June 3, 2020; Star Tribune
Just because you are relatively small doesn’t mean you can’t be nationally significant, as the Minnesota Freedom Fund has proven over the last week. The only bail fund in Minnesota, it raised $30 million almost overnight from those who wished to make sure those arrested in the protests over the police murder of George Floyd would be bailed quickly. Its previous one-year high was $150,000. NPQ’s Sofia Jarrin-Thomas wrote about this, and a few other organizations in the area, a few days ago.
It should also be said that the Freedom Fund, like other bail funds around the country, has always aimed to put itself out of business. Its mission is to eliminate cash bail. The money it uses to free people imprisoned for lack of money rotates, coming back to the organization when the individual shows up for court.
But now, the group has raised so much money that it’s directing prospective donors to parts of the movement network in Minnesota that aren’t receiving as much attention.
“There is an urgent need for supplies and support out in the field,” their website reads. “Please connect to the groups doing the work—Black Visions Collective, Reclaim the Block, Twin Cities Coalition for Justice 4 Jamar, and others” such as the Northstar Health Collective. But, as Jarrin-Thomas writes, they too are suggesting the money be spread around. This is a “moment,” as they say, in terms of people keeping an eye on the health of the whole body, rather than just their own organizations.
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Readers may recognize this dynamic of small organizations receiving big money in online donations on high profile issues from our 2018 story on RAICES, (Refugee & Immigration Center for Education & Legal Services) and our 2019 story on the Yellowhammer Fund.
The Minnesota Freedom Fund, which was established in 2016, had been unusually busy even before the protests began to heat up over the past week. They’d been working hard to get children and adults out of lockups where they were at greater risk of catching the coronavirus. But it was in the wake of Floyd’s murder that a Twitter campaign began to take off on its own, fueled by efforts from various celebrities like Justin Timberlake, Janelle Monáe, Don Cheadle, and Steve Carell. All this attention attracted both support and hostility, with the latter coming from President Trump and his cronies, in part because thirteen of Democratic presidential hopeful Joe Biden’s staffers have donated to the fund. Biden himself opposes cash bail as a modern-day kind of debtor’s prison.
“Getting this group out of pretrial incarceration is part of our process,” said the Freedom Fund’s treasurer. “But so is working on helping people understand that the racist cash bail system is part of what got us into this problem in the first place.”
Other bail and criminal justice programs have not been as high profile, so if you are looking to donate more generally to end cash bail while considering the related issue of police defunding, here is a list published by Variety.—Ruth McCambridge