Last night we watched the documentary by Ava DuVernay called 13th. It is powerful. It connects the passage of the 13th amendment, which forbids constraint of one person by another or by society except when the person has been duly convicted of a crime. The 13th amendment abolished slavery throughout the United States. This documentary shows how black people were nonetheless further enslaved by means of the criminal justice system, whereby even minor offenses could result in long years of incarceration. The documentary's premise is that the language about constraint being permissible if a person has been convicted of a crime was a loophole that allowed a different, more subtle system of slavery to arise.
The document is convincing. I have read enough of other materails to know that what it says contains a lot of truth. Yet it leaves unanswered a question that plagues me: Why aren't the fortunes of black people, especially young black males, much better than they are? I ask because I feel like this conversation has been happening over and over and over for 40 years.
I understand that people of color are more harshly treated by the criminal justice system -- yet, if people stay away from crime, they grow up well, and I have personally known many black people who have done exactly that. I recognize that economic trends tend to leave black people as a group more stressed than white or brown, but I am puzzled that more black people don't take advantage of information that is available to all and manage their finances better. Also, I don't understand why, after millions and perhaps billions of dollars spent on programs, subsidized housing and food, and self-commentary within the black community, such a high percentage of black people still live on low incomes and get into trouble. Is it really simply because they are unfairly targeted by the criminal justice system? Is it truly the effect of prejudice -- when so very many white people sincerely desire for all to be treated equally?
Look at my home, the Village of Hempstead: Why, after the many efforts at revitalization that have been occurring for almost 70 years, has this majority minority village not risen above the low high school graduation rate and high crime that were present when we moved here almost 24 years ago?
I am not alone in researching these questions. I feel frustrated. I have to go back through my materials again, continue to get to know my village better, and keep writing.