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It’s Not Mass Incarceration, But Slavery: Speech By Max Parthas At The Millions For Prisoners March

Editor’s Note

The following is a transcript of a speech delivered by Max Parthas at the Millions For Prisoners Human Rights March, which took place on August 19, 2017 in Washington, D.C.

We asked, or the organizers asked the people here today as representatives, to speak a little bit about the 13th amendment.

Some of them got up here and told us how none of this is gonna work. Some of them got up here and told us how we were just having a march and when we’re finished with this march, we gotta continue doing the work, like this ain’t important right here, right now, today.

Some of them got up here to tell us were wasting our time. I’m not feeling that at all.

Let me tell you what’s going on here today. This is the largest gathering of slavery abolitionists in the history of the United States, happening right here today. In 16 cities across America, they are marching in unison with us and in solidarity with us, and they’re not doing it to end mass incarceration. They’re doing it to end what? (Slavery!) Slavery.

See, y’all don’t know what the hell slavery is apparently these days. I just pointed out to you how it works. Well, how did it come into play?

The 13th amendment exception clause traces all the way back to 1777 Vermont. It’s in their constitution right now, where they say slavery shall be abolished in the state of Vermont except for prisoners duly convicted or in case of debts or the like.

What the hell is ‘the like?’ Like you could be enslaved for being ‘the like’ in the state of Vermont, they were the first ones to put it out.

From Vermont in 1777 it went out to Alabama. From Alabama it went into Ohio. Those three states adopted what was the predecessor of the 13th amendment.

By 1865, it had gotten to Abraham Lincoln.

Did y’all know Abraham Lincoln was a lawyer? (Yes) Do you trust lawyers? (No) C’mon, now.

Abraham Lincoln was a lawyer. He was in the middle of a civil war. It was impending at one point and then it actually happened. He was looking for a way to solve the problem between the North and the South.

In a letter to Justice Stephens, in 1862 I believe, he said clearly to him what the difference between the North and the South was, when he told Justice Stephens you in the South think slavery is a right that should be allowed to all. And us in the North think that it should be restricted. That is the only difference between us.

Now what did he mean by “restricted?” He was talking about convict leasing. He was talking about what occurred in 1865, when the North won the war and they put convict leasing into effect immediately.

Where I come from, in South Carolina, they built that first prison there in 1866 and are proudly bragging about it. Within 2 years, many of these prisons across the South went from 90% white to, guess what? 90% Black.

The people who were supposedly freed were immediately re-arrested under black codes and pig laws, and put right back in those damn cells where they were leased out to the railroad lines, leased out to the coal factories, leased out to the plantations where they were just slaves at.

And this was happening after the so-called emancipation, after the 13th amendment this went on. It went on all the way to 1928 in Alabama.

In Alabama in 1928 there was a cave-in. A cave-in that took the lives of 128 Black men, women and children. They were being leased out to this mine, to work in this mine for free.

Many of them picked up because they didn’t have money in their pocket and was in somebody else’s town. Because they looked at a white woman wrong. Because they spit on the ground. Because they were fucking black. It’s as simple as that.

And then they leased these men and women out to these companies and built what you call America right now.

Now if that’s not slavery, I don’t know what the hell is. See, the difference is, prior to 1865, the individual, as the letter proclaimed, could own people. After 1865, the transfer of ownership of your behind went from the individual to the state owning people. And they kept those people in those cages because taxpayers would pay for their upkeep.

There’s a book by the name of “One Dies, Get Another” by Matthew J. Mancini. In that book, he says the only difference between slavery and convict leasing was with criminals so plentiful, they were seen as disposable. They didn’t have any care of taking care of them anymore. And this wasn’t before 1865, this was after 1865.

So I’m telling you that went on until 1928. And the way they do things here is they transform slavery. They always transform it into something else and call it another name. And people get up here and start talking about how slavery is mass incarceration. How slavery is justice for sale. How slavery is over-policing. How slavery is injustice in the courts, racism.

I don’t give a damn about no racism, I give a damn about slavery. Without slavery, those racists wouldn’t have a damn power. They wouldn’t have the power they have right now. They wouldn’t have it. They couldn’t do anything to you, but right now, those men [pointing to police] could come over here, could put a gun in my face, and put me in a jail cell any damn time they feel like it. And they represent white supremacy.

The next stage of slavery was UNICOR. UNICOR is one company. Anybody here familiar with UNICOR? (Yes) It’s a billion dollar a year business that was established in 1936 as a replacement after convict leasing.

