That’s a very hard thing for me to say, and a harder thing still to hear. Hard for me to say, because I have lived my life fighting for the idea that all citizens of our country are equal. Of course, I’ve always had the privilege of having white skin to hide me from the truth. Harder still to hear, because in a nation where slavery is accepted, no one is ever truly a free citizen.
But I can’t hide from the truth anymore. Even the UN Report on Human Rights in the United States pulled no punches when released last week.
I’m a lifelong, passionate student of history, and dreamer of the future. The song Imagine was released just before my birth. Born to an anti-Vietnam War hippie mom, who surely sang along to me in my crib the words of her favorite musician. I grew up listening to stories of those who had fought long and hard for equality. I read everything I could get my hands on about the struggles of this country to truly represent the freedom and rights enshrined in our laws.
Slavery was stricken as constitutionally legal with the 13th Amendment. Yet the text itself left former slave owners with everything they needed to ensure they could continue prospering under the enforced labor of others.
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.
The system continued with Jim Crow laws. The “former” slaves were kept indebted to the land in the form of sharecropping. Requiring them to only get goods and seeds from the store associated with the landowner, and pay it off at the end of each growing season kept them too poor to leave. And if they did think about leaving, that’s when the laws against certain jobs, living in certain areas, shopping in certain places all applied. It was oh so easy to keep slavery going, because they had the force of law. A black man unknowingly breaking a Jim Crow law would find himself either lynched or imprisoned for a very long term. Almost certainly to work on a chain gang.
And those prison jobs have always benefited the small local county sheriffs and police. They used the prisoners to staff their homes, care for their yards, and do labor for associates. While any profits were immediately pocketed by the police or sheriff.
When Jim Crow officially ended, it was still decades before many could vote, or take any rights of citizens.
But that pesky line in the 13th Amendment stayed there.
The same sheriffs and police that fought to keep Jim Crow alive and well never left their cash cow behind. They stayed in office, and simply continued their normal practices.
As a result, we now have a country that imprisons a far greater percent of our population than any other. That uses terms like “stop and frisk” as an acceptable practice to continue the enslavement and unfair imprisonment.
You might say “Oh, what’s the harm in checking someone to see if they’re breaking the law?”.
The harm comes in the violation of their 4th Amendment rights against illegal search and seizure. And in the overwhelmingly hard-handed use of these tactics against people of color. Even in “liberal” areas like the Bay Area.
A young white man is just as likely to be carrying marijuana as a young black man. Yet that young black man is many more times likely to be arrested for it.
We’ve grown our prisons for many reasons. For profit prisons are thriving, and have created a huge lobby. That lobby does much to push for “mandatory sentencing”, to ensure that minor crimes or even victimless crimes are punished far longer--so there is more profit per prisoner to be had.
Private prisons especially, but also many publicly run ones are continuing to be heavily used for their free/cheap labor. Your business have call center needs you don’t want to pay much for, or outsource overseas? Here’s the place for you! They even take the time to point out to racists that these prisoners speak English!! And their services include a great note Furthermore our agent turnover rate is less than half of the industry norm and the absenteeism rate is practically zero. Because there’s no such thing as a sick day or personal day in prison, and the average prison term is longer than most people can tolerate working in a call center environment outside the prison industry.
The Sheriff’s Union and Police Unions continue to rake in their profits, and have absolutely no incentive to hand over power. And since prosecutors depend on police cooperation to do their jobs, the police don’t get prosecuted for breaking the laws and violating civil rights of citizens. When citizens do try and speak up about the injustice, its easy to shut them down when you control all the power.
Slavery is, and always has been, a monetary system. There’s huge profit in enforced labor. Black lives in this country have only mattered as far as the monetary gain that can be stolen from their labor.
And the answer to young black men and others of color is still the same as what it was for Jim in To Kill a Mockingbird. If you refuse to be stopped and imprisoned, if you refuse to be held any longer for crimes you haven’t committed, but merely for the color of your skin, that’s an immediate death penalty offense.
Slavery or death. That’s the inevitable choice of people of color in the US.
- SLSPOProsthetist and Orthotist, 2012 - 2013
- Sri Lanka School of Prosthetics & OrthoticsProsthetist/Orthotist, 2012 - 2012
- Faculty of Medicine Siriraj Hospital, Mahidol UniversityProsthetics and Orthotics, 2013 - present
- Aquinas Unversity CollegePsychology & Counseling, 2012 - 2013
- Jaffna Hindhu CollegeSecondary Education, 1999 - 2007
- Sri Lanka School of Prosthetics and OrthoticsProsthetics and Orthotics, 2008 - 2011
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