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This App Is Helping Black Organizers Bail People Out of Jail

Since the app launched three months ago, over 7,500 users have signed up and have raised more than $60,000.

Deonna Anderson

Appolition co-founders Kortney Ziegler and Tiffany Mikell. Image:  Appolition

February 13 is Black Love Day, an alternative to Valentine’s Day founded in 1993 for Black people to love and celebrate one another. This year it also marks the beginning of a month-long effort by the National Bail Out collective, a network of Black organizers—including Black Lives Matter and the Dream Defenders—who are working to end cash bail and pretrial detention, with the help of Appolition, an app released in November.

Black people are disproportionately impacted by the bail system because they are more likely to have low incomes before they are detained. The Prison Policy Institute found that the typical Black man, Black woman, and Hispanic woman in jail live below the poverty line before landing in jail. This can wreak havoc on entire communities: when people aren’t able to post bail and spend days in jail, they stand to lose their jobs, homes, and even custody of their children.

Part of the funds for the bail out, which will take place in Memphis, Los Angeles, and a few cities in Alabama and Texas, come from the Appolition app, created by Kortney Ziegler and Tiffany Mikell, two Black tech founders who also started Aerial Spaces, a tool to host live, online events. In 2013, Ziegler also created Trans*H4CK, an organization that provides visibility and support for transgender and gender nonconforming people in tech.

When Appolition users make purchases with a credit or debit card, each one is rounded up to the nearest dollar. The app is linked to its user’s bank account, collects the spare change, and donates it to organizations focused on bail relief for Black Americans.

“They're the reason why the app exists in the first place,” Ziegler, social engineer and Appolition co-founder, told me, referring to the National Bail Out collective.

“I haven't seen anything like it before"

Since the app launched three months ago, over 7,500 users have signed up and have raised more than $60,000. Appolition collects about $2,000 per day, according to Ziegler. In December, direct donations from people who learned about National Bail Fund Network from Appolition supported Black Lives Matter Cambridge, a local chapter of the national organization, and the Massachusetts Bail Fund with its holiday bail outs.*

“I haven't seen anything like it before and I’m just humbled by the community of folks who are signing up and joining and wanting to do their part,” said Arissa Hall, a project coordinator at the National Bail Fund Network.

About 85 percent of the money collected goes to the National Bail Out collective, which distributes the funds to its partners. The rest goes to overhead costs and founders say they are expecting more growth.

“There are thousands of people who want to join [Appolition as users] and we have to now rebuild the software in a way that we can be inclusive of all folks so it's an exciting problem to have,” Ziegler said, noting that they want to be able to accept donations from all banks and financial institutions.

Appolition is currently fundraising to expand support to other organizations doing social justice work and will begin accepting donations from people internationally. Ziegler, who is based in Oakland, is particularly interested in exploring how the app can help people who’ve been impacted by drug laws now that recreational cannabis is legal in California.

Meanwhile, the month-long bail-out initiative will lead up to the National Black Mamas Bail Out in May, an event that also took place last year and exceeded its goal of raising $250K for bail, freeing more than 100* women on Mother’s Day.

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Corrections: This article originally said Appolition funds bailed out 23 people, but the funds were part of a larger effort. This article also originally said 30 women were bailed out on Mother's Day, but the number was actually 100 mothers and caretakers.