some problems; crime, drugs deteriorating housing stock and others. When a neighborhood is targeted for gentrification the perpetrators often cite wanting to improve the community. Did tearing down 20 blocks of high-rise project housing and replacing it with upscale retail improve the Bronzeville (now called Douglassville by slick real estate agents who want to hide the black legacy of the area). In Detroit, we see Cass Corridor become, “Mid-Town,” which is some still more renaming to in order to erase or change the history of an area.

Americans realized they had it backwards when they looked at cities like Paris. The most affluent neighborhoods in Paris are in the city center. As you move out from the city center the neighborhoods become less affluent, until you arrive at the suburban areas where the poorest folks live. In this configuration, there can be unrest in the poor suburban areas, that does not affect commerce, tourism and the quality of life in the city center where the richest people live. America ceded these neighborhoods in the city center to black people and fled to suburbs to build their sprawling ranch homes on a 1.5-acre plots.

White folks tried hard to make suburbs work for them. They moved sports teams from city centers to the suburbs. Two of Detroit’s professional franchises (NFL Detroit Lions and the NBA Detroit Pistons) both moved to facilities in the suburbs but have both moved back to the city center. Detroit’s Cass Corridor (AKA Midtown) aside from being known for crime, prostitution and drugs, was also an area, close to downtown where a low wage worker could find a cheap room or apartment for rent. The area is now too pricey for poor folks, and black folks like me who are in the area are often treated as an undesirable other by the new residents, strolling down the block sipping their nitro brews wearing a “Detroit versus Everybody” t-shirt.

I am not against coexisting and living together, but refuse to be made to feel like an intruder in an urban area that your ancestors ran from after the Detroit 1967 Revolution. Areas that your politicians (L. Brooks Patterson) declared “unliveable” after the election of Coleman Young as mayor in 1974. Now you want to call the police on me, because you feel threatened by my waiting for the bus on Van Dyke and Kercheval?

I am not done talking about this follow me on twitter @Wilkes36

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Why You Sound White?

We as a people often give lip service to the ideas of inclusion and treating everyone the same, but we often fall short in this area. There is a popular meme on the black internet that presents folks of various ethnicities and asks if they are invited “to the picnic.” Which means, is this person cool enough to survive and perhaps even thrive in the complicated environment known as, a black family cookout. The cookout itself, becomes a microcosm of the black community with our complicated and various social strata.

We are not a monolithic people, as many of us are fond of saying, mainly because it is true. I have a strong, clear speaking voice. As a youngster, I was made to speak clearly and distinctly and not use slang. I learned to code switch without understanding of socio-cultural implications of what I was doing. I would just naturally speak differently with different groups of people. Also, I was the black kid who did have white friends in high school, and some folks don’t like when you straddle the fence.

In school this often was expressed by my peers as, “Why you sound white?” I have so many instances of being voice-shamed, excluded, or told I sound white, that I will just limit my analysis to high school. I went to a very large, public high school in Detroit. The year that I started, 1978, the school was roughly half black and half white. I would hang out with black and white folks. I bought Cameo and REO Speedwagon albums. I think that I was just trying to be a human being in a complex society. I was friends with and hung out with human beings that I liked, despite their race.

I have been put into awkward situations by both sides. With my black peers, I was questioned, admonished, and sometimes threatened. I had a classmate inform he was going to, “beat my ass” because I was a, “white man’s nigger.” Why are some black folks so hostile to other people who do not fit their definition of “blackness?” The explanation must be fear, remember, the brother in high school wanted to assault me because I sounded different than he did, and I had white friends. Did he feel I somehow doing damage to the race by being as I was? Perhaps he felt like he was helping me find my true identity thru this cathartic ass whooping he was proffering?

I think there may be another cause. Our enslaved ancestors were first brought to the Americas in 1513. The first Africans imported to what would become the United States (Winyah Bay, SC) was 1526. Africans had been to Americas prior to arriving here in shackles, it is documented that Columbus had African sailors in his crew and the Olmec Heads suggest Africans were here long before, or perhaps support the notion of Pangea. In any case, we have been here a long time, from 1513 to now is 506 years. For 450 of those years, we were either enslaved or so limited in what we could safely do or be, that it was the same as enslavement.

Human beings are extremely adaptable to their environments. I believe that not only our physical bodies, but our minds adapt to accept whatever reality we are presented with. Our historical slave experience taught us that different was dangerous. It was dangerous for a slave to display aptitude or intelligence and being around white folks never ended well for slaves.

Imagine a young slave who does possess some aptitude or intelligence. I can imagine his parent’s reaction would be to beat this uppityness out of the child. They would rightly fear that if white folks heard of their child’s aptitude, they would take special interest in the child, which rarely ended well. The parent will almost certainly lose the child if it’s intelligence and aptitude is discovered. It was not uncommon for slaves to be taught farm trades such as blacksmithing, carpentry, masonry etc.  These slaves

photo of man wearing black crew neck t shirt

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were a more valuable commodity for their owners and often got special privileges, up to and including being able to use their labor to earn money and buy their own freedom.

These folks, even during slavery, made up the beginnings of the black middle class. It should be noted that the larger percentage of these craftsmen and eventually free blacks were related to owners. This created a black middle class that was more beige than brown. Which created resentment in the slaves who were performing the more menial tasks.

