13th: Why slavery didn’t end with the emancipation proclamation
The Emancipation Proclamation was signed in 1863. It declared “that all persons held as slaves” within the rebellious states “are, and henceforward shall be free.” With the implementation of this law, slavery was supposedly abolished, and in the years following, it was — at least in the form we recognized it.
However, in the over 150 years since then, it’s fundamentals have manifested themselves time and time again in the police justice system — a complex which today disproportionately targets African Americans and other people of colour to profit off punishment.
Following the end of the Civil War and the Emancipation Proclamation, the American south experienced an economic depression due to the loss of free labour provided by former slaves. This lead to a period of years culminating in 1877 known as the “Reconstruction Era”.
The 13th amendment passed in 1865 stated 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”.
This amendment abolished slavery except in the case of criminal punishment. So, what did the south do? They began mass incarceration of black and brown bodies in order to exploit this loophole so that they could introduce a new kind of slavery to fuel the economy.
This began with the introduction of “Black Codes”: laws which outlawed ordinary everyday behaviour for African Americans to expand grounds for incarceration and imprison more Black people.
According to Vera, some of these behaviours included “walking without a purpose, walking at night, hunting on Sundays, or settling on public or private land”. In South Carolina, Blacks were prohibited “from holding any occupation other than farmer or servant unless they paid an annual tax of $10 to $100”.
According to Encyclopedia Britannica, Vagrancy laws declared “declared a black person to be vagrant if unemployed and without permanent residence; a person so defined could be arrested, fined, and bound out for a term of labour if unable to pay the fine.” Apprentice laws provided for the “hiring out” of orphans and other young dependents to whites, who often turned out to be their former owners. Some states limited the type of property African Americans could own, and in other states black people were excluded from certain businesses or from the skilled trades. Former slaves were forbidden to carry firearms or to testify in court, except in cases concerning other blacks. Legal marriage between African Americans was provided for, but interracial marriage was prohibited.”
In 1864, only 7 former slaves were imprisoned in Georgia. In 1868, 147 former slaves were imprissoned. The total number of prisoners in that state was 42 in 1900, 500 in 1910 and over 1000 in 1920 — an influx primarily attributed to the incarceration of African American men between the ages of 18 and 22.
The state governments exploited this increased population of predominantly African American prisoners through something called “convict leasing” — the renting out of convicts to private companies to perform agricultural & industrial labour.
In an excerpt from Inside Missisipi’s Notorious Parchman Prison,”Under convict leasing, the inmates were essentially slaves again. . . . They worked long hours for no pay, were poorly fed, and slept in tents at work sites doing dangerous jobs like dynamiting tunnels for railroad companies and clearing malaria-filled swamps for construction. Convicts, sometimes including children under age 10, were whipped and beaten, underfed, and rarely given medical treatment.”
Parchman’s Farm was representative of institutions in which convict leasing took place “It was massive, remote, and modeled after a traditional southern plantation. Parchman was originally comprised of three separate farms: a small farm, which was maintained by white convicts, a smaller one farmed by women (mostly black), and a huge sprawling plantation for the prison’s black convicts. Over 20,000 acres and 46 miles, it was intended to be self-sufficient and profitable for the state, and it was.”
The state was able to benefit massively from this system as they were paid by private companies for what was effectively slave labour and they did not have to invest in building and maintaining prison facilities themselves. This surplus revenue garnered through this ill disguised form of slavery enabled the south to be rebuilt.
The Black Criminal Stereotype
Between 1916 and 1970, 6 million African Americans moved out of the southern states to the urban northeastern and midwest in what was known as the “Great Migration”.
Following a brief spike in crime in these areas in the early 1920s, the media leveraged social unrest in order to reinforce the stereotype of who was a criminal — in particular African Americans, immigrants (predominantly southern and Eastern European at the time) and “low class” whites.
However, in the case if immigrants and low class whites, it was the consensus amongst elitist white society that their “criminal tendencies” could be remediated through education. On the other hand, a new wave of science and propaganda emerged pushing the idea that Blacks were inherently “dangerous”. For instance, the 1915 film Birth of a Nation portrayed black men as animalistic and unable to suppress their sexual desires suggesting that they were threat to white women. This sentiment of natural criminality consolidated immigrant, low class and elitist white identity into a general, unified whiteness.
Until the 1930s, the industrial prison model was widely implemented. It operated along similar principles to convict leasing and chain gangs present in the south in that it exploited the incarcerated to generate wealth for the state. But, with the restriction of interstate commerce and organized labour, it was abolished in favour of having convicts perform equally taxing but economically valueless labour.
Eventually, white society became concerned with the conditions inmates were made to endure in prison, and so the “correctional facility” was introduced based on principles of rehabilitation and treatment. However, the practises were only made available to those deemed capable of reform — overwhelmingly white people.
Politicians Leverage White Fear
In the 1960s a wave of violent crime permeated urban centres. This prompted American politicians to leverage fear for public safety as a platform for increasing police presence and incarceration. As this decade was also the tail end of the tail end of the Great Depression as well as the height of the civil rights movement, politicians overwhelmingly connected these events to build upon the stereotype of the Black criminal and instil more unrest.
For instance, in 1964, republican presidential candidate Barry Goldwater ran on a campaign that connected the civil rights movement with violent crime.
