Religious Leaders Speak Up for Bail Reform (2/25/2020)
Rochester faith leaders show support for bail reform laws
They say bail shouldn’t be used punitively. Leaders of Rochester’s faith community gathered Tuesday to support New York’s cash bail reform measures that went into effect last month.
Several religious leaders spoke out Tuesday and urged local lawmakers to “not roll back on this legislation,” said Rev. Lane Campbell, minister at First Universalist Church of Rochester and the chairman of the Rochester Alliance of Communities Transforming Society (RocACTS) Religious Leaders Caucus. “This narrative of danger often targets black and brown people, as well as poor people, and we will not stand for it.”
The public’s view of the law, which was approved last April, has shifted negatively, Gov. Andrew Cuomo and lawmakers are considering whether to alter it, particularly restoring some judicial discretion over whether bail should be set in certain cases.
Advocates say it is needed because bail shouldn’t be used as punishment for those who can’t afford to pay their way out of prison as they await the adjudication of their cases. Those opposing the law including some prosecutors and law enforcement, say it is making communities less safe.
Good news for the poor
“Bail reform is good news for the poor,” said Rev. James C. Simmons, senior minister at Baber African Methodist Episcopal Church. “Now there is not one standard for the poor and another standard for the rich.”
With bail reform, people who in the past could not afford to post bail “won’t lose their jobs, won’t be separated from their families and will have real access to counsel, to cellphones, to the internet and other tools that helps one to prepare for trial.”
Simmons also said the because minority communities are over-policed, residents with a diverse background most overcome additional barriers. “These people have been oppressed for years ... Look around and you’ll see the blatant inequities.”
Rabbi Drorah Setel of Temple Emanu- El on St. Paul Boulevard argued that the previous bail system was unjust and criminalized poverty, detaining people accused of crimes because they could not afford to post bail.
“Why are we not afraid of people who can make bail?” she asked. “That’s the issue. Bail isn’t meant to be a punitive measure. It’s meant to ensure (those arrested) return to court.”
The group is hosting several upcoming events, all free and public:
❚ Educational forum on bail reform at 11:45 a.m. on Sunday, March 8 at Baber A.M.E Church, 550 Meigs St., Rochester.
❚ Bail reform rally at 6 p.m. on Tuesday, March 24 at the First Church of God, 334, Clarissa St., Rochester.
❚ Police-community relations summit from 9:30 a.m. to 3 p.m. on Saturday, April 4 at the Wilson Foundation Academy, 200 Genesee St., Rochester. New York Attorney General Letitia James is scheduled to speak. There will also be a panel discussion.
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