Connected \\ June 12, 2020
Seeking justice in Salem
Tompkins Harrison Matteson, Trial of George Jacobs, August 5, 1692, 1855 Oil on canvas. Gift of R. W. Ropes. © Peabody Essex Museum. Photo by Mark Sexton and Jeffrey R. Dykes/PEM.
Attendees of this event would visit Jacob Lawrence: The American Struggle and reflect on racism, injustice and the cry for freedom in the United States. It seemed significant that the awardee, VAI and PEM were all converging to honor Jacob Lawrence and the enduring power of art to create an opportunity to reflect upon racism rooted in America. We could at the same time amplify the voice of a champion of justice. Then, the pandemic hit and the event was canceled.
Photo by Bob Packert/PEM.
Like the MBF, VAI is looking for ways to respond to the urgent impetus for people to understand how unjust our system actually is. In addition to stewarding the Salem Witch Trials Memorial, which is right beside PEM, the organization amplifies voices and works to inspire our worldwide community to confront fear and social injustice with courage.
Photo by Paige Besse/PEM.
Starting small, the MBF has confronted a giant system and made momental change in the lives of thousands of people. Since 2013, the MBF has spent more than $1.3 million to post more than 3,500 bails. Though their goal is decarceration, they are working to affect change within the system, recognizing that radical change is not necessarily imminent. Pretrial incarceration and the cash bail system is unjust and has a disproportionate impact on low-income people. Locking up innocent people because they can't meet bail keeps them from their work and family responsibilities and can have dire consequences.
From the exhibition Jacob Lawrence: The American Struggle, detail of Hank Willis Thomas, Rich Black Specimen #460, 2017. Aluminum with powder coat and automotive paint. Edition 1 of 2, with 1 artist proof. Museum purchase, made possible by the Elizabeth Rogers Acquisition Fund. Courtesy of the artist and Jack Shainman Gallery, New York. Photo by Kathy Tarantola/PEM.
Prior to the outbreak, MBF was able to post bail at every jail and prison in Massachusetts, but there were no contactless or low contact bail posting sites, so the work of MBF was on hold. When Massachusetts ranked third in the nation in total cases of COVID-19 and fourth in deaths, a WBUR headline read Mass. Prisons And Jails Among Hardest Hit. That translates to people who were incarcerated because they were unable to post a bail as low as $40 and were not convicted of a crime, and yet, left unprotected during a public health crisis. Now some facilities are accommodating a contactless or low contact bail posting process — and MBF is working around the clock — knowing that their work can literally save lives.