Part VI – By Any Means Necessary
Part VI – By Any Means Necessary
I don’t cry on the outside often, and when I do, it is not for very long. However, I was brought to tears recently by a film on Netflix titled “13th.” My tears were not ones of sadness. Rather, they were caused by a swell of guilt over the evil we allow to dwell in our midst.
The film is about the 13th Amendment to the United States Constitution. Contrary to popular perception, that amendment did not eliminate slavery. In fact, it allows people to be enslaved as long as they are criminals. That exception to freedom was deemed necessary to rebuild the economy of the South after the Civil War. Slaves had not only been free labor, they also had been worth more as “property” than all of the money deposited in all of the banks in the nation. Power brokers were unwilling to pay the price that would have been required to remove them from the wealth production system.
So Southerners seized upon the opportunity provided by the 13th Amendment to create criminals to replace the slaves they were losing. Masses of black men and boys were rounded up on all sorts of pretenses – loitering, vagrancy, false accusations, or just being black. They were then leased to many of the same industries that had exploited them as slaves before they were “freed.”
In time, just as skin color had defined slavery, being black became synonymous with being a criminal. A movie called “Birth of a Nation” did much to propel this transition. Hailed by President Woodrow Wilson, a former history professor at Princeton, as “like writing history with lightning”, it glorified the Ku Klux Klan for “saving” white women from black men who were falsely portrayed as ravenous rapists. That anti-black sanction from the president led to an avalanche of Jim Crow laws, lynching, and government-supported repression of rights and opportunities for blacks. It also helped Wilson get re-elected.
The question of how to control criminals – or black people in the newest configuration of slavery – has driven almost every recent presidential contest since the one that elected Nixon. His Southern Strategy was designed to attract Southern whites to the Republican Party by using “law and order” as a mandate to jail peaceful protesters. The first George Bush put a black face on crime and named it Willie Horton. Reagan took it up a notch by making an ounce of cheap (crack) cocaine used primarily in black communities carry the same sentence as a pound of the more powerful powdered cocaine preferred by middle class whites. Clinton topped it off with laws that locked you up forever after three felony convictions, and then rewarded local police with extra funding based on the number of people they put in jail. The second George Bush believed the death penalty was a “good idea,” and during his tenure as Governor of Texas executed more people than any other governor, 57 of those killed were black. Our current president-elect has combined past tactics and put them on steroids by adding brown faces to the black images, and as a result, whipping up more fearful white voters than ever.
As of today, one in three black boys is likely to end up in jail. Many of them will be stopped on the street just because they fit a dubiously concocted profile. The vast majority of them will not understand what they are up against. They will not be able to afford bail. They will be persuaded to plead guilty to a crime, whether or not they committed it, just so they can go home.
Once that happens, once they become felons, they are the equivalent of slaves. Their rights as citizens are usually destroyed. They cannot vote. They cannot access public benefits. They can’t even live with their families in public housing. They cannot find work. They cannot obtain a passport. In short, they cannot pursue life, liberty, or happiness, ever again.
Beyond the great injustice documented and portrayed in the film “13th,” what struck me more was that all of this pain and this inhumanity were motivated by one thing: greed. Slavery, Jim Crow, mass incarceration, the Southern Strategy, the War on Drugs, the War on Crime, mandatory sentencing, the wall on the border, were all calculated to generate power and profit by any means necessary. In each case, the architects knew what the costs would be: Families would be destroyed, communities unraveled, suffering would ensue, and innocent people would die.
Spiritual evil in high places focuses on one thing, and one thing only, material power. They never have enough of it, and they are blind to anything except it. They want it all, and if left unchecked, they will get it, by any means necessary.
PART VII – The Challenge of Whiteness