On July 7, the 225th General Assembly will revisit the topic of one of the most memorable moments of the 223rd General Assembly held four years ago in St. Louis — the March to End Cash Bail — to make sure the injustice remains near the front of the minds of Presbyterians.
“It continues to tax individuals, and the longer they stay in jail for a misdemeanor crime, it turns into a money mill for local governments,” the Rev. Dr. J. Herbert Nelson, II, Stated Clerk of the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), said Monday on GA Live, the daily show hosted by Fred Tangeman, a reporter in the Office of the General Assembly. “Something about that is immoral.”
Ending cash bail will be the centerpiece of the Hands & Feet event set for online viewing at 6 p.m. Eastern Time on July 7. Nelson will join the Rev. Jimmie Hawkins, the PC(USA)’s director of advocacy, and the Rev. Dr. Shannon Craigo-Snell, Professor of Theology at Louisville Presbyterian Theological Seminary, for a panel discussion. Also included in the program will be representatives from Central Florida Presbytery to talk about their work ending cash bail there and Shameka Parrish Wright, community advocacy and partnership manager at The Bail Project in Louisville, which will receive funds raised during the Hands & Feet event.
“This cash bail system in Louisville needs to be eliminated,” Nelson said. “We have to begin at home. We’re hoping it will be a prototype such as Central Florida Presbytery did.”
Nelson called the system of cash bail — which courts use to ensure people accused of a crime will appear at upcoming court dates, and which institutions including the Brennan Center for Justice say discriminates against the poor and people of color — “domination” and “empire.”
“We can do it because we want to, because we can, because we can get away with it, and your life doesn’t matter,” Nelson said. “It’s something that quite frankly needs to be turned around.”
Amanda Craft, manager for immigrant advocacy for the Office of the General Assembly’s Office of Immigration Issues and an organizer of the July 7 event, also appeared on Monday’s broadcast. Two commissioners from Central Florida Presbytery who attended the St. Louis Assembly came home “really inspired by the opportunity to come together and really understand cash bail,” she told Tangeman. “In Central Florida, bail bond money wasn’t being returned. They have continued to remain committed to the issue and have done lots of education of Presbyterians in their congregations. They’ve kept walking the walk, and they have made some interesting networking connections."
“This is the beauty of a national church coming together” for an event like Hands & Feet, Craft said, “to have a larger impact.”
Before ending Monday’s broadcast, Tangeman asked Nelson how he’s feeling now that the first two rounds of committee meetings are in the books and four more committees have gathered at the Presbyterian Center for the third round of work and discernment.
“I’m really thankful in many ways,” Nelson said. “We’ve been able to pull this [hybrid Assembly] together in a very short period of time.” He thanked staff in the OGA “for the way in which we have been able to reach out in this shop to do the work necessary. We have folks who have brought expertise and have been very faithful in what they’re doing. We have a staff that has been very agreeable to a different way of getting through this.”
In addition, “we now have [conference center] space in the building we can use,” Nelson said. “There are three hotels nearby who are going to need some space for meetings.”
Nelson said he’s also pleased with the growth in the relationship between the PC(USA) and government office-holders and officials in Louisville.
“We’ve developed a good relationship with [Louisville Mayor Greg Fischer] and the folks on the Metro Council,” Nelson said.
Nelson’s final words during GA Live concerned the pandemic, which he said “has been a struggle.”
“But at the end of the day, how do we take our moments and make something much deeper happen? It may be time for rest, but it’s also time for recalibration. It took a lot of energy to get here, and I’m thankful for the staff who helped us get here.”