“I can’t breathe,” he pleaded. For several minutes, George Floyd lie handcuffed and pinned to the ground by a white Minneapolis police officer kneeling on his neck.
“Please,” he begged. The officer wouldn’t relent. By the time an ambulance arrived at the scene, Floyd was unresponsive.
As much of the nation erupts in outrage about these latest episodes of anti-Black violence, many are asking “what do I do?” They want to know how to make the killings stop.
But the truth is that murders like Floyd’s will never truly become a relic of the past until the U.S. finally abolishes slavery.
One of the greatest myths about slavery in America is that it ended.
I’m aware that one-hundred-fifty-five years ago, President Abraham Lincoln declared enslaved people living in states in “actual armed rebellion against the authority and government of the United States” to be free.
However, the Constitutional amendment we’re taught ‘abolished’ slavery (number 13) actually set the stage for it to continue. Far from categorically prohibiting the practice, it changed the provisions so that it could be justifiable under certain conditions: namely, as punishment for crime.
This legislative sleight of hand seems to betray that America may have never intended for slavery to truly end. After all, a person who’s serious about kicking alcohol addiction doesn’t keep a bottle of rum under the sink.
The 13th amendment is a telling innovation in the opposite direction of abolition. Not only does it preserve slavery, it foreshadows in black and white the trajectory of criminal justice in this country. It announces that, henceforth, those who are labeled criminals can be treated as the enslaved were, and those who handle these criminals can act with the same cruelty as those who once punished the enslaved.
It betrays that America’s justice institutions will be animated by the same spirit behind that of the plantation. And history bears witness to this.
We know that plantations evolved into prisons. And the cruelty of the plantation, where the enslaved were treated as non-humans, continues in state…