Denver community activists bail black men out of jail

Joe Amon/The Denver Post
Vincent Bowen, left, with Blcak Lives Matter 5280 hugs Alfred Sisco, right, 56, of Devner, as he is released on bail from the Denver Downtown Detention Center in Denver onJne 14. The Denver Justice Project and Black Lives Matter 5280 are bailing out a few individuals as part of a campaign to push bail reform and end the money bail system, especially for low-level crimes.

DENVER (AP) – For more than four hours on a weekday, three Denver activists sat in the lobby of the city’s downtown jail waiting for seven men – all strangers – to walk out from behind bars.

The activists, who are members of The Denver Justice Project and Black Lives Matter 5280, had paid the men’s bonds as part of their Juneteenth/Father’s Day Bail Out. The bail money was posted as a gift with no questions asked and with the trust that the men would return to court to face their criminal charges.

“It’s the human thing to do,” said Vincent Bowen, a volunteer with Black Lives Matter 5280. “It is a way for us to point out the injustice of the cash bail system.”

The activists planned to spring more than a dozen men jailed in Denver, Arapahoe, Douglas and Adams counties. All are being held on low bonds for petty crimes, and the activists hope the men can be reunited with their families for Father’s Day or be released in honor of the Juneteenth emancipation celebration.

The activists did the same over Mother’s Day weekend for 15 women housed in five Front Range jails. Both efforts are part of the National Bail Out movement, a larger effort to end money bail in the criminal justice system.

This year’s Father’s Day Bail Out is in honor of Michael Marshall, a Denver man who was killed by sheriff’s deputies in the Downtown Detention Center while in the throes of a mental health crisis. Marshall was being held on a $100 bond for a trespassing charge, and his family did not know he had been arrested. The city paid Marshall’s family a $4.6 million settlement.

In the court system, bond is supposed to guarantee people will return to court to face a criminal charge after they have been released from custody. But those who want to abolish money bail say it is punitive, especially to minorities who are arrested at higher rates and are more likely to live in poverty.

Forcing someone to stay in jail on a low bond on a minor charge has long-lasting repercussions, activists said. People may lose their jobs, miss important payments on bills and be separated from their families. Meanwhile, everyone else in society is paying their tax dollars to incarcerate them, Bowen said.

Bond reform discussions are happening across the United States. In Colorado, a statewide panel has been assembled to review bail and bond procedures.

On June 14, one of the men being held in the Denver jail had been given a $10 bond for a charge of disturbing the peace. In addition to the $10 bond, the Denver courts charge a $50 fee to those posting bond, said Elisabeth Epps of The Denver Justice Project. The man did not have $60, so Epps paid his bail and the fee with money the project has received through donations.

The man had been in jail since June 9, and he was scheduled for a