Imagine losing days, weeks, or months of your life rotting in a jail cell even though, in the United States, you’re supposed to be presumed innocent unless proven guilty.
Such unjust imprisonment should never happen in a free nation. Yet it is the reality for hundreds of thousands of Americans today. Unsurprisingly, many of them are poor people of color who can’t afford to pay excessive bail fees.
They are imprisoned because the current bail system is out of control. It deprives people of their freedom for no reason other than their inability to pay. This violates freedom and poses an unconstitutional threat to our rights as citizens.
Happiness not property The Declaration of Independence counts “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness” among our “inalienable rights” as Americans. It’s important to remember that the original phrase from John Locke put it differently, as “life, liberty, and property.” But America’s Founding Fathers modified this phrase for a very specific and important reason – because they didn’t believe freedom should be tied to wealth and property ownership.
Back then, African Americans were deprived of their human rights and considered property under the heinously immoral institution of slavery. But times have changed, and all Americans are now guaranteed the same rights and freedoms, regardless of ability to pay.
It’s time for the bail industry to catch up with the modern world. It’s time for a big change in the bail system. In California, Senate Bill 10 would upend the cash bail system that keeps so many people locked up unjustly. It’s more than a sensible reform of a broken system – it’s a moral imperative.
Freedom not wealth The bail system is based on the deeply un-American idea that your freedom should depend on your wealth. It’s shameful that such a system has survived into the 21st century, and must be abolished at once. How many innocent people are languishing in a jail cell today for the sole reason that they can’t buy their freedom?
Martin Luther King Jr. said, “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.”
We cannot tolerate a system in which innocent people languish in our local jails because they cannot afford to pay the bail. The idea that your freedom should be determined by your ability to pay violates the freedom of every American.
SB 10 is a chance for California to lead the way on righting this injustice and restoring the freedom of every American.
George Lakoff has retired as Distinguished Professor of Cognitive Science and Linguistics at the University of California at Berkeley. He is now Director of the Center for the Neural Mind & Society (http://cnms.berkeley.edu).