07/28/17- The world is full of bad news. We have so much bad news from Trump’s White House alone that it is truly hard to keep up. But this morning I’m so excited to be bringing our listeners some good news on top of the fact that we helped beat back the Republican push to Obamacare.
On this past Tuesday, I told our listeners about a young brother, Pedro Hernandez, who was a standout high school student wrongly jailed at New York’s Rikers Island for a crime he didn’t commit. He’d been there going on two years and hadn’t even had a trial or been convicted for a crime. Rikers Island is a hell hole of a jail that chews people up and spits them out and here’s what’s ugly – thousands of people are there – not because they’ve been convicted, but because they simply cannot afford bail.
Just two weeks ago I learned of Pedro’s case and we all got to work. I wrote a featured piece about him in the New York Daily News that went viral. His courageous mother, Jessica, started a fundraiser and we raised over $100,000 in just a few days. Seeing the story I wrote, and that you shared, and seeing the funds people gave from all over the world – the Robert F Kennedy Center for Human Rights got on board and volunteered to not only cover whatever was owed of Pedro’s $250,000 bail, but to turbocharge his defense team to beat back the charges.
This week, a small core of about 10 of us literally worked around the clock to get Pedro free and out of Rikers. At every turn, it seemed like the system was against us. First off, the judge decided that Pedro could not pay 10% of his bail like everybody else does, but that they were going to treat him like a murderer or a drug kingpin and require him to pay all $250,000.
When we informed the court that $100,000 of what we raised came from over 3,000 donors online, I kid you not, they said we would have to prove where all 3,000 donors got the money they gave. I’m not even kidding. I swear it felt like a Jim Crow poll tax where they asked you how many bubbles are in a bar of soap. There was no way in hell we were going to be able to prove where 3,000 donors got the money they gave. Hundreds gave anonymously.
Then, the Robert F. Kennedy Center, lead by Kerry Kennedy, the daughter of Robert and Ethel Kennedy, committed to covering the entire cost of the bail. When they did so, they were then told that they could not post the bail and serve as his defense team. So they agreed not to serve in that capacity if it meant they could post the bail.
As Pedro’s case became a trending topic and was featured in news outlets all over the world, we became increasingly concerned about his safety and security in Rikers. From Tuesday through 6pm yesterday, so many amazing volunteers worked non-stop to get Pedro free and out of Rikers and I’m proud to announce that last night, at about 6:30PM, Pedro was released from Rikers Island and finally allowed to go home to be with his family.
He’s not doing any interviews for at least the next few days. And truthfully we just want him to get some good rest, eat some home cooking, and enjoy quality time with the people he knows and loves. Knowing that we played a role in getting this young man free was one of the most important victories I’ve had as a leader, but it’s bittersweet – and here’s why.
Did you see what it took to get one single child out of jail for a crime he did not commit? This kid had the media on his side. This kid had the family of Robert Kennedy fighting for him. This kid actually had the money. This kid actually had a bulldog of a mother fighting like hell for him every single day. And with all that, the criminal justice system still held onto him with a grip we damn near couldn’t release.
Several times while he was locked up in Rikers, the system offered to release Pedro if he’d just plead guilty. They did the same thing to Kalief Browder. Like Kalief, Pedro bravely refused. It’s gross. They hold folk in jail not for days, weeks, or months, but for years simply because they aren’t rich, then dangle their freedom in front of their face if the plead guilty. It’s happening not just in Rikers, but in jails all over America.
I’m proud to say that the Robert Kennedy Center isn’t just going to fight for Pedro, they want to overturn the racist bail system in New York altogether. We should not have two systems in America – one for the rich and one for everybody else. It’s unconstitutional and we will challenge it in every way we can.
Thank all of you for supporting Pedro. It meant the world to me and to him. In his statement last night he thanked all of the kind strangers who made a difference. Let’s keep on doing what we’re doing. It’s making a difference.
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