Voices from the inside out: George Floyd and 13th Amendment

July 1, 2020

From the July-August 2020 issue of News & Letters

by Robert Taliaferro

George Floyd. This name resonates around the country, and world, as a symbol of struggle and the need for change. He also symbolizes the need to imprecate the militarization of police within our culture, particularly in communities of color.

Sadly, it took viewing George Floyd’s death on TV and social media platforms to spark a delayed—serious—discussion of race. Equally sad is that it took this man’s death to spark a review of police tactics that have been known to be problematic for decades, especially when it comes to dealing with people of color.

Though the debate is past its prime, here’s the problem: will such discussions be sustained once the cameras are turned off and the reporters leave, or will they once again fall short of needed reforms and honest solutions?


As we have discovered in the weeks since Floyd’s murder, quite a few other people of color had suffered the same fate. Unfortunately, their murders were on dark and secluded streets—or in several cases, the supposed safety of their own homes—outside the view of social media. It was only Floyd’s death, and the blatant callousness of the man who perpetrated the act, which brought many other incidents to light.


The question is: what happens now? One of the sad indictments of the American psyche is the short attention span the country has when discussing race and racial disparity within our society.

George Floyd’s death, tragic as it is, is the result of systemic racism which has existed on the shores of this country from before its incorporation as the USA.

Even the phrase “United States of America” has been an ill-defined concept as the country has been anything but united during its tumultuous 244-year history, and nothing—nothing—has been more divisive and unchanging a subject as race. Even Justice Thurgood Marshall, upon his retirement from the Supreme Court, stated to Black attorneys that “Nothing has changed” when it came to race relations—a statement not widely quoted by mainstream media.

After national tragedies we tend to find common ground, but this has proven to be short-lived. The irony is that one of the greatest, long-standing national tragedies is the lack of a lasting national strategy on racial disparity, especially as it pertains to every aspect of the criminal justice system.


Since the end of the Civil War, communities of color have been decimated by conditions of socialized slavery that were incorporated within the early forms of the Prison Industrial Complex and which continue today.

Social death and disenfranchisement; inequitable representation on juries; overcharging people of color and over-sentencing those same persons; inadequate representation; Jim Crow—all these are incorporated in mass incarceration and police abuse of power.

Horrifyingly, the expression on the face of George Floyd’s executioner was as blank—and callous—as the expressions seen in historical photographs on the faces of participants of lynchings in the South.

Here’s a novel idea: while we are involved in tearing down symbols of racism around the country, even in the hallowed halls of Congress, let’s also look at the words of the 13th Amendment.

Let’s repeal that amendment and create a new one which states: “Slavery is now and forever abolished in the states and territories of the United States,” period. And while we are at it, let’s move to have states remove their allowance of slavery from their constitutions as well. That would be a start.

It is hard to have an adequate discussion on racial disparities when an element of chattel slavery is still codified on a national level. Let’s start with the basics and say, “Enough!” Perhaps then real change will happen.

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