America 2017: In the Land of the Free, Slavery still Exists.

Image via Netflix

Slavery ended with the 13th amendment–right? At least that’s what you are taught. You are also told that America is the Land of the Free and that anyone can have the opportunity to follow their dreams and live a good life. But these are misconceptions that Americans have believed for centuries.  What if I told you that in 2017,  the United States of America has the highest number of “enslaved” individuals in the world. Would you believe it? Or do you think that slavery is a thing of the past? Well believe it. Because slavery never ended, it was just reformed.
13th amendment loophole 
The 13th amendment banished the practice of slavery, freeing millions of enslaved African Americans in the south. After having no control over their lives, these people had to now start living for themselves and making their own decisions. In the mist of this, the south was now faced with a huge economic burden. Their whole labor force was diminished and  they now had to share the work field with the same people that they had just has ownership over. This obviously caused resentment towards the newly freed blacks. What most people don’t know is that the 13th amendment abolishes slavery, except when it is used as a form of punishment for crime. If you are convicted of a crime  under this amendment,  you lose your rights and can legally be “enslaved” until your time is served. This loophole was not included without a purpose. With the south now looking for a way to supplement their labor force, blacks began being arrested in mass for very minor crimes such as loitering (standing around idly) and vagrancy (homelessness). This was the beginning of the image of the black criminal and the idea that African Americans possess a criminal nature and without the institution of slavery, they wouldn’t be able to survive and actually function and be positive contributors to society. In this period after the civil war, thousands of free African Americans lost their new found freedom by being incarcerated unfairly and exploited for their labor.
Role of the civil rights movement 
The civil rights era played a vital role in instilling fear into white Americans and furthering the image of the black criminal. In resistance to the civil rights movement, white politicians used the argument that by giving black people their rights, there will be a natural rise in crime and that  the nation will pay for it. The Civil Rights movement gifted the black community with many active and passionate leaders that were willing to risk their own well being for the sake of the advancement of our people. These activists challenged the laws that kept them bound to second class citizenship by using acts of defiance such as “sit ins” which were against the law according to segregation and Jim Crow regulations. Booking pictures of Martin Luther King Jr., Rosa Parks and others were circulated making the connection through the media of black criminality and instilling fear into white Americans about the idea of blacks having equal rights. This changed the notion of criminality for black Americans because being arrested for these acts was now seen as a act of nobility. The enactment of the civil rights voting act in 1964 gave black Americans the hope that the possibility of being treated equal was actually feasible, but in reality, we still had a long way to go.

“The war on drugs became a part of popular culture, overly displaying blacks as criminals in the media to further instill the image of the black criminal…”

Image taken from “13th.” documentary on Netflix

“Over 2.3 million people are in prison on American soil, more than any where else in the world.”

The era of mass incarceration 
The Nixon presidency was the kick start to the era of law and order and mass incarceration. During this era, president Nixon used certain tactics to instill fear into Americans making them feel like there was a need for “order”. The verbiage at the time equated “crime” with “race” and appealed to white Americans by saying that there was chaos in cities unleashed by the civil rights movement. By using code words and equating criminality with blackness, a whole war on crime and drugs was unveiled, which in reality was a war on blacks. In the early 80’s president Reagan continued this initiative by pushing the war on drugs and drug use began to be seen as a crime and not a health issue. During this time the crack/cocaine epidemic ripped though the nation, with crack being a inner city issue (blacks) and cocaine being a suburban issue (whites). Laws such as mandatory sentencing were way more harsh on crack over cocaine, there fore  Blacks in possession of crack received way longer sentences than whites in possession of cocaine. This caused a high level of racial disparity in the prison system and created a huge burden on the black community . The war on drugs became a part of popular culture, overly displaying blacks as criminals in the media to further instill the image of the black criminal, as well as millions of dollars being  allocated to law enforcement and prisons. The start of the ’90s brought along more laws such as the three strike law  (life in prison after third felony) and truth and sentencing (those convicted of a crime must serve 85%  of their sentence).  These laws all disproportionately affect communities of color and In 1994 under the presidency of Bill Clinton,  a crime bill was passed that had the greatest impact of all. The bill was responsible for creating more prisons, militarizing the policing system and overall expanding the “tough on crime” initiative. All of these factors played into a exploding prison population with people of color being affected the most.
5% of the worlds total population lives in the United states of America, but we are responsible for 25% of the worlds incarcerated population. Over 2.3 million people are in prison on American soil, more than any where else in the world. African Americans are vastly over represented and the systematic of this nation has proven that the justice system was not established for the justice of people of color. The 13th amendment loop hole is exploited though mass incarceration, the  criminalization of the black American and the enactment of laws that target them. 40 years of manipulation made people feel like there is a need for this type of policing but it is not.  For centuries we have lived with the idea that slavery was a thing of the past, but in the land of the free it actually still flourishes. The question is how do we reverse this system that has caused so much destruction and has claimed the lives and freedom of millions?
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Paris Pace
Paris Pace

Class of 2014 Central Michigan graduate. Lover of reading and writing poetry. I enjoy the simple things.

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