[Note: This article has been vetted by real lawyers and has been republished on the I Taught the Law blog here: https://medium.com/i-taught-the-law/civil-disobedience-to-slavery-d2d090763098 ]
Civil Disobedience To Slavery
There are a great number of people in the United States that think slavery ended with Abraham Lincoln's Emancipation Proclamation on January 1, 1863, but it only applied to the southern Confederate states that were in rebellion to the United States. Here's the relevant text:
"all persons held as slaves within any State or designated part of a State, the people whereof shall then be in rebellion against the United States, shall be then, thenceforward, and forever free"
However, by the end of the Civil War, both Northern and Southern states were acclimatized to the idea of the abolition of slavery, and the 13th Amendment, which was passed on December 6th, 1865, abolished slavery for good in the United States.
Except it didn't.
Neither the Emancipation Proclamation, nor the 13th Amendment to the US Constitution, completely abolished slavery.
What the 13th Amendment does is ratify and legalize slavery exclusively within the context of the penal system (Section 1), and it grants Congress the power to enforce slavery in the penal system by legislation (Section 2). Most people think it does the opposite. Let's examine the text:
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, or any place subject to their jurisdiction.
Congress shall have power to enforce this article by appropriate legislation.
To any God-fearing honest citizen, the 13th Amendment is nothing to worry about. It says slavery shall not exist for them within the United States. Of course, if they commit a crime, or violate any number of Jim Crow laws, like not being white, then they shall be enslaved.
To anyone who "except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted" applies, there's plenty to worry about. Slavery is not only legal, but it's explicitly for you. As in, once convicted, you are a slave and property of the state.
What most white people don't understand is that slavery isn't just for black people anymore. The 13th amendment enslaves all colors and races where a criminal conviction occurs.
There were anti-slavery protections put in place by Congress, such as the Anti-Peonage Act of 1867, as well as 18 U.S.C. § 1592 which makes it a crime to withhold a passport or other official documents for the purpose of making someone a slave.
However, in 1871, Ruffin v. Commonwealth, 62 Va. 790, 796, established that convicted prioners were, in fact, slaves and therefore property of the state:
"in the penitentiary, he is in a state of penal servitude to the State. He has, as a consequence of his crime, not only forfeited his liberty, but all his personal rights except those which the law in its humanity accords to him. He is for the time being the slave of the State. He is civiliter mortuus; and his estate, if he has any, is administered like that of a dead man."
This has led to an incorrect belief that convicted prisoners are not entitled to any rights at all.
I spent the first half of 2022 listening to my state legislators (from Indiana) describing prisoners as "property of the state" in their (unfortunately successful) legislation that denied non-profit organizations the ability to post bail. Yes, the legislators attacked churches, synagogues, and other "do gooder" organizations, in order to deny people bail and keep the prisons full, while propping up the for-profit bail industry. I also learned, from my state legislators, that all convicts remain slaves, and therefore property of the state, well after they are released from prison, until their parole officially ends.
So what are we trying to do? It's actually quite simple. Remove the exception clause from the 13th Amendment, and have it really end slavery. How hard would it be to say this instead:
"Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude shall exist within the United States, or any place subject to their jurisdiction."
Ding. Ding. Ding. We have a winner.
It's my firm belief that taking to the streets and protesting will have a limited affect, and that won't lead to a revision of the 13th Amendment. What will have an effect will be mobilizing the judges, prosecutors, public defenders and police/sheriff/correctional personel to shout from the rooftops that that THEY don't want to be in the slave creation business anymore. What we have to do is create public recognition that all those professions create slaves. Today.
Did you know where those six-pointed law enforcement badges come from? The earliest versions were worn in South Carolina in 1704 by slave patrols. Over 300 years later, our beloved law enforcement are still slave catchers. We need them all to voice very loudly that they don't want to be slave catchers anymore.
The question is how to do that. Where can Jane & Joe Citizen influence those professions?
Now I wouldn't tell anyone to do something I wouldn't do.
I've tested this out, live, without a net.
When you receive a summons for Jury Duty, you're being asked to actively participate in a fundamental democratic process. Trial by jury was first established by the Magna Carta in 1215 in England. Being a member of a jury may not be convenient, but it is a fundamental obligation that we all share as citizens of the United States. Not everyone qualifies to be on a jury, so it's very important that if you are summoned, you show up.
There are two types of jury trial - civil and criminal. You won't know which one until you arrive and are briefed by the judge.
If it's a civil case, it's likely one party is suing another, and your job as a juror is to figure out who is right and who is wrong. You may decide on how much compensation someone is due, or if a landlord deserves to keep the security deposit on an apartment rental. If you're assigned to a civil case, complete your jury service, and we all thank you for your service.
