FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

Celebrating the End of Slavery, With One Big Asterisk

During the week of June 19, cities around the country mark Juneteenth — the oldest known celebration commemorating the end of slavery in the United States.

Dating back to 1865, two and a half years after President Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation, this holiday marks the day when Union soldiers landed at Galveston, Texas with news that the Civil War had ended and the enslaved were now free. They were the last people freed from slavery in the United States.

In much of the country, however, mass incarceration has picked up where slavery left off.

Over 150 years after the first Juneteenth, the United States incarcerates more of its citizens than any other nation in the world — over 2.2 million people, a 500 percent increase over the last 40 years. This increase didn’t come from rising crime, but rather from changes in law and policy dating back to President Nixon, which led to a dramatic increase in the number of people punished with prison time.

African Americans are incarcerated at many times the rate of their white counterparts, leading law professor Michelle Alexander — author of The New Jim Crow — to argue that racial discrimination has transformed mass incarceration into modern-day slavery.

Like slavery before it, the prison industrial complex is now an economy unto itself. As the number of incarcerations has soared, prison industrialists seized the opportunity to capitalize and started bidding for the right to incarcerate Americans and otherwise cash in.

The racial disparities are stark, particularly when it comes to the drug war. Despite the fact that African Americans and whites use drugs at similar rates, the imprisonment rate of African Americans for drug charges is almost 6 times that of whitesPrison Policy Initiative data confirms that nonviolent drug convictions are a defining characteristic of the federal prison system. Even nonviolent drug charges give people criminal records, reducing their employment prospects and increasing the likelihood of longer sentences for any future offenses.

This has impacts across generations. A recent report by the Economic Policy Institute found that by the age of 14, approximately 25 percent of African American children have experienced a parent — in most cases a father — being imprisoned for some period of time.

The “evidence is overwhelming that the unjustified incarceration of African American fathers (and, increasingly, mothers as well) is an important cause of the lowered performance of their children,“ the report concludes. For example, children of incarcerated parents are more likely to misbehave at or even drop out of school, develop learning disabilities, and to suffer from migraines, asthma, high cholesterol, depression, anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder, and homelessness.

Juneteenth represents a milestone for America, but it’s time to take the next step: criminal justice reform to stop the growth of mass incarceration. Some states have begun to take matters into their own hands, implementing important policies to reduce the number of people in prison. But federal action is necessary to propel long-term systemic change.

Last month the House passed the First Step Act aimed at reforming our prison and jail system. Unfortunately, House members are divided over the provisions of this bill, and key Senate members have criticized the bill for not including sentencing reform.

In the spirit of Juneteenth, we need sweeping criminal justice reforms so that we can reduce mass incarceration and improve the lives of all Americans.

More articles by:

November 20, 2018
Geoff Dutton
Why High Technology’s Double-Edged Sword is So Hard to Swallow
Binoy Kampmark
Charges Under Seal: US Prosecutors Get Busy With Julian Assange
Rev. William Alberts
America Fiddles While California Burns
Forrest Hylton, Aaron Tauss and Juan Felipe Duque Agudelo
Remaking the Common Good: the Crisis of Public Higher Education in Colombia
Patrick Cockburn
What Can We Learn From a Headmaster Who Refused to Allow His Students to Celebrate Armistice Day?
Clark T. Scott
Our Most Stalwart Company
Tom H. Hastings
Look to the Right for Corruption
Edward Hunt
With Nearly 400,000 Dead in South Sudan, Will the US Finally Change Its Policy?
Thomas Knapp
Hypocrisy Alert: Republicans Agreed with Ocasio-Cortez Until About One Minute Ago
November 19, 2018
David Rosen
Amazon Deal: New York Taxpayers Fund World Biggest Sex-Toy Retailer
Sheldon Richman
Art of the Smear: the Israel Lobby Busted
Chad Hanson
Why Trump is Wrong About the California Wildfires
Dean Baker
Will Progressives Ever Think About How We Structure Markets, Instead of Accepting them as Given?
Robert Fisk
We Remember the Great War, While Palestinians Live It
Dave Lindorff
Pelosi’s Deceptive Plan: Blocking any Tax Rise Could Rule Out Medicare-for-All and Bolstering Social Security
Rick Baum
What Can We Expect From the Democrat “Alternative” Given Their Record in California?
Thomas Scott Tucker
Trump, World War I and the Lessons of Poetry
John W. Whitehead
Red Flag Gun Laws
Newton Finn
On Earth, as in Heaven: the Utopianism of Edward Bellamy
Robert Fantina
Shithole Countries: Made in the USA
René Voss
Have Your Say about Ranching in Our Point Reyes National Seashore
Weekend Edition
November 16, 2018
Friday - Sunday
Jonah Raskin
A California Jew in a Time of Anti-Semitism
Andrew Levine
Whither the Melting Pot?
Joshua Frank
Climate Change and Wildfires: The New Western Travesty
Nick Pemberton
The Revolution’s Here, Please Excuse Me While I Laugh
T.J. Coles
Israel Cannot Use Violent Self-Defense While Occupying Gaza
Rob Urie
Nuclear Weapons are a Nightmare Made in America
Paul Street
Barack von Obamenburg, Herr Donald, and Big Capitalist Hypocrisy: On How Fascism Happens
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: Fire is Sweeping Our Very Streets Today
Aidan O'Brien
Ireland’s New President, Other European Fools and the Abyss 
Pete Dolack
“Winners” in Amazon Sweepstakes Sure to be the Losers
Richard Eskow
Amazon, Go Home! Billions for Working People, But Not One Cent For Tribute
Ramzy Baroud
In Breach of Human Rights, Netanyahu Supports the Death Penalty against Palestinians
Brian Terrell
Ending the War in Yemen- Congressional Resolution is Not Enough!
John Laforge
Woolsey Fire Burns Toxic Santa Susana Reactor Site
Ralph Nader
The War Over Words: Republicans Easily Defeat the Democrats
M. G. Piety
Reading Plato in the Time of the Oligarchs
Rafael Correa
Ecuador’s Soft Coup and Political Persecution
Brian Cloughley
Aid Projects Can Work, But Not “Head-Smacking Stupid Ones”
David Swanson
A Tale of Two Marines
Robert Fantina
Democrats and the Mid-Term Elections
Joseph Flatley
The Fascist Creep: How Conspiracy Theories and an Unhinged President Created an Anti-Semitic Terrorist
Joseph Natoli
Twitter: Fast Track to the Id
William Hawes
Baselines for Activism: Brecht’s Stance, the New Science, and Planting Seeds
Bob Wing
Toward Racial Justice and a Third Reconstruction
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail