reviving bail reform: from the alliance to end repression to chicago community bond fund

“A democratic society or a police state in America– which will it be?” This was the guiding question of the Alliance to End Repression, a coalition of over fifty activist groups that formed in 1970. “Reaching from the Black and Latin ghettos to the affluent suburbs” of Chicago and Cook County, the coalition included Black Panthers, the Chicago Bar Association, and the League of Women Voters, in addition to large numbers of neighborhood organizations.

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The Alliance came together to seek justice after the police assassinations of Black Panthers Fred Hampton and Mark Clark. Rather than limit their agenda to just one issue, they pressed for a “unified, inclusive, action-oriented alliance” in challenging the police state. In a political moment of police spying and police torture, this was a bold move indeed. The Alliance to End Repression (AER) is best remembered for their successful legal challenge to the Red Squad‘s unconstitutional activities.

Not to be overlooked, the Alliance to End Repression initiated the Cook County Special Bail Project because, as they saw it, “unfair and unconstitutional bail practices in Cook County constitute a major source of repression.” For the Alliance, organizing against the “repression of constitutional rights” included keeping people out of jail who didn’t need to be there while they waited for trial. In an era of intense brutality and overcrowding at Cook County Jail, the Alliance’s Special Bail Project kept thousands out of jail during the 1970s.

Two major bail reforms had come to Illinois in the 1960s. “Ten percent bail” eliminated bail bondsman and allowed detainees to pay ten percent of their bond directly in order to obtain release from jail. “Release on recognizance” (ROR) allowed people to be released while awaiting trial if they did not have the money for bail but had strong social support to ensure they showed up for court.

Rather than proclaim “mission accomplished,” the Alliance organized to provide bail funds for people who needed their ten percent and provided 300 volunteers to observe Cook County courts and interview detainees to help them obtain ROR bonds. Sadly, when federal funding for the Special Bail Project ran out, Cook County chose not to continue the program as it had been constituted under AER. Cook County Jail quickly became unconstitutionally overcrowded.

The work of the Alliance to End Repression reminds us that challenges to police brutality and shootings don’t have to be limited to marching in the streets. We need a complete transformation of police forces, court practices, and jails. I am proud to support SOUL in their efforts to seek bail reform and end mass incarceration in Cook County today.

[UPDATE, Aug. 19, 2015]: Very excited to see that the tradition of grassroots bond intervention moves forward: the Chicago Community Bond Fund has launched. Their mission:

“The Chicago Community Bond Fund (CCBF) pays bond for people charged with crimes in Cook County, Illinois. Through a revolving fund, CCBF supports individuals whose communities cannot afford to pay the bonds themselves and who have been impacted by structural violence.”

[UPDATE, Oct. 6, 2015]: You can donate to the Chicago Community Bond Fund here.

quotes and image from “A Democratic Society or A Police State in America: Which Will it Be?,” Alliance to End Repression flyer, Summer 1970, 2, Folder 6, Box 16, Alliance to End Repression Papers, Chicago History Museum Research Center