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Women who chained themselves to a Durham jail gate now face charges

Southerners On New Ground organizers Kyla Hartsfied, left, and Serena Sebring, chained themselves to a gate at the Durham County jail Thursday, May 9, 2019, as a Sheriff’s Office deputies attempt to speak with them about safety concerns.
Southerners On New Ground organizers Kyla Hartsfied, left, and Serena Sebring, chained themselves to a gate at the Durham County jail Thursday, May 9, 2019, as a Sheriff’s Office deputies attempt to speak with them about safety concerns. vbridges@newsobserver.com

Two leaders of the group Southerners on New Ground, who chained themselves to a jail gate to protest the cash bail system, now face misdemeanor charges, according to the Durham County Sheriff’s Office.

Serena Sebring, 41, and Kyla Hartsfield, 25, both of Durham, turned themselves in at the jail on Friday after the Sheriff’s Office issued warrants charging them with public disturbance, second-degree trespassing and failure to disperse. They were processed and released on $2,000 unsecured bonds around 1:30 p.m., according to Sheriff’s Office spokesman David Bowser.

“The Durham County Sheriff’s Office respects every citizen’s right to free speech provided by the first amendment,” Sheriff Clarence Birkhead said in a statement. “While we honor this fundamental constitutional right, in this specific incident laws were broken; leading to charges being filed.”

The women are organizers for advocacy group Southerners on New Ground. They spent about seven hours Thursday chained to the jail’s sally port, a gate that law enforcement officials use to bring people to the jail after they are arrested.

The women chained themselves to the jail to protest Durham County’s cash bail and pre-trial detention policies, a member of the organization said.

The Sheriff’s Office closed off Pettigrew Street between South Mangum and South Roxboro streets and locked down the jail during the protest.

Later in the evening, protesters blocked traffic near the intersection of Mangum and Pettigrew streets, according to posts on Facebook.

On Friday, members of the group returned to the jail and continued their protest, calling for others to come down to object to the Sheriff’s Office warrants.

For the past three years, Southerners on New Ground has bailed out African-American mothers from jail around Mother’s Day. Organizers have said they are opposed to the cash bail system that they contend penalizes people — most of which haven’t been convicted of a crime —for being poor.

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Virginia Bridges covers criminal justice in Orange and Durham counties for The Herald-Sun and The News & Observer. She has worked for newspapers for more than 15 years. In 2017, the N.C. Press Association awarded her first place for beat feature reporting. The N.C. State Bar Association awarded her the 2018 Media & Law Award for Best Series.


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