When I was a kid, I was taught that the 13th Amendment of the United States Constitution abolished slavery. Abolish is defined as “to do away with, to void.”
But the actual wording of the 13th amendment is as follows:
Section 1. 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. Section 2. Congress shall have power to enforce this article by appropriate legislation.
The word abolished is nowhere in the 13th amendment. The part that concerns me is “except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted.” This means that slavery shall not exist unless you are put in prison.
So is today”s prison system slavery by another name? Slavery does not mean color. And there are men and women of all colors who commit crimes and are in prison. But given the United States history one can just look at the number of Black men in prison and see that the prisons are color biased. For example, 75% of today”s prison population is Black men yet they only make up 14% of the total U.S. population.
So if prison is still a form of slavery, then let”s look at the laws. During the time of slavery, the laws of the day were the Code Noir, a French term for Black Codes. Slaves were governed under these laws and so were freed Black men. A freed Black man could be whipped, imprisoned, or hung for doing something as simple as failing to bow his head if passing a white man on a sidewalk.
After slavery “ended,” Black men faced the Jim Crow laws of the South. These harsh laws inflicted the same results. Someone could be heavily punished for drinking out of a Whites Only water fountain.
After the Civil Rights passage, we entered into the Drug laws. Drugs were dumped into the communities by persons from outside of the communities. Yet, they are not the ones who are caught and placed in jail but rather the young Black men in those neighborhoods. So today, many Black men have longterm prison sentenced for selling drugs and not for crimes such as rape or murder. An ounce of crack has a greater penalty than an ounce of cocaine and some believe that it”s because of the color of the end-user.
I suppose that Congress should be asked to take a look at the wording of the 13th amendment and truly have a discussion about its meaning, its interpretation, and that it should be updated to reflect 2007 and not 1865.