If it's a criminal case, the state is bringing criminal charges against a defendant, and their expectation is that the defendant will be incarcerated. Cue the 13th Amendment. This is how slaves are created in 2022.
Your job as a juror is to decide a verdict of "guilty" or "not guilty". If you decide the defendant is "guilty", the judge will then impose a sentence which is often predetermined by state statutes. It may be a fine, but most likely it will involve jail time. And if so, the 13th Amendment. And slavery.
So when does your conscious kick in? Right back at the start of your jury service. The first thing you do is send back a questionnaire that comes with the jury summons. It asks you to put all the organizations that you belong to on the form. You can use this to your advantage, simply by being honest. Two of the organizations that I'm a member of include Hoosier Action and Veterans For Peace, both of which organize their members into taking action on justice issues.
I can only tell you how I handled this. Whether you choose to follow my lead is entirely up to you. I went into the courtroom knowing there were potential penalties for what I was about to do.
There are very few reasons to be excused from jury service. What I did technically isn't one of them, so don't think this will "magically" get you out of jury duty. It may just as "magically" get you incarcerated for three days. This was the warning on my jury summons:
Failure to comply with a Jury Summons:
A person summoned for jury service who fails to appear or to complete jury service as directed shall be ordered by the court to appear forthwith and show cause for his failure to comply with the summons. If he fails to show good cause for noncompliance with the summons, he is guilty of criminal contempt and upon conviction may be fined not more than one hundred dollars ($100) or imprisoned in the county jail not more than three (3) days, or both. (I.C. 33-4-5.5-20)
When you first sit down, in the courtroom, in front of the judge, you will be asked a series of questions, some lightly related to the case, as well questions about whether you understand the court specific definitions of "guilty" and "not guilty" when you are to return a verdict in the case. You are given an opportunity to speak up if you think you are unable to perform your jury duty. I raised my hand, and was questioned by the judge.
I said "if this was a civil case, I'd be more than happy to serve on a jury, but it isn't a civil case. I won't be able to return a verdict in a criminal case. Any verdict I return would potentially lead to the conviction and incarceration of the defendant, which, under the 13th Amendment, would lead to their enslavement and their becoming property of the state."
The judge told me to sit down and wait. I see a test coming on.
A little later, when I had just made it into the jury box, the judge decided we should break for lunch. I think the judge wanted to see if I'd return after lunch. I did.
After returning from lunch, I was questioned by the prosecutor, who was holding my jury questionnaire. They asked me if I understood the meanings of "guilty" and "not guilty" to which I replied "it doesn't matter. I won't be returning a verdict. I will not return a verdict that has the potential to enslave another human being. Under the 13th Amendment, any conviction will result in the defendant becoming a slave, and property of the state. I want no part of that."
The prosecutor then said they "respectfully disagreed" with me, although their body language and facial expression indicated that I was right on the money. I almost asked them which part they disagreed with, but decided staying silent was the better choice at the time. The prosecutor had been looking at my questionnaire. I think my memberships let them know I was serious, and prepared for the consequences of my civil disobedience.
A few minutes later, after the prosecutor and public defender had passed their decision of my suitability as a juror to the judge, I was graciously kicked out of the jury pool, and that officially completed my jury service.
I don't believe there is any point in stirring up trouble, just for the sake of stirring up trouble. But we, as potential jury members, have the right to confer our conscious objections to the 13th Amendment to all the judges and prosecutors, and to law enforcement members.
Imagine what would happen if criminal trials could not assemble juries because of our objections under the 13th Amendment. We absolutely have the power to do this.
I want to see the The Conference of State Court Administrators (COSCA), the American Judges Association (AJA) the Conference of Chief Justices (CCJ), and all the other court associations, lobby to end slavery in the penal system.
I want to see the National District Attorneys Association (NDAA), the Association of Prosecuting Attorneys, the International Association of Prosecutors (IAP), the National Black Prosecutors Association, and all the other prosecutor associations, lobby to end slavery in the penal system.
I want to see the Federal Law Enforcement Officers Association, the National Sheriffs’ Association, the International Association of Chiefs of Police, the United Deputy Sheriffs’ Association, the National Association of Police Organizations, the Small & Rural Law Enforcement Executives Association, and all the other law enforcement associations, lobby to end slavery in the penal system.
First, we have to make them all recognize their role in creating slaves. Then they have to loudly proclaim their objections to creating any more slaves. We start in the jury room, and our demand is simple. Remove the exception clause from the 13th Amendment, and properly end slavery in the United States.