Amid protests, Detroit Bail Project keeps fighting...

Amid protests, Detroit Bail Project keeps fighting to change a broken system

"We are trying to end the systemic racism that has been happening for so long and trying to create real systemic change."

Asia Johnson

After taking part in peaceful protests on Saturday and Sunday, Asia Johnson spent her evenings at the Detroit Detention Center on the east side, ready to help bail out arrested protesters delivered by bus.

More than 200 protesters were arrested over the weekend during protests in downtown Detroit against police brutality and the police killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis.

Johnson, who calls herself a “bail disruptor,” runs the local efforts of The Bail Project, a national program that seeks to end mass incarceration. 

“All of our hearts are heavy with grief and sadness and confusion and fear,” she told Detour. “But seeing people get their voices heard and having space to actually march down the street with your sign — there is something really powerful in that.”

The Detroit Bail Project launched in Detroit in 2018 and posts bail for clients up to $5,000. Staff select people to post bond for based on their court appearance history and ability to remain in contact with the project throughout the duration of their case. Once the bond is returned, that money flows back into a revolving fund to bail out the next person. The program is housed within the Detroit Justice Center and has 44 other local programs in cities across the nation. 

Johnson said that so far, she has not had to post bail for any protesters, and she’s observed that most of those arrested during the protests have been ticketed and released. She said the few she’s learned about who have been detained have had their bail set to $100, and so have many have been able to post bond themselves. She anticipates posting bond for one protestor on Tuesday who has remained in detention. 

A bigger problem, she said, was trying to find rides home for those left stranded at the detention center. Lyft wasn’t servicing the area, so it turned into a bit of organized chaos to get people back home.  

In the past week since Floyd’s death, Johnson said the Detroit Bail Project has received a marked increase in volunteers and donations. Those funds will go towards bailing out any future protestors as well as supporting the continued work of the project to bail out people for other charges. She said the missions of the protesters and of the Detroit Bail Project are in lockstep.

“We are really in solidarity with the protesters,” Johnson told Detour. “We are trying to end the systemic racism that has been happening for so long and trying to create real systemic change. And we know that that’s what the protesters’ mission is, and so we are allied with them in every way.”

Michigan jail numbers have soared in recent years, even as crime rates fell. Jailed populations are disproportionately Black, according to a bipartisan jail reform task force that in January recommended putting more limits on when bail can be required. Last year, the ACLU of Michigan filed a lawsuit accusing the 36th District Court in Detroit of creating a “two-tiered legal system” that discriminates against the poor by detaining people who can’t afford bail. 

This past weekend was the first time Johnson, a returning citizen herself who has a personal mission to disrupt what she calls the “trauma to prison” pipeline, participated in a large protest. It left her feeling inspired — she sees the protests as a positive step toward stopping the “seemingly endless amount of attacks on Black and Brown lives.”  

“I think that people are really fed up,” she told Detour. “Fed up in a way that will result in productive change.”

You can support The Bail Project here. If you like, you can specify that your funds be used to post bond for people in Detroit. 

Main image: Asia Johnson. Courtesy Asia Johnson

Nina Misuraca Ignaczak is a contributing editor for Detour Detroit. She is the founder and executive editor of Planet Detroit, a digital media startup that tells Detroit’s environmental stories while building a community of engaged readers who are informed and empowered to act personally and publicly. She is an award-winning freelance journalist who writes, edits and produces stories about the environment, place and identity. Her recent work has been published by Detour Detroit, Belt Magazine, HuffPost, Detroit Free Press, WDET, Crains Detroit Business, Business Insider, Curbed Detroit and Model D. Prior to her career in journalism, she worked in urban planning in the local government and nonprofit sectors. She has a Master of Science in Natural Resource Ecology and a Bachelor of Science in Biology from the University of Michigan. Follow her on Twitter: @ninaignaczak