The 13th amendment to the United State Constitution states the following:
“Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States, or any place subject to their jurisdiction.”
Immediately we must note the inherent contradiction present in this historic document. It is necessary that we define a contradiction as a combination of statements or ideas that are opposed to one another. In other words, the statement of a position opposite to one already made. The 13th amendment states that slavery or involuntary servitude will not exist within the United States, however within the same statement it says, “except as punishment for a crime…” Here it is key that we understand that this means if I can prove or convict someone of a committing a crime, they can be subjected to slavery, involuntary servitude, and all consequences associated with the two.
The mob soon located Brown and gathered at the Courthouse where free alcohol was distributed to fuel the tensions. The mob began to scale the building, setting it on fire, until the Judge and court staff surrendered by passing down a note revealing Brown’s exact location. He was handed over, knocked unconscious on the way downstairs, shot over a hundred times, mutilated, dragged through the town, and finally burned while surrounded by a proud American mob, posing for the local news cameras. Though 100 mob members were arrested, none would be charged and all were released within 24 hours without trial or ever seeing a judge.
Let’s now skip 95 years later and enter Ferguson, Missouri where 17-year-old Michael Brown is murdered at the hands of a police officer claiming self-defense. Post-mortem, Brown becomes the subject of his own criminal investigation while his family fights to get his assailant, Darren Wilson, put on trial. Immediately questions of whether Brown has stolen a pack of smokes arise and a criminal profile is circulated throughout the media. With every new “discovery” it seems as though the attention is not so much on whether the officer used excessive force but on whether young Michael Brown “deserved” it. This was the same strategy applied during the length of the trial against George Zimmerman for the murder of Trayvon Martin in February of 2012. This was the process of applying the Constitution and the 13th Amendment as they were intended during the time of their creation in 1787 and 1865 respectively. Darren Wilson was found not guilty and not indicted because the media and court system were able to portray Brown as more-than-likey guilty of a crime, therefore in need of correction and legally able to be treated as a slave.
This is where we go deeper into American history to 1669 in Virginia where the Casual Killing Act is the law of the land. This is a law stating “if any slave resist his master and by the extremity of the correction should chance to die, that his death not be accompted felony.” We have to understand the importance of language and take note of the use of “correction.” The prison systems of the nation are collectively called the Department of Corrections (DOC). A person becomes subject to the jurisdiction of the DOC through the court systems and their conviction. A person becomes subject to the jurisdiction of the courts through the various “law enforcement” agencies such as local police departments and their arrests. Therefore, the police are the gatekeepers to the courts and by association, the system of corrections, which is highly profitable and depends on constant influx and maintenance of prison population. When we understand this relationship, we also understand that you never bite the hand that feeds you; therefore it is politically naïve for us to believe that the system would indict the hand that feeds them and the private prison companies that lend financial support to political campaigns and the like.
In providing justifiable crimes, made believable heavily based on their Blackness and the portrayal of Blacks in mainstream American society, Will Brown and Michael Brown were found to be in-need of “correction” as punishment for those crimes. Due to the extremity of the correction by the white mob in Omaha, Nebraska in 1919 and Darren Wilson in Ferguson, Missouri in 2014, the Browns died. In both situations, 95 years apart, the responsible parties were not convicted of a felony or any charge for that matter. Just today, the grand jury in the case of the police officer who choked Eric Garner to death again sent down no indictment and it all fits within the same historic context. These instances, whether we like to accept it or not, are actually successes of the American Justice and Legal Systems as they were intended under the US Constitution written in 1787 and amended in 1865. The issue with our understanding is that we’ve been believing these laws, and the US constitution as a whole, to be applying to and protecting us and our rights. However, it is as Kwame Ture stated in his speech at UC Berkeley on October 29, 1966, “I maintain that every Civil Rights Bill in this country was passed for white people, not for Black people.” He explains later in a speech at Morgan State University that the US constitution is based on property rights. Being that we were considered slaves and slaves were considered property when it was written, this document couldn’t have been meant for us because property can’t own property. This is further supported by the US Supreme Court following the case of Dred Scott v. Sandford in 1853 in which the court ruled that, “Persons of African descent cannot be, nor were ever intended to be, citizens under the U.S. Constitution.” Therefore, the 13th amendment didn’t free us Black people from being slaves as we’ve been so accustomed to believing; in practice, it gave conditions to our enslavement and dictated to whites when slavery was ok and how to employ it (i.e. “as punishment for a crime…”).
This is where we see the shift of American industry go from dependent on agriculture and direct slave labor to mass production and indirect slave labor through the nation’s prisons. This now supports the rise of domestic and international law enforcement by the nation as war materials enter great demand with the two World Wars, Vietnam, Iraq, and all those frivolous wars fought by this nation. Domestic law enforcement industry rises because now that those slaves are “free,” a system was needed to keep them in check. This isn’t mere speculation either. Check out the documentary on the first major US prison, Eastern State Penitentiary in Pennsylvania. Today the private prison industry is booming and corporations such as the GEO Group, the nation’s largest private corrections, detention, and mental health company, depend on the law enforcement and court systems to keep them full of prisoners because more inmates equals more money.
Peace, Love, and Wisdom
Member, Wisdom From The Field (WFTF)