By Senator Lena C. Taylor
There is absolutely no compelling reason for the State of Wisconsin to allow slavery. Period.
But did you know slavery is still allowable under Wisconsin law as long as it’s a punishment for a crime?
Not if I have anything to say about it. Next legislative session, I am reintroducing my slavery ban. My ban would eliminate the last 15 words of Article I, Section 2 of Wisconsin’s Constitution, “There shall be neither slavery, nor involuntary servitude in this state.
It’s also federal law. The 13th amendment to the US Constitution says, “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…”
On Friday, October 7th, Netflix will release a documentary called “13th” to highlight the growth of the black prison population and to remind us all that slavery is still possible in America.
I don’t care what you do or who you are, nobody deserves a life of enslavement. Nobody gets to own another person. I hope we can all agree on that.
In practice, this amendment allows our prisons to exploit incarcerated individuals and force them to work without pay.
Now I need to be clear on one thing – Wisconsin’s Department of Corrections does not currently use slave labor. But they could. And they would be fully within their legal rights to do so.
What does it say about our society that we still allow slavery?
It makes me sick. I don’t know about you but I’m sick and tired of being sick and tired.
And when I get angry, I do something about it. My constitutional amendment would have to pass the next two legislative sessions and then it could appear on the 2020 ballot where the people of Wisconsin would get to have their say and vote ‘no’ on slavery.
Now I know that’s a long time, but the problem of mass incarceration isn’t getting any better, and it’s a problem that deeply affects our community.
With 53206 being the most heavily incarcerated zip code in America and 62% of our adult men having spent time behind bars, it’s on us to put an end to hatred in our laws.
Despite making up only 13.2% of the total US population, African-Americans constitute 37% of the prison population.
That means the chance to be enslaved disproportionately impacts the black community.
That’s not the only thing that disproportionately impacts the black community:
We are over-policed. We are pulled over at higher rates, we’re subjected to searches at higher rates, and we die at the hands of police at higher rates.
We are over-charged. Though white folks use drugs at five times the rate of the black community, we are charged with drug offenses at ten times the rate.
We are over-sentenced. Studies have shown that black people on average serve the same amount of time in prison for a drug offense that a white person does for a violent offense.
Wisconsin doesn’t currently enslave its prisoners, but we do pay them often just pennies per hour of work. Somebody is getting rich off this and it sure isn’t us.
Let’s be real – passing a constitutional amendment won’t solve the racism and bigotry of the system; there are still more black men in prison today than there were slaves in 1850. But it’s a start.
If you’re interested in learning more about how the 13th Amendment has been abused by prisons to create a slave labor force, you should check out the documentary 13th premiering on Netflix this Friday, October 7.
The film features interviews with activists, politicians, historians, and former incarcerated men and women. You can find a trailer for the film here.