Letter: Turning slaves into criminals

Editor of the Reformer:

An important film for Mindful Monday Movie Night in honor of Martin Luther King at the Brattleboro Food Co-op Community Room will be showing Ava DuVernay's 2016 documentary, "13th," Jan. 16, starting at 6 p.m. The award-winning film, titled after the Thirteenth Amendment to the Constitution that outlawed slavery, is centered on the racism of the criminal justice system.

Except for capital punishment, the harshest laws of the land are drug laws. Notably, people engaged in private behaviors that are nonviolent and meant to be private are subjected to stigmatic laws of arrest, seizure, incarceration and probation. Those who are eventually released find it almost impossible to reenter society on equal footing in the communities they were forcefully removed from.

The largest population affected by these laws is African-Americans. The drug war was and is seen by many people as an extension of legalized slavery. As drug reform groups from the Eighties and Nineties became more organized and vocal about the harm to black families and communities, they failed to capture the attention of the media, and, therefore their voices were not taken heed of by the majority of the public and legislators.

If a popular and just movement cannot catch and sustain the media's attention, they likely have a lost cause. In effect, mainstream media bias places bars over the window to the world.

The Thirteenth Amendment was ratified in December of 1865. It reads, "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."

It is an oddly stated law. If slavery and involuntary servitude is legal when someone has been "duly convicted" of a crime, then slavery does, indeed, exist in some form.

What essentially "duly convicted" in the Thirteenth Amendment means is that a citizen is subject to laws enacted by a "duly" elected legislature. Local, state and federal legislatures can, in fact, enslave citizens for nonviolent, personal and victimless behaviors based on what the legislators deem as unlawful activities.

Evidently, "windows have no bars" except as a punishment for victimless crimes where crimes are in the eye of the beholder and, therefore, without proper and equal representation.

In 1868, the Fourteenth Amendment granted full U.S. citizenship to African-Americans. Yet, the Thirteenth Amendment, in effect, left the door open to turn those American citizens who were once slaves into criminals.

Vidda Crochetta,

Brattleboro, Jan. 7


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