The new form of slavery has the same intent and purpose as the old: to rob us of our labor and to keep us powerless.
By Jazz Hayden
February 27, 2013 “Information Clearing House” – (AlterNet) – February is African-American History Month. For the past week, I have been watching and re-watching “The Abolitionist,” a two-and-a-half-hour documentary on PBS. It covers the Abolitionist movement from the early 19th century to the reconstruction period. Watching the dynamics of that struggle for the ending of slavery had me glued to the screen and taking notes. The chief players were William Lloyd Garrison (the printer publisher of the Liberator, an anti-slavery newspaper); Nat Turner (who led the slave rebellion that killed slave owners and freed slaves); Harriet Beecher Stowe (who wrote Uncle Tom’s Cabin); and Fredrick Douglass (former slave, orator, publisher of the North Star, and organizer). Oh, and the most prominent figure, Abraham Lincoln.
“The Abolitionist” is an historical documentary about the struggle to end slavery. The ending of the most brutal war in American history and the passage of the 13th Amendment were supposed to be the definitive ending of that period in American history. However, when I look back from the perspective of the present I am confronted with the question — what has changed? I can’t avoid the answer: very little.
The 13th Amendment states, “involuntary servitude and slavery is abolished except for those duly convicted of a crime.” The “exception clause” leaves slavery still in effect for those convicted of crimes. Today America, with 5% of the world’s population, has 25% of the world’s prisoners. Those prisoners have been “duly” convicted of crimes and are therefore slaves. There are presently 2.5 million prisoners in the United States of America and another 5 million under the control of the criminal justice system.
These numbers are unprecedented in the history of human beings on the planet earth. There are more black men under the control of the criminal justice system than there were in slavery in 1850, 10 years before the civil war. African Americans continue to occupy the base of the social and economic pyramid. You can see them lined up outside of the criminal courts in every state in the country. You can go into those courtrooms and watch them processed as though they are on a conveyor belt into the prison system, or to the clerks office to be stripped of their meager wealth by imposition of fines and surcharges and sent to perform unpaid labor called “community service.” What has changed?
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