Column: It is time to end the practice of American slavery once and for all

Despite being hailed as the legislation that abolished slavery, the 13th Amendment has been used to support the practice of modern American slavery.

Bryce Kolk is a freshman journalism major at MU. He is an opinion columnist who writes about politics for The Maneater.

The abolition of slavery is one of the great myths in American history. The very amendment that “ended” slavery in the United States preserved its status as an institution. Let’s take a closer look at the 13th Amendment of the United States Constitution. The following is taken directly from the document.

“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.”

“...except as a punishment for crime…”

Slavery is wrong, even as a punishment for crime. As a practice, it is morally and ethically bankrupt, regardless of the individual’s past wrongdoing. No one should profit off the forced labor of another human being: not the government and not private companies.

Slavery is alive and well in the land of the free. It’s a system of exploitation disguised as justice.

The U.S. Constitution needs a 28th Amendment that truly and absolutely abolishes slavery.

Examples of private companies benefitting from this labor, as well as states and the federal government, are plentiful.

Walmart Inc., a nearly $300 billion company, used inmate labor to help build a location in Wisconsin in 2005. Nintendo, Starbucks and Microsoft Corp. have all used prison labor to package products.

Not only does this exploit inmates, but it harms innocent, low-wage workers by removing jobs from the market.

Inmate labor produced more than $2 billion worth of commodities in 2003, a study from the University of Massachusetts-Amherst found in 2004.

As with slavery in the early 19th century, modern incarceration targets minority communities.

Across America, racial disparities in incarceration are undeniable. African Americans were 5.1 times more likely to be incarcerated than whites, a study by the Sentencing Project, using data from the Bureau of Justice Statistics, found. Many of those incarcerated African Americans serve as slaves to prop up an economic institution, just as black slaves did 150 years ago.

Many counter that “African Americans just commit more crime.”

While it may be true statistically, the issue is much more nuanced than that. During the crack epidemic of the 1980s, many legislators began heavily criminalizing use of crack cocaine to target black neighborhoods.

Right now, an 18:1 sentencing disparity exists between crack cocaine, a drug often associated with black users, and powder cocaine, a drug favored by whites. Essentially, to have the same minimum sentence, for every one gram of crack on a black man in an urban area, a white man in suburbia has to carry 18 grams of powder cocaine.

Crack and powder cocaine are two equally dangerous forms of the same drug.

This became law after President Obama signed the Fair Sentencing Act, which reduced the disparity from 100:1. The incarceration crisis was deliberately set up to harm African Americans.

African Americans commit more crime because legislators decided to criminalize the black experience.

John Ehrlichman, who served as President Nixon’s domestic policy advisor, cleared up the intentions of the administration.

“We knew we couldn’t make it illegal to be either against the [Vietnam] war or black, but by getting the public to associate the hippies with marijuana and blacks with heroin and then criminalizing both heavily, we could disrupt those communities,” Ehrlichman said. “Did we know we were lying about the drugs? Of course we did.”

The Reagan Administration would later employ the same tactic to excessively criminalize crack through the Anti-Drug Abuse Acts of 1986 and 1988, which set up the 100-to-1 disparity.

Almost half, 46.1 percent, of offenses by those incarcerated federally were drug offenses. Though African Americans use at a similar rate as whites, the imprisonment rate among African Americans for drug offenses is nearly six times higher. These tactics proved effective, as evidenced by the rapid rise in the incarceration rate in recent decades.

The incarceration rate rose from 310 in 100,000 Americans in 1980, to a world-leading 1,000 in 100,000 residents in 2007, according to data from the Bureau of Justice Statistics. Though the rate has dropped to 860 in 100,000, as of 2016, the United States still locks up more of its populace per capita than any other country on Earth.

Missouri is one of the worst offenders in the country, placing eighth with an incarceration rate of 526 in 100,000 Missourians.

It is easy to mistake forced prison labor as a form of justice. A criminal ought to repay his debt to society, right?

But slave labor is slave labor and criminals are still human. Exploiting anyone for corporate or government gain is unethical. The dehumanization of the incarcerated needs to end.

More Americans behind bars means more free, or severely discounted, labor for governments and private companies.

American corporations are profiting from slave labor in 2018.

It’s an uncomfortable reality that we need to face. American citizens are being exploited by our government and corporations. We have an ethical obligation to end slavery. For real, this time.

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