All they provide is prison labor. They have 109 factories making 170-some-odd products where the factories are built into their prison. You hear what I’m telling you? Built into the damn prison. A billion dollar a year service.

In the 70’s, we know Nixon—everybody knows he was a racist. Anybody confused that Nixon was a racist? (Laughter). In the 70’s, this racist president started what was called the War on Drugs. Right before he resigned.

And we know today that Nixon admitted that he was doing it to target Blacks and anti-war protesters. He said basically we can’t physically target them and get away with it, but we can associate the Blacks with heroin and the war protesters with marijuana, and we can go in and tear their communities apart. And they did that and the first of what we call mass incarceration started to come up.

The next stage was Ronald Reagan. Ronald Reagan came in and said, you know what, this whole thing about people not being able to own people anymore sucks. I wanna change that.

So he invited a private prison to build a facility in Louisiana, a women’s prison. For the first time since 1865, the average person could now go to their stock broker and buy stock in prison.

When you buy stocks in prison, do you think you’re buying prisons? Do you think you’re buying a room? Do you think you’re buying the blankets?

You are buying the people. You are putting your money, your investment, into the fact that those prisons will be filled all the damn time.

And it’s not just filled to 100%. In Alabama right now, where they are also protesting in solidarity, it’s at 200% capacity right now. 200%.

We had instances in our history recently that should be worldwide scandals but nobody’s talking about it.

Have you ever heard of the “Kids For Cash” scandal? “Kids For Cash,” right? What was happening was, in Pennsylvania, two judges were working with a private for profit prison by the name of Merical—Merical was the developer.

The two judges were working an assembly line of human trafficking and slavery, where they had incarcerated nearly 5,000 children for pay. Merical was giving these judges money to send these children to their prisons. The judges were earning millions. Merical made nearly a billion dollars.

The way it ended was the judges got 28 years in prison and the company got fined $80 million. Now, if you made a billion dollars and you got fined $80 million, do you feel like it was a bad day? (No) No.

So, for selling children, they didn’t get no time. The Supreme Court had to overturn all of those convictions. Some of these children were in there for something as little as throwing a piece of steak at their stepfather, writing on their desk, or making fun of their vice principal.

They weren’t given trials, they weren’t given representation, they were simply ushered right into a prison for a kickback. And this prison had a beautiful name. It was called Pennsylvania Childcare. Look it up, makes it sound so great, right? Like you wanna send kids there to be babysit. And it was a damn prison for children. That’s just one example.

The other example would be what my brother talked about earlier, which was in Massachusetts with Annie Dookhan.

You have a crime lab technician, her name is Annie Dookhan. What she was doing was falsifying drug reports on as many as 60,000 people. Now, why would a crime lab technician want to falsify drug reports? Because there’s 14 states in the United States of America that provide incentives to lab technicians in the form of monetary kickbacks for every positive result.

This woman affected 60,000 lives. Many of them are in prison right now still for violation of parole, things like that, because of these false drug reports.

She did 18 months in prison. She’s walking free now. The Department of Justice decided they’re not even going to check to see who she affected anymore because it would take too much work. Think about that. How the hell are we dealing with that in this country? That’s slavery and human trafficking.

And when I say human trafficking, I’m not talking about the illegal type. We’re not talking about illegal slavery here. We’re talking about legal slavery. Legal human trafficking.

Right now in Arizona, there’s a prison in a place called Eloy. At that prison, they only house Hawaiians. In Arizona. So, if you do a crime in Hawaii they will send you to this private prison in Arizona. Now, how the hell are your family members gonna visit you? They can’t. And why are you in Arizona to begin with? You didn’t commit a crime in Arizona.

But because these private prisons are connected all across the country, they think that they can just take your body and send it wherever they have a contract that needs to be filled. That’s human trafficking. We have laws against that.

You can’t abolish mass incarceration. Mass incarceration is the result of something, it’s not the source. The shit didn’t even exist until 2009.

In 2007, at the launch of Twitter, between 2007 and 2009, there were only 4 mentions of mass incarceration. It didn’t become a thing until 2009, but here we are in 2017, when everybody’s talking about mass incarceration, like the shit is real.

I bet you that our ancestors, who are blessing my words right now, in 1850 did not think that those cops out there hunting them under the Fugitive Slave Act were doing mass incarceration. They knew exactly what they were dealing with and that’s our problem right here today.

We call it everything but slavery. You need to change your mind about what you’re dealing with.

