CHARLOTTE – The Carolina Panthers Player Impact Committee, the David Tepper Charitable Foundation, and The Bail Project have teamed up to reunite over two dozen Charlotte families separated by bail in advance of the Thanksgiving holiday. The Player Impact Committee and the Tepper Foundation are donating nearly $100,000 to power The Bail Project's efforts in Charlotte, along with Thanksgiving meal packages and gift cards for groceries, clothes, and other essentials for those released.
"As members of the Player Impact Committee, we have identified bail reform as one of our focus areas and we respect the commitment of The Bail Project towards improving underserved communities in this particular area," said tight end and Player Impact Committee Member Chris Manhertz. "We are thankful for the support of the David Tepper Charitable Foundation and happy that we are all able to work together to help these families in need."
According to Mecklenburg County Reports, the overwhelming majority of people held at the Mecklenburg County Jail sit behind bars not because they've been convicted of a crime, but because they cannot afford cash bail. Racial disparities are evident: Black people make up nearly 70% of the local jail population, even though they are only 30% of the county's population. Even a few days in jail can jeopardize a person's job, housing, health, and even custody of their children. Most jail suicides occur within the first week of detention. Research also shows that those held in jail pretrial are more likely to plead guilty, leading to criminal records that make it harder to get employment, housing, student financial aid, and other opportunities.
"Our charitable foundation is excited to work alongside the Player Impact Committee in support of The Bail Project," said Panthers Owner David Tepper. "This organization works tirelessly to address this critical issue within the criminal justice space, and we are happy to help them with this initiative to reunite families in time for Thanksgiving."
The Bail Project's Charlotte team will use the donated funds to pay bail for approximately 25 people charged with low-level non-violent offenses, who will also receive support from the organization in the form of transportation assistance, court reminders, and referrals to voluntary social services and other community support.
"The criminalization of poverty and race, through the overuse and abuse of cash bail, is one of the critical civil rights issues of our time – and it's going to take all of us to make a difference," said Shelton McElroy, National Director of Strategic Partnerships of The Bail Project. "Long-term systemic reforms are necessary, but we also know that these efforts must be accompanied by the concrete act of helping those trapped by bail right now. We are grateful to the Player Impact Committee and the Tepper Foundation for their partnership and generosity in this effort."
The Carolina Panthers Player Impact Committee is a group of players seeking to create positive change and address social justice issues impacting underserved communities in North and South Carolina. The 2019 committee is led by Mario Addison, Ross Cockrell, Chris Manhertz, Dontari Poe and Andre Smith as well as Panthers Legend Julius Peppers. The focus areas for the committee include affordable housing, career opportunities for youth, criminal justice reform, education, police and community relations, violence, voter registration as well as teen pregnancy prevention and support for teen mothers.
The Bail Project launched in January 2018 and is now operating in 18 jurisdictions across the U.S. To date, the nonprofit has provided free bail assistance to nearly 8,000 low-income individuals. The Bail Project's Charlotte site opened in August 2019. The local team accepts community referrals and works in collaboration with the Mecklenburg County Public Defender's Office to identify people in need of bail assistance.