A group advocating for racial and social justice in Columbia started a fund to get people who have been charged with low-level offenses out of jail quickly, and back to their lives.

Race Matters, Friends hosted a fundraiser on Saturday evening with poetry, singing and a movie in order to launch its new Community Bail Fund.

The fund was started to “get people out (of jail) quickly enough for them to resume their lives until their court date,” said Race Matters, Friends Vice President Peggy Placier.

After more than a year of research, a group within Race Matters, Friends decided to begin raising money for the fund. The event today was the launch of this fundraising effort.

The goal is to first raise $10,000 and then build a “sustainable” amount of funding in order to keep the project going.

Race Matters, Friends will decide who gets the money. Right now, members of the group are planning to check the Boone County Jail’s online incarceration log before investigating each of the cases to see if the person is in real need. They currently plan to help people whose bail is less than $1,000, said a member of the bail fund group, Tory Kassabaum. She has helped research and create the bail fund for the last six months.

The bail money will be given to people who have been charged with minor offenses and cannot afford to pay it on their own. The fund will not be used to pay very high bail amounts, Placier said.

By providing a bail fund, Race Matters, Friends plans to help keep people financially stable and out of jail until their case has been decided, said Race Matters, Friends President Traci Wilson-Kleekamp.

People who cannot afford bail on their own have the option of turning to private, for-profit bail bond companies. When someone goes to a company like this they pay about 10 percent of the bail amount to the company up front, and then the company pays the jail the full bail amount.

The court holds bail money until the trial is over, then returns it. A deposit to a bail bond company won’t be returned.

Bail affects poorer people and people of color disproportionally. Many families cannot afford to pay the hundreds to thousands of dollars that is needed to get them out of jail, Wilson-Kleekamp said.

Race Matters, Friends emphasizes that people in jail who would receive the help “have not been convicted of a crime.”

This fund will be used to help people, especially people of color, get back to their lives and families until their court date comes up. The bail fund is not just to help people get out of jail, but to also conquer the overcrowding at Boone County Jail, Wilson-Kleekamp said.

To launch the bail fund, the fundraiser on Saturday featured a donation box and an auction, where artists donated their work, to raise money. The event also featured songs from a local artist, Jamie Meadows, and live poetry performed by high school students.

One poet gave what he jokingly called his “state of the union address.” Hazen Blair began his poem, which discussed the vast inequalities in the country, by saying, “buckle in people.”

In addition to their fundraising, Wilson-Kleekamp briefly spoke about a new Facebook page they started called Wake Up, Columbia. The new site will be a forum for people to share their experiences of “waking up” to racial inequality.

“When did you come into your consciousness about race?” Wilson-Kleekamp asked.

Supervising editor is Brendan Crowley: news@columbiamissourian.com, 882-7884.

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