The United States is home to 5% of the world’s population but 25% of the world’s population is of prisoners. That means that there is a one to four ration among human beings with their hands-on bars, shackled, are locked up here, in the land of the free. In 1972, we had a prison population of 300,000 today, we have a prison population of 2.3 million. The United States now has the highest rate of incarceration in the world. History is not just stuff that happens by accident. We are the products of the history that our ancestors chose, if we’re white. If we are black, we are products of the history that our ancestors most likely did not choose. The 13th Amendment of the constitution makes it unconstitutional for someone to be held as a slave, it grants freedom to all Americans. There are exceptions, including criminals there is a clause or loophole and if you have that in the structure, in this constitutional language then it’s there to be used as a tool for whichever purposes one wants to use it.
When we think about slavery, it was an economic system and the demise of slavery at the end of the Civil War left the Southern economy in tatters. So, this represented a huge question, there are four million people who property was formerly, and they were formerly kind of the integral part of the economic production system in the South, and now those people are free. So, what do we do with these people? How do we rebuild their economy? The 13th Amendment loophole was immediately exploited. After the Civil War, African Americans were arrested in masses, it was out nation’s first prison boom. You were basically a slave again, the 13th Amendment says, “except for criminals, everybody else is free.” Now if you are criminalized that doesn’t apply to you. They were arrested for extremely minor crimes like loitering or vagrancy and they had to provide labor to rebuild the economy of the South after the Civil War. Laws began to pass that regulated African Americans to a permanent second-class status, the fear of crime is central to all of us. Civil rights activists began to be portrayed in the media and among many politicians as criminals. People who are deliberately violating the law, segregation laws that existed in the South. “For years now I have heard the work “wait.” It rings in the ear of every African American with piercing familiarity. This wait has almost meant never, justice too long delayed is justice denied” (King). When you look at the history of black people’s various struggles in this country, the connecting theme is the attempt to be understood as full, complicated human beings. They are something other than this visceral image of criminality and menace and threat to which people associated them as. The Civil Rights Act and the Voting Rights Act said, “Finally, we admit it although slavery ended in December 1865, we took away these people’s rights, and now we’re going to fix it.” For the first time there is a promise go equal justice becomes at least a possibility.
Once Nixon became president crime and people being put in prison peaked with the thought of a “war of drugs.” This utterance gave birth to this era today, where we decided to deal with drug addictions and drug dependency as a crime issue rather than a health issue. There are hundreds and thousands of people who were and are still being sent to jails and prisons for a simple possession of marijuana, for low-level offenses. This thing called “law and order” becomes an integral to something that comes to be known as the Southern strategy. Nixon recruited Southern whites formerly staunch Democrats into the Republican fold. Ronald Regan was determined to out that this drug of war is something that is so serious in this world when it wasn’t a huge issue as he was portraying it to be. His wife came up with the “just say no” stated that it has helped many of our young people to say no to drugs, but has it? In the 1980s a new drug was placed into our world called crack cocaine and if you were black and you were caught with cocaine on you, you are getting sent to prison for the rest of your life. If you were white and caught with it on you, you were just getting a slap on the wrist. A scythe went through our black communities, cutting off men from their families, a huge chunk of them just disappearing into our prisons and for a very long time.
When taking a look at our long history of discrimination, many can say it hasn’t changed today. The fear has grown and stuck to people as they grow up including interactions with police officers and black males. The history is there and it is repeating itself.