Sunday, June 19, 2011

Juneteenth and Modern Day Slavery

June 19th is Juneteenth. It celebrates the day in 1865 when news of emancipation reached Texas. Slaveholders conveniently came down with a case of mass amnesia and didn't relay the news of the Emancipation Proclamation issued in 1863 or of the wars ending two months earlier.

Today I came across an article in the Root about Juneteenth and modern day slavery. The authors quite rightly focused on the horrors of human trafficking which exists in this country and around the world. However, I assumed they would also make mention America's mass incarceration which is not only a form of slavery but which is largely targeted at black people.

The United States has both a greater percentage of its population behind bars and a greater number than any country on earth. There is no despot or dictator on earth who puts as many people in jail as this nation does. While black make up approximately ten percent of our population, we comprise half of all people in jail, prisons, or on parole or probation.

While the authors of the Root article may also suffer from a form of selective amnesia, there are thousands of people across the country dedicated to ending this scourge of our so-called civilization. Michelle Alexander, author of The New Jim Crow, is spreading the word about a group of clergy dedicated to raising awareness of this issue. The Samuel DeWitt Proctor Conference is dedicated to addressing many social justice issues and they are in the forefront of exposing and opposing mass incarceration.

It isn't really surprising that the Root has no interest in people who are under the jurisdiction of the criminal justice system. We have been propagandized into demonizing them as being unworthy of our attention or concern. The truth is that most of them have not committed violent crimes, but are victims of the forty year long war on drugs and the efforts to literally profit from it and other law enforcement measures. We have private prisons which exist to make a profit. Unemployed people are in jail for failing to pay child support and the child support enforcement system has itself become a privatized profit making venture.

Prisoners are subject to sexual and other violence in jails and prisons, are denied medical care and of the right to vote and to work once they are free. They are victims of involuntary servitude and we must never forget that fact.