Imagine you are driving home and are unexpectedly pulled over by the police for expired license plates (This is pre or post pandemic.) You did not realize they had expired.
If you are white, you might get lucky and not get stopped by police because there are fewer police in majority white neighborhoods. If you are stopped, you might get off with a warning. If you are arrested, and of at least moderate means, you will be able to contact an attorney who can assist you in getting released from jail on your own recognizance and/or by paying bail. If you are fortunate, you will be assigned a non-financial bail only. Your pretrial jail time (time until you are released from jail) will be two or three days in most cases. You will then be released and have the time and freedom to work with your attorney to prepare your case for your trial.
If you are a person of color, you have a greater possibility of being stopped by police, both because of racial profiling and because traditionally Black neighborhoods are over-policed, by a combination of local and federal (Operation Legend which targets Black neighborhoods) law enforcement. You would not likely get off with a warning. In fact, you are at risk of bodily harm when you are stopped. You are most likely to be arrested. If you are not a person with financial resources, you will not be able to afford to call a lawyer or post cash bail. If you cannot post bail, the average stay in jail is three and a half months before you have your trial. During this time in jail you may be fired from your job, lose your apartment or house, and lose your children- all before you have been convicted of any crime whatsoever. Your life, the life of your family, and your community will be negatively affected.
You will probably not meet your Public Defender until your day in court and she and you will not be able to gather evidence to help your case. You are pressured by the Prosecutor to accept a plea bargain to accept a shorter sentence even if you did not commit any crime just so you can return home sooner. You may decide to be one of the ninety percent of cases that are plea-bargained, resulting in the denial of a fair trial for you, and a criminal record.
If this, our justice system, seems unfair to you, there is something you can do. The Action Team of ACLU of Northeast Ohio is one of several organizations working to eliminate our current bail system which unfairly helps people who have money and penalizes the poor. Several of your UUCC friends are already working on the Action Team (Laurie Albright, Bev Austin, Bonnie Casey, Pat Dillard, and Pat Solomon) Talk with us or visit our meeting any Thursday from 5 to 6 pm via zoom.
You have the opportunity to use your privilege for justice.