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The Minnesota Freedom Fund is all over Twitter. Here’s what it does.
Protesters filled the streets of downtown Minneapolis for days after George Floyd died in police custody. | Stephen Maturen/Getty Images How a Twitter campaign to help Minneapolis protesters may also help reform America’s unfair bail system. If you’ve been following the protests in Minneapolis on Twitter, you’ve no doubt seen more than a few tweets, some from very prominent tweeters promoting a nonprofit called the Minnesota Freedom Fund. The tweets usually say they’ve donated to the fund. Some include a screenshot of the donation confirmation page and urge their followers to donate, too. The tweets have quickly become iconic. Here's how you can help as an ally right now. Put your anger, grief and sadness into action and help to pay bail for arrested protesters:— Padma Lakshmi (@PadmaLakshmi) May 29, 2020 Just matched you .— Janelle Monáe, Cindi Mayweather (@JanelleMonae) May 28, 2020 Please also consider giving what you can to the Minnesota Freedom Fund (@MNFreedomFund), they're combatting the harms of incarceration by paying bail for low-income individuals who cannot otherwise afford it.— Mark Ruffalo (@MarkRuffalo) May 28, 2020 The origins of the campaign are unclear, but one of the earliest accounts to tweet about the fund was activist AntiFash Gordon. It’s grown from there, with thousands of tweets promoting the fund and its cause as a way of assisting the people protesting the death of George Floyd at the hands of the Minneapolis Police Department. The fund and its mission to reform the cash bail system aren’t just important for these protests; it’s a way to help reform an aspect of the American criminal justice system that is fundamentally unfair to lower-income people, and goes against its very principles to do so. The Minnesota Freedom Fund began in 2016. It posts small cash bails for people who otherwise couldn’t afford them. According to the fund’s executive director, Tonja Honsey, its beneficiaries only need an average of $150 to secure their pre-trial release. “That’s $150 that separates people from their families, from their jobs, from their communities, from their houses, from employment,” Honsey told Minnesota Public Radio in 2019. “At the root of it, it’s extracting wealth from communities.” When people are arrested, they may be required to pay a deposit to secure their release before trial, as a way to guarantee they’ll come back. If they can’t afford that deposit, they can get a bail bonds company to pay it for them — for a fee that some people also may not be able to afford. Before the current protests, the Minnesota Freedom Fund made headlines for its work to get as many people out of pretrial detention as possible as the coronavirus pandemic hit prisons and jails, which have become hot spots for the virus. Now, the fund has become a way to assist people who are arrested during the protests. The fund is one of many across the country fighting against America’s cash bail system, which disproportionately impacts lower-income people. Without the resources to pay bail, these people must remain in jail until their trial — effectively giving them a prison sentence before they’ve been convicted of a crime. It’s estimated that 550,000 people are held in jail before they’ve had a trial, many of whom simply can’t afford their own release. For some, it could be years before their case ever goes to trial, as was the case for Kalief Browder, a 16-year-old who was jailed for nearly three years because his family couldn’t afford to bail him out. He was accused of stealing a backpack; the charges against him were ultimately dropped. Browder never recovered from his time in jail and took his own life a few years after his release. He has since become a symbol of the inequities and consequences of the cash bail system. Several states have recently passed bail reform laws that do away with cash bails for low-level offenses. Minnesota isn’t one of them, though there have been recent attempts to institute such a system in Minneapolis. Bail reform detractors have argued that releasing people accused of crimes will lead to more crime. Soon after New York’s bail reform law went into effect, critics pointed to the rising crime rate in New York City as proof that this had, indeed, happened. Proponents say it’s too soon to tell if the rise in crime can be attributed to bail reform, and only a small percentage of people released under the bail reform law were accused of committing those crimes. Regardless of what critics and proponents say, there is one undeniable fact: Everyone released by bail reform laws is innocent according to the American justice system, which is based on the presumption of innocence until proven otherwise. A bunch of tweets from high-profile figures will make a lot of people aware of the issue who otherwise would not have been. Now we’ll see if that’ll be enough to change it. Support Vox’s explanatory journalism Every day at Vox, we aim to answer your most important questions and provide you, and our audience around the world, with information that has the power to save lives. Our mission has never been more vital than it is in this moment: to empower you through understanding. Vox’s work is reaching more people than ever, but our distinctive brand of explanatory journalism takes resources — particularly during a pandemic and an economic downturn. Your financial contribution will not constitute a donation, but it will enable our staff to continue to offer free articles, videos, and podcasts at the quality and volume that this moment requires. Please consider making a contribution to Vox today.
