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excerpted from Nancy A. Heitzeg, On the Occasion of the 50th Anniversary of the Civil Rights Act of 1964: Persistent White Supremacy, Relentless Anti-blackness, and the Limits of the Law, 36 Hamline Journal of Public Law and Policy 54 - 79 (Fall, 2014) (75 Footnote Omitted) (FULL ARTICLE)


NancyHeitzegIn the post -bellum era, the stain of slavery has been impossible to remove. Constitutional Amendments, Supreme Court rulings, and legislation notwithstanding, the exploitation of captive/caged Black labor continues, largely uninterrupted. As Dillon observes:

Slavery's production of social and biological death did not end with emancipation, did not cease with the end of segregation, and refused to heed under civil rights legislation. Its logic and power exceeds the realm of law. The past comes back not just to haunt, but to structure and drive the contemporary operations of power.

The primary mechanism for the perpetual denial of full citizenship has been the criminal law, with its attendant systems of policing and punishment. As Frederick Douglas observed nearly 150 years ago, there is no escaping “the general disposition in this country to impute crime to color.” Post slavery, the criminalizing narrative has been a central cultural feature of on-going efforts at oppression; from convict lease/plantain prison farms to the contemporary prison industrial complex, the control of black bodies for profit has been furthered by the criminal justice system.

A substantial body of work documents the post -bellum transformation of Black Codes into Slave Codes, slave patrols into police forces, plantations into prisons, and, in to post-Civil Rights era, into the contemporary prison industrial complex. At no point was the law able to stop this; to the contrary, the law and its enforcement apparatus remain consistent, albeit shifting, centerpieces of white supremacy and anti-Blackness.