BENTON PARK WEST – A hip T-shirt promoting solidarity among racial groups is the latest effort to keep detainees who can’t make bail from sitting unnecessarily in the notorious Workhouse or Medium Security Institution.
Artist and activist Bryan Walsh of the Screwed Arts Collective created the T-shirt art and is donating five percent of its sales to the Bail Project.
The image is of the St. Louis flag. However, the flag’s prominent fleur de lis symbol, which represents France and the Frenchmen who founded St. Louis and brought slavery here, is replaced with a raised fist.
“We all need to be resisting and fighting back on every front, and the raised fist is a pretty good representation of that,” said Walsh, who first conceived the idea during the Ferguson protests of 2014.
During the protests Walsh saw a similar design idea, but it replaced the fleur de lis symbol with a peace sign.
That didn’t sit well with Walsh’s creative mind’s eye.
“That’s great and nice and all, but it’s wishful thinking, especially at that time – and now,” Walsh said of the peace sign.The raised fist sign, for Walsh, pushes both resistance and solidarity.
“I think it’s important for people like me in a position of privilege to stand up,” Walsh said.
“We have to learn about, educate ourselves and support others who are not in the position of privilege and expand our knowledge of others who have a different life experience than we have,” said Walsh, who is white and had a solid middle-class upbringing.
“If we then take time to care and empathize with others, we all will be much better off than we are now,” he added.
Yvette Finley, who has eyes for the T-shirt, said she appreciated people such as Walsh who understand what humanity is all about and are in favor of racial harmony and mutual support.
And while she has an affinity for the fleur de lis symbols, she likes Walsh’s take on the flag with the raised fist and will support his effort by buying a T-shirt.
“I think it’s really cool; I have to have one,” Finley said. “I love supporting people who do good in the community.” She added that the designed reminded her of the Black Panthers and their “black power” fist.
And while the fist packs a Black Panther Party inference, Walsh said there were many things to note about the group.
“The Panthers got denigrated in the media because they carried guns, but it was more than that,” he said. “So many people are unaware that they were the first to initiate free breakfast in schools and free health care and making sure people vote, et cetera.”
“Going forward, it’s important that we emphasize and represent the solidarity in the raised fist because black people are disproportionately affected by bail and put in jail,” he said, noting that many people are detained for minor or nonviolent offenses and can’t afford the bail.
A limited edition of 50 T-shirts were printed by STL Style House (3159 Cherokee St. at Compton Avenue), where they are flying off of the rack.
“They’ve been really popular; we’ve already sold out of some sizes,” said Jeff Vines, co-owner of STL Style House along with his twin brother, Randy.
The T-shirts are red and come in ladies’ or unisex sizes.
Vines said his store partnered with Walsh because the idea was in line with their style.
“We pride ourselves on making bold statements, and his design is a reflection of what we do,” Vines said. “We align ourselves with projects that make St. Louis more progressive.”
If sales continue to go well, Walsh said, he will order more and, eventually, select other organizations to donate funds to.
People can also make donations to the Bail Project.
“I think it’s important to give a percentage back,” Walsh said. “If we are able to help reduce the bail for people, it allow them to get out of the Workhouse and to working their job,” Walsh said.
The Bail Project is a national revolving bail fund that provides free bail assistance to low-income individuals who are legally presumed innocent and whom a judge has deemed eligible for release before trial contingent on paying bail.
“We all have to make sure we support folks in that situation,” Walsh said.