In the weeks of protests and demonstrations following multiple police killings of unarmed Black men, many bail funds and similar justice funds have seen an outpouring of donations to help ongoing arrests. One of the funds that’s received the most overwhelming amount is Minnesota Freedom Fund (MFF), a once-small, mostly volunteer-led initiative that's based in Minneapolis — the city where George Floyd was killed.
But things took a sudden turn this week after Twitter users, and massive corporate donors, started asking questions about the distribution of funds raised by Reclaim the Block, Black Visions Collective, and the Minnesota Freedom Fund. One influential Twitter user, Evelyn Woodsen, founder of The Affinity Mag, tweeted an accusation against the Minnesota Freedom Fund on Monday, saying, “Wait till Twitter wakes up tomorrow and finds out the Minnesota Bail Fund got $35 million and only used $200k to bail out protestors,” insinuating fund-hoarding.
After many began demanding transparency and accountability, which MFF claimed to consistently provide, the organization posted a Twitter thread with a statement on Tuesday explaining their processes. “We are a volunteer community fund who until last month was doing all we could to pay a handful of misdemeanors each month, steadily paying, getting funds back, raising more $ when we could, doing it again,” they wrote.
According to statements released by MFF in the past few weeks, they've been transparent about all of their funds, even going so far as to redirect to other bail out initiatives. In Minneapolis, only days into calls for funds to bail out protesters standing up to the injustice and violence that Floyd experienced, the MFF removed their more explicit "donate" button and tried to amplify organizations in other cities that needed more help. Still, donations kept coming in.
“We were a small organization that was not ready for this kind of influx and so we’re working as quickly as possible while being mindful that we have to take slow, necessary steps and have conversations with the group about hiring an accountant and attorney who can help us go through these processes," Mirella Ceja-Orozco, the Immigration Attorney Volunteer on the Board of Minnesota Freedom Fund, told Refinery29. "Before, we were an organization that had two staff members and maybe 8 volunteers and that’s completely changing now."
The sudden backlash and concern over Minnesota Freedom Fund is not isolated to this one charity. Across the country, bail funds that once received much less money, and less frequently, are now working to figure out how to spend it, while others still struggle to get enough money. Pilar Weiss, the Director of the National Bail Fund Network, a coalition of over 70 community bail and bond funds across the country that host bail for people regularly, explains that funds are always raising money to pay bail to get people out of immigration detention and pre-trial detention.
“There’s a misunderstanding and false expectation that everything is instantaneous. In some places, bail has been a couple hundred dollars, some have been thousands of dollars or hundreds of thousands. It depends. And it's always going to take time to spend down that money, because things don't happen the way they do on TV where it's so easy to get out of jail or to just pay bail immediately,” Weiss told Refinery29.
Many grassroots organizations aside from MFF went from only being able to afford to bail out a dozen people over the course of the month to suddenly having millions. There’s been work to get to this point, but with a fire re-lit by recent national attention, there is a simultaneous disconnect between the slow pace of community organizing and rapid-fire social media conversations, says Weiss. If bail funds are holding onto money, which only some even have enough to do, it’s because they’re still going to need them long after this moment. “We all need to take a second to give people the grace and space to spend money in a way that will build power and accomplish long term goals,” says Weiss.
But people will continuously be arrested — whether for protesting or otherwise — and require those bail funds. According to both organization leaders, they're not going to waste by any means. Now, the initiative for MFF and other bail funds are refocusing and transforming to help city council-driven initiatives to defund local police departments.
“We want to transform the system so that the cash bail process doesn’t exist. We would like to not have to exist, so if we can help change the system, then organizations like ours won’t be needed anymore, but that will also take time, and slow processes,” Ceja-Orozco told Refinery29.
“The arc of how we got here to this moment of uprising was decades and decades of work led by Black women, the civil rights movement, and radical organizers, and just like it took all those years of work, it’s going to take years of work to implement building a new vision of community-based services,” says Weiss. “You made a donation with the intention of going further than just this moment so it’s going to take more time to spend this all.”