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Zion Baptist Church Pastor Brain Herron helps pass out masks to Minneapolis residents during the Covid-19 pandemic. | Jerry Holt/Star Tribune via Getty Images Black people make up a disproportionate share of confirmed Covid-19 cases in the state, but not deaths. While people protest the death of a black man at the hands of a white Minneapolis police officer and a president with a history of inflaming racial tensions seemingly incites violence against those same protesters, black communities in Minnesota must also endure Covid-19. There, as elsewhere in the United States, the public health and economic crises are taking a harsher toll among minorities than the white majority. Across the country, black Americans are getting infected with the coronavirus and dying from it at disproportionate rates compared to their share of the population. The Covid-19 mortality rate among black Americans is 2.4 times higher than it is for white people. There is not a single explanation for that racial disparity, but many. Black Americans have historically struggled with their health compared to whites, a reflection of the US’s longstanding socioeconomic stratification by race, and black Americans have high rates of preexisting conditions that make patients more vulnerable to Covid-19. They are also more likely to work jobs that have been considered “essential” and cannot be done from home, which increases their risk of exposure to the virus. Spread among intergenerational households and exposure to air pollution could also help explain the high infection rates among black people. The point is, the disparities in Covid-19’s impact are in many ways the byproduct of America’s structural racism — just like the deaths of George Floyd in Minneapolis, and Ahmaud Arbery in Georgia, and other black people who have died at the hands of white law enforcement officers or civilians. The escalation of the unrest in Minnesota, and President Trump’s inflammatory rhetoric against the protesters, is a reminder of how pervasive these problems remain. Even in a mostly white state like Minnesota, black people may pay the price for the racial disparities in public health. The breakdown of coronavirus cases in the state shows many of the same trends we have seen nationwide. Black people make up only 7 percent of the Minnesota population, but they account for 16 percent of the roughly 23,000 confirmed Covid-19 cases. However, black Minnesotans do not appear to be dying at a disproportionate rate from Covid-19, at least based on the available data. Those trends could be a mirage, reflecting reporting and testing limitations, and/or they might be partially explained by the demographics of the different races in the state. The average age of Minnesota’s white residents (over 40) is substantially older than that of its black residents (about 27 years old, according to public health experts I contacted). To put it another way, 24 percent of Minnesota’s white population is over 60 years old, while just 7 percent of the state’s black population is. (Minnesota has the biggest Somali population of any state, and that may help some of the age gap; the US-born population in the state skews older than migrants from African countries.) We know Covid-19 is more dangerous for older people, and most of Minnesota’s confirmed Covid-19 deaths have occurred in nursing homes or other long-term care facilities. So Minnesota may simply be lucky, in a sense, that the black residents who are getting infected happened to be younger and therefore less at risk of a fatal case. However, the experts I spoke with also warned it’s too early to draw firm conclusions about the fatality patterns between the races in Minnesota. A lot of recorded Covid-19 deaths don’t actually have racial markers attached to them. And biases in the testing may have contributed to an underreporting of black Covid-19 deaths in Minnesota. If you step back and look at all excess mortality — how many deaths have occurred in 2020 compared to what would be expected during a normal year — the data suggests black Minnesotans are dying at a disproportionately high rate compared to the historical averages. This inconsistent data reminds us that it is going to take a long time to suss out the precise impact of Covid-19 in Minnesota and across the country. “Given the incomplete testing and incomplete recording of Covid deaths as such, I think it’s too early for anyone to say definitively that black Minnesotans are less likely to die, given infection, than white Minnesotans, but that pattern certainly can arise from the age differences between different racial groups in Minnesota, which are extreme,” Elizabeth Wrigley-Field, a sociology professor at the University of Minnesota who tracks Covid-19’s population health data, told me. Nonwhite Minnesotans are also experiencing more economic pain during the coronavirus crisis compared to the white population. Black, Hispanic, and multiracial residents of the state account for 17 percent of the unemployment claims filed in the state since March 2, a slightly disproportionate share. And it must be repeated that black Minnesotans who are still working are more likely to have high-exposure occupations. As A. Rochaun Meadows-Fernandez wrote for Vox this week, black families — and black mothers, in particular — are enduring compounding crises: the recent spate of police violence and the ongoing pandemic. And the resulting stress can be a health risk all its own. From her essay: When unmasked, we Black mothers fear our loved ones will suffer from the risks associated with complications from the disease. When masked, we fear the risks associated with complications of bias and racism. As Black mothers, we are living in an especially troublesome time — sandwiched between the current public health threat of Covid-19 and the longtime reality of police brutality. We are trapped in a double-bind of racism. While there’s an influx of “pandemic grief guides,” none are useful in teaching Black children that the virus is terrifying, but that racism is the public health crisis more likely to kill you. There are no instructions about where Black mothers are supposed to place their fears and sorrow. As Black mothers, grief is embedded in our being. It accumulates and manifests as body aches and pains. But many of us have never been taught how to deal with it so it doesn’t become yet another risk to our health. Recent studies have actually found the mothers of children who face discrimination report worse health over time than the mothers of children who do not. No crisis happens in isolation. The tragic events of the last week, and the disturbing disparities detected in the Covid-19 outbreak, are a reminder of how these separate challenges combine to harm the health of the people in America who already face structural disadvantages. There is, sadly, little sign those disparities are going to get better anytime soon. This story appears in VoxCare, a newsletter from Vox on the latest twists and turns in America’s health care debate. Sign up to get VoxCare in your inboxalong with more health care stats and news. Join the conversation Are you interested in more discussions around health care policy? Join our Facebook community for conversation and updates.
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