In his speech from Republican National Convention, he states “The growing menace in our country tonight, to personal safety, to life, to limb and property, in homes, in churches, on the playgrounds, and places of business, particularly in our great cities, is the mounting concern, or should be, of every thoughtful citizen in the United States. Security from domestic violence, no less than from foreign aggression, is the most elementary and fundamental purpose of any government, and a government that cannot fulfill that purpose is one that cannot long command the loyalty of its citizens. History shows us — demonstrates that nothing — nothing prepares the way for tyranny more than the failure of public officials to keep the streets from bullies and marauders.”
In 1965, president Johnson declared a “War on Crime” which followed his “War on Poverty”. This strategy has been described as being similarto JFK’s liberal approach to systemic inequality which placed the place of system weaknesses on the moral short comings of in this case, the Black community.
In 1968, at the republican national convention, presidential candidate Richard Nixon stated “And tonight, it is time for some honest talk about the problem of order in the United States. . . . [L]et us also recognize that some of our courts in their decisions have gone too far in weakening the peace forces as against the criminal forces in this country and we must act to restore that balance. Let those who have the responsibility to enforce our laws and our judges who have the responsibility to interpret them be dedicated to the great principles of civil rights. But let them also recognize that the first civil right of every American is to be free from domestic violence, and that right must be guaranteed in this country. . . . I pledge to you that the new Attorney General will open a new front against the filth peddlers and the narcotics peddlers who are corrupting the lives of the children of this country.”
Nixon’s campaign leveraged what is now called the “Southern Strategy” — the aim to appeal to southern white voters by way of adopting conservative positions on racialized issues. This included perpetuating white distrust of Blacks by associating African Americans with crimes.
This pattern was upheld in the 1988 Dukakis vs. Bush presidential election. Throughout the election, Dukakis had a double digit lead on Bush until what became a cornerstone of the election — the Willie Horton Campaign. Willie Horton was a young black man who was serving a life sentence for murder and the beneficiary of Dukakis’ weekend furlough program which provided passes so that inmates could leave prison on the weekend. The republican’s ran an add that sensationalized Willie Horton’s image and made Dukakis seem week on crime, propelling Bush to ultimately win the election.
Throughout the mid 80s, crack cocaine was prevalent in inner-city minority communities whereas powder cocaine was widely used in the white suburbs. In 1986, President Ronald Regan introduced “sentencing minimums” which mandated that the distribution of 5 grams of crack carries a minimum 5 year prison sentence whereas distribution of 500 grams of powder cocaine carries the same sentence. This policy lead to disproportionate incarceration of Blacks in comparison to whites.
Throughout the 1990s, authorities were becoming nervous about a new wave of juvenile delinquency and violent crime, particularly in disadvantaged and inner-city neighbourhoods. This became known as the “super-predator scare” in which Black and and Latino youth were being criminalized in the media and labeled as “super-predators”. For example, in the 1989 Central Park jogger case, five African American and Latino boys between the ages of 14 and 16 were unjustly accused of assaulting gang rapping a white female jogger in Central Park. Despite conflicting statements, lack of genetic evidence and a skewed timeline, these boys were convicted and imprisoned for 6–11 years.
The plea bargain enables the accused to take a reduced sentence — for instance 3 years in prison — as opposed to going to trial, being pronounced guilty and facing a longer sentence — perhaps 30 years in prison. As a result, 97% of people in American prisons have never seen trial because they are either too poor to post bail or to afford the expenses associated with a trial. The difference between whether that person serves time is not so much whether they are guilty or innocent but poor or rich.
ALEC is a political lobbying group comprised of politicians and corporations. Corporate members get to propose laws to their political counterparts, ALEC writes up those laws and members get to vote on which laws are passed on to politicians to be introduced into states. In this way, almost every ALEC bill supports some mega corporation.
For instance, in 2012 Trayvon Martin, a 17 year old African American boy was fatally shot by officer George Zimmerman during a physical altercation between the two in which Trayvon was unarmed. Zimmerman was acquitted of charges due to the “stand your ground” bill — a policy written by ALEC.
This policy also created fertile ground for gun sales to boom. At the time, the biggest seller of long guns in the US and bullets in the world was Walmart — an ALEC member.
Corrections Corporation of America (CCA) was the first prison corporation in the United States. They started contracts with the states and in order to keep their investments, they had to keep the prisons filled even if no one was committing crimes. Through ALEC, they advanced this agenda through the introduction of bills such as “mandatory minimums” and “3 strikes, you’re out” which sentences people to life imprisonment after their third felony.
CCA was on the task force that proposed bill SB1070 which gave police the right to stop anyone who they thought looked like an immigrant, an effort to fill detainment facilities particularly in the border states.
The American Bail Corporation was profited of the initiative to incarcerate people in their own homes by constantly monitoring them using ankle bracelets. Securus technology made 114 million off inmate phone calls out of prison (if you live in Marylin and make minimum wage, you have to work 90 minutes for a 10 minute phone call). Aramark is one of the big prison food service providers who has been accused in more than one state of having maggots in their food. JC Penney Jeans and Victoria Secret products were once manufactured by inmates in Tennessee, Anderson flooring wood products were made in Georgia, Idaho potatoes are planted and harvested by the state’s prisoners. All these companies (and many more) are associated with ALEC.
Collectively, these policy makers and companies work to fill prisons so that they can effectively get rich off punishment. This constitutes what is recognized as the “prison industrial complex”.
Mainstream society likes to maintain that “things have changed” with regards to race — we no longer have slaves and free Americans all have the same rights. But in truth, while it does not in the overt form it did 150 years ago, our police justice system has created a world in which our policies inherently discriminate against African Americans and people of colour, making it easier for their freedoms to be abused and taken away. There is no denying it, slavery still exists.