I remember sitting in the courtroom for my cousins hearing. It was him and 4 other young men, who were all sitting in khaki colored prison jumpsuits with handcuffs and chains shackled from their hands all the way down to their feet. The scene became all too reminiscent of the images of young enslaved Africans who were shackled much like my cousin; only they were in the bottom of a boat instead of a courtroom. In either case, they were all waiting to meet the man who would auction away their freedom.
The similarities between the judicial system and institution of slavery, is too great for us to ignore. And, in reading the autobiography of Assata Shakur, it all came together for me. She was imprisoned for 4 years and during an altercation with a female prison guard, Assata asserted that she was not a slave in which the guard informed her that she was. Assata went on to look up the 13th Amendment of the constitution and she realized, that in fact she was a slave. To help grasp that realization lets take a look at the 13th Amendment
Passed by Congress on January 31, 1865, and ratified on December 6, 1865, the 13th amendment abolished slavery in the United States and provides that
“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.”
I have highlighted the caveat to this amendment that made Assata, my cousin and those four young men in the courtroom slaves. The US constitution did not ban slavery; it simply redefined the terms of slavery. It allows for the legal enslavement of people to serve as a punishment for a crime that they were convicted of. While some may argue that this is a fair punishment for ones crime, when the legal system within its own, is an unjust system is it really? Is it a coincidence that 1 in every 3 black males, are slated to have some sort of dealing with the legal system? When blacks make up only 13% of the population but 37.2% of the prison population, something is inherently wrong. Drug use amongst blacks and whites are about equal but blacks are 12 times more likely than whites to be arrested for drug related offences.
While the 13th Amendment was intended to abolish slavery, it simply provided loopholes for the system to continue its enslavement of blacks. Prisoners/slaves continue to work on chain gangs. Overseers were given the title prison guard. Prisoners/slaves are told when to sleep, wake, eat, work for little to no pay and without the protection of labor laws.
I am not saying that people should not be punished for their crimes, but when the justice system continues to look like the plantations of the south, it makes you wonder if we are truly free of Still Slaves.