The Slave Trade


I’m just a plainspoken Colorado criminal defense lawyer, but the way I see it…

The United States slave trade saw the incarceration of somewhat more than three hundred five thousand black men, women, and children over the course of two hundred forty-six years, 1620-1866. Counting only black men, today there are more than eight hundred fourteen thousand in U.S. prisons. Almost as many spend months and sometimes years in America’s two thousand seven hundred fifty county jails.

The Thirteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution is commonly believed to have abolished slavery with its ratification on 18 December 1865.

It did not.

Slavery and involuntary servitude remain constitutional to this day “as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted(.)” That exception, according to the documentary “13th” (winner of seventeen film awards and nominated for this year’s Oscar), has been used by government for the past one hundred fifty-two years to keep slavery alive for a wildly disproportionate number of black Americans.

False arrest and imprisonment was a common tool used by law enforcement to reinvest black men in the slave economy of the Reconstruction South, according to the documentarians.

We reconstructed slaves as criminal laborers.

The film depicts that reconstruction as more alive today than ever. Today the United States has five percent of the world’s population, yet the Land of the Free locks up twenty-five percent of the world’s prisoners.

Forty percent of those prisoners are black. Race-weighted punishment thrives.

Of every three American black boys born today, one can count on spending part of his life in prison.

Want to pay for that Mexican border wall? Incarcerate black men at only four times the rate we jail white folks, rather than the nearly six times we do now. We’ll put $15 billion in prison costs savings toward the most beautiful barrier President Trump can build, still get to put the beat-down on plenty of black folks, and the Mexicans can feel real good for not paying a cent for that fucking wall.

We used to brand slaves with a hot iron. Today we brand them with a felony conviction. Thirty percent of the black male population of Alabama has permanently lost the ability to vote. Those folks didn’t vote for Hillary Clinton, for Donald Trump, for Jill Stein. They didn’t vote for anybody, and never will.

How did we let this happen?

Toward the end of the film, the public interest lawyer Bryan Stevenson says:

“People say all the time, ‘well I don’t understand how people could have tolerated slavery. How could they have made peace with that?

“‘How could people have gone to a lynching, and participated in that? How did people make sense of this segregation, this white and colored only drinking? That’s so crazy.

“‘If I was living at that time, I would have never tolerated anything like that.’

“And the truth is, we are living at this time, and we are tolerating it.”


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One Response to The Slave Trade

  1. James A Bordonaro 31 January 2017 at 12:39 pm #

    A very powerful indictment of our criminal justice system Mr. Marin! My specialty is criminal law. I am in the poorest county of Kansas (per capita) and mainly take appointments from the courts for a reduced fee. Be it municipal or district court, my caseload is very disproportionately Black and, to a lesser extent, Hispanic, than the racial demographics of my county. I would quibble with the film’s assertion that most of the Black defendant’s I have represented are victims of false arrest. However, that may surely be the situation elsewhere and undoubtedly there are countless examples of persons of color who have had their convictions overturned. I view the problem as more systemic. There is essentially a law enforcement/court/prison industrial complex that requires the input of detainees to function but it is not that the majority of persons detained are innocent but rather than the current focus on drugs and policing of poor neighborhoods provide far easier fodder for the machinery. So too is the problem compounded by the system of over reliance on bail to work injustice on the poor. And these are but two examples of disparity in treatment before a person every gets in front of jury of their supposed peers, which I have observed in countless voir dires of panels of prospective jurors to also be unrepresentative of the larger community (likely due in significant part to prior felony conviction).

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