Today there will be a ceremonial raising of a flag in the state’s Capitol celebrating the end of American slavery in 1865. For me the day is bittersweet. Sweet because it symbolizes hope for African people during a time when they were someone’s property. Bitter because in reality African people continue to fight for the same freedoms Caucasian immigrants enjoy as a birthright.

For me the flag and the holiday are just more symbolic gestures used to lull people to sleep with the pretense slavery has actually ended in the U.S. One must research CT Correctional Enterprises website to see what incarcerated people are producing in this state alone. For less than a dollar a day they work long hours with no medical benefits, no holiday pay, no concern for their physical or mental wellbeing while providing countless services to local, state and federal municipalities and doing so under some of the worst living and working conditions. U.S. exploitation at its best.

The 13th amendment to the U.S. Constitution, which many believe ended slavery, actually maintained it. The amendment reads “slavery is abolished except….” and it is that “except” that keeps slavery effectively alive. In so many words it stated if individuals were incarcerated then slavery was legal. That language led to countless racially disparate social policies that criminalized freed Africans in many ways.

On the very day the flag of freedom is being raised in Connecticut, the war on drugs turns 51. The war on drugs is a political tool used by former president Richard Nixon, and nearly every president, Democrat and Republican have found it useful since. Its impact weighs heavily on African American communities and undermined all the gains they had made under the Civil Rights Act of 1965. Under Nixon’s administration, one in eight African American men ended up with drug felonies.

In June,1971 the war on drugs was created and fueled mass incarceration in the U.S. It is a long-standing set of drug laws selectively and aggressively waged in Black communities and has been consistently waged for decades. So why are we celebrating the end of slavery in America when there are more African people caged across this nation than in 1865?

Today a flag will be erected at the Capitol. I will pause on the celebration of freedom until Connecticut has a lot more to offer its African American citizens who have suffered greatly under Connecticut law and its grossly punitive penal system.

As others celebrate, I pray they don’t lose sight of what June 17, 2022 otherwise represents. It represents 51 years of an unending war on Black and brown families and communities. It represents countless stolen lives.

It is time to put forth legislation that calls for an end to the longest and costliest racialized war in America against its own citizens. It’s also time to free thousands whose languish behind bars due to the worst social policies since slavery. Time out for symbolic gestures.

Barbara Fair lives in West Haven.