If you look at our black American culture today, are we any different? I believe the deep roots of why we make fun of, ridicule and shun black folks who “talk white,” “act white,” or have white friends is because we realize, this ability will allow them to better navigate this racist society. That brother back in high school likely did not even realize why my way of being caused him so much anger. Could it be that these biases and defense mechanisms were encouraged by this system?

The powers that be in this country know how to keep people separate. We have poor people in this country who scapegoat and help victimize other poor people because of the color of their skin or their immigration status. I understand that race, borders, national origin etc., are all man-made concepts designed to keep the folks on the bottom at war with each other. We have participated in our oppression by not liking this one for talking to white, or this one for talking to ghetto, this one for being too light, or another that is too dark.

The faster we learn to accept people for what they are, and stop letting fear and mistrust color our interactions, the faster we evolve.

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What is Woke?

I fully intended to write about how hard it is being a “woke” black person black person in this country. But then I remembered, James Baldwin wrote everything that needs to be written about that in this one sage phrase; “To be a Negro in this country and to be relatively conscious is to be in a rage almost all the time.” So, I puzzled, what does it mean to be woke? I believe myself to be “woke” and I am sure there are folks who would strongly disagree. I can think of some people I know who think they are woke, who I am convinced that Harriet Tubman would have clubbed unconscious with Army/Navy pistol and held their heads under a creek until they stopped squirming.

The Urban Dictionary, definition 3 of woke is; “A word currently used to describe consciousness” and being aware of the truth behind things “the man” doesn’t want you to know i.e. classism, racism, and any other social injustices. The term comes from a genuine place but is becoming overused. People mainly use it to sound like deep thinkers when they are really just following a trend.” This is what I think I mean when I use the term to describe myself. I don’t think I am following a trend; I have been a race man for most of my adult life. Which means, that when I woke up, I could not stop talking, reading and thinking about race. It is akin to the religious convert whose entire life becomes consumed with their deities(s).

The transformation from “colonized negro” to “race man” happened for me over thirty years ago in a country that no longer exists. The small town in West Germany that I was stationed in while serving in the U.S. Army was called Aschaffenburg. (Isn’t the ultimate act of the colonized negro to join the colonizer’s military in a tragi-comic attempt to be treated as a human being?) There was a bookstore called the Stars and Stripes bookstore, and they had the best African American Literature I have ever encountered in a brick and mortar bookstore.

I would need a couple of volumes to make you understand how the existence of this building and the books that were for sale there, literally, changed my life. This was 1986. I was 22 years old, a college drop-out who like many poor kids, join the military because there is no better option presented. I have always read, from Disney’s Wonderful World of Knowledge, which I devoured, month by month to anything I found on my mother’s bookshelf. In high school, I was in Honors English so did not read the obligatory, urban public-school Baldwin (usually Go Tell it on the Mountain or The Fire Next Time) which sounded corny to 17/18-year-old me. So, I read and talked about English poets (I developed and still have a deep respect for A.E. Houseman, the man was a def poet) and Shakespeare. Which seemed reasonable to a working-class kid who knew nothing about his own culture.

What I did find out when I got to Michigan State was that I was woefully unprepared to be a college student. But I did start reading some of the great classics of Occidentalism, The Sun Also Rises, The Great Gatsby, H.L. Mencken and the American, post-war existentialists. I could almost see myself and recognize my feelings and ways of being in those hallowed pages, but not quite. I could almost bang out some halting, stilted sentences of horrible, short-sited, 18-year-old literary criticism, but who was I to tell Hemmingway that his casual use of the word nigger made me feel uncomfortable. Who was I to tell my professors that I would be more engaged if the syllabus included one item, even an article, written by a person of color? I could not express these things because even though I felt these feelings, I had no words or experiences in which to bring them forth.

In mid-summer 1986, I find myself in West Germany, at this bookstore, which changed the course of my life. In 1986, for a geeky guy like me, a bookstore was life. There was no internet, well there actually was, but it was not for the general public and was nothing like it is now. The bookstore was the place to discover new fiction, magazines and the all-important black literature section. (it was likely called African-American or even Afro-American literature, but I discovered Wole Soyinka classic Things Fall Apart, so black literature was more correct)

The person who ordered the books and stocked the black section shelves must have had a Ph.D in black writing, they had everything you need to get started, they had on the shelves, absolutely everything by James Baldwin. A decent selection of Alice Walker, way beyond the legendary Color Purple, to include books of short stories and essays. They first exposed me to the important compilations Black Voices and New Black Voices. Which I would read to discover new writers and poets. Did I mention that this bookstore would also order anything that was still in print?

Reading these books made me different about the people I was serving with and feel differently about the situations that I was put in. In case you have not served, the military is not the best place in which to express your revolutionary spirit. I noticed the micro-aggressions and subtle slurs that were directed toward me and other soldiers of color. When I was not woke, I believed what my grandparents told me, that I had to be twice as good to receive even any opportunities. However, when I attained these positions, I had to be humble and deferential to white people in order to keep them. Being woke showed me how self-loathing this way of thinking was.

I understand that when someone wakes up from a long sleep, they may make miss-steps. It is a natural part of the awakening process. Please forgive your co-workers who incessantly points out perceived racism in the workplace. Have some understanding when someone has the temerity to point out some basic fact in black history to you, like you did not already know. It is easy to fly flags and give lip service to the revolution, but when the revolution calls for sacrifice, then the true revolutionaries will step forward.

Follow me on Twitter: @wilkes36


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