This brother will say it’s mass incarceration. He’ll say it’s over-policing. She’ll say it’s policing for profit. He’ll say over there that it’s injustice and racism in the courts. But it’s all of that under one umbrella, the same umbrella we have always fought and never beat. And that is called what? (Slavery!) What are we here to end? (Slavery!) What are we trying to fight? (Slavery!)

You see where I’m coming from, right? When I marched here today, and I marched here with everybody, right? They had these dudes and women run around with these signs that said, ‘Abolish mass incarceration.’

Where the hell are they now? You came in here, confused the fuck out of people, and then left. We’re not fighting, you can’t abolish mass incarceration. It’s not a thing to abolish.

There are laws in our constitution that protect us from slavery. There are laws in the human rights documents that protect us from slavery. But we need to start calling it slavery.

If you’re calling it something else, you’re not fighting slavery. Let me show you something that’s going on in this Human Rights Declaration. Let me tell you, this pisses me off when I see this.

This is what happens when you let people who don’t know your experience determine what the answer to your problem is.

In the Declaration of Human Rights (abbreviated), slavery is number 4. Number 4.

I’m sure you didn’t ask no slaves what was important to them to make it number 4. I’m sure you didn’t ask anybody who was affected by it to make it number 4.

See, the first one is the right to equality. How you gonna have a right to equality if you didn’t abolish slavery? Like, does that make any damn sense?

The next one is freedom from discrimination. How you gonna have freedom from discrimination before you end slavery?

[Throws book] That’s what I’m thinking about that. Y’all need to get y’all mind right. You need to understand what you’re dealing with. The most important thing you can do today, those listening now, those listening across the world, the pigs over there listening right now, the asshats in that house over there listening right now [points toward White House], is to change your mind about what you’re dealing with.

Because you cannot reform slavery. Slavery is a crime against humanity. You don’t reform it. So if you get up here and tell us to reform slavery, you’re confused brother. You’re confused sister. Because you can’t fix that.

What do you do when you’re faced with a crime against humanity that has been legalized? (Abolish it!) Say it one more time. (Abolish it!) That’s what I’m talking about.

I want to show you some things. [Holds up sign with pictures of three people’s faces] I think I put my point across. Have I put my point across? (Yes!)

I want to remember these people. Lawrence Meyers, who died in 1995. Sixteen year old boy shot in the back of the head by the police. He’s the reason I’m here today. I swore to his mother I would never forget his name and I have not. And I will keep it alive until he gets justice.

Korryn Gaines. Police barged into her house, shot her in her house and then shot her five year old son. I want to remember her.

And Kajieme Powell, who on this day in 2014, right after the Mike Brown incident, was murdered by Missouri police. He went into a store with a witness in tow, handed him a camera, and said record all of this.

He went to the store, he took out two bottles of juice from the counter, went right outside. The owner said hey, what’s going on? And called the cops.

He put the two bottles on the floor, he sat down and waited. The cops showed up within minutes, and within seconds he was freakin’ dead. Over a couple of juices.

And he did that and made this witness record it so that you could know that your lives don’t mean nothin to them. They will kill you so quick for nothing at all. And the reason they do that is because they still have slave catcher mentalities. They’re still acting like slave catchers.

They’re still filling quotas. We have New York Police Department officers who have come on national television to tell us that this is the case.

So, here’s what you can do for me today, in my last minute. Change your mind. Stop calling it the things that it is not.

It’s not mass incarceration. It’s not all those things I mentioned before.

What is it? (Slavery!) What do we want to end? (Slavery!) What are we fighting? (Slavery!)

We’re not fighting mass incarceration, right? (No!) We’re not fighting injustice in the courts, right? (No!)

We’re fighting slavery and the way to end that is to take that exception clause out of the 13th amendment, which makes it legal. And then you can incorporate laws and legislation, like the Justice Is Not For Sale Act of 2015, which banned private prisons from the United States, which ended the 34,000 guaranteed quota in the immigration centers.

I wanna say one more time: thank you. On behalf of my family and everybody who came here to see us today, thank you for being here. Please, share this information with somebody else and do what you can to end modern day slavery and human trafficking.

Thank you Krystal, thank you to the IAMWE Prison Advocacy Network and all the people who made this happen today, because the only way this is gonna change is if you change it.

Photo by johnnysilvercloud on Flickr.
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Brian Sonenstein

Brian Sonenstein

Publishing Editor at Shadowproof and columnist at Prison Protest.