My Fellow Conservatives: Let's Truly Embrace The Spirit of Juneteenth | Opinion

Imagine it with me: a free world, but you're not a part of it. A land full of opportunities, but you have no access to them. A nation with liberty and justice, but somehow you still feel imprisoned and caged.

This is why telling the story of Juneteenth is so essential to understanding our nation's history. It goes like this: Though the Emancipation Proclamation was issued by President Lincoln on January 1, 1863, it wasn't until June 19, 1865, that roughly 2,000 Union soldiers arrived in Galveston, Texas announcing that more than 250,000 enslaved Black Americans were free by executive decree.

They were already free, but they didn't know it, because they simply weren't told.

Freedom cannot be separated from knowing that our God-given liberties must be preserved against government intrusion. And that still isn't the case for so many Black people in our own country, even today, over 150 years since those Union soldiers arrived in Galveston.

If Black people are afraid to walk the streets of our own neighborhoods, are we truly free?

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Juneteenth holiday commemorating the end of slavery wildpixel/Getty Images

That question becomes even more stark when it comes to our criminal justice system and the death penalty. In Louisiana, the odds of a death sentence are 97 percent higher for those whose victims are white than for those whose victims are Black. In California, those convicted of killing white people are three times more likely to receive the death penalty than those whose victims are Black. In North Carolina, that likelihood is 3.5 times greater.

If government-sanctioned violence is so starkly unfair, are any of us truly free?

The state of Washington abolished the death penalty in 2018, mostly due to racial bias. "We are confident that the association between race and the death penalty is not attributed to random chance," the justices wrote in a majority opinion.

Other states should follow suit. But the death penalty is just the tip of the iceberg. The systemic racism that is embedded in our justice system resembles oppression and bondage, and it is difficult for us to fully celebrate Juneteenth without a full acknowledgement of that.

The tragic murder of George Floyd sparked universal outrage from people across the political spectrum. For Black Americans, it was another name added to a seemingly never-ending list of lives ended by police officers. The list of names includes: Tamir Rice, Philando Castile, Eric Garner, Alton Sterling, Walter Scott, Breonna Taylor, and so many more. They are names that fuel pain, anguish, and trauma. Names that resurrect the wounds of history. Names that conjure the urgency to reevaluate how police officers interact with members of the community and the necessity for them to be held accountable.

Even Sen. Tim Scott (R-SC), a Black United States senator, is not immune to the injustice in policing. He expressed his frustration about his encounters with law enforcement bluntly, explaining how he has found himself "choking on my own fears and disbelief when faced with the realities of an encounter with law enforcement."

Meanwhile, in prisons across the country, incarcerated people work under threat of force for pennies an hour. In places like Angola Prison in Louisiana, wardens ride on horses through fields of mostly Black men picking crops in the heat. If that sounds like the pictures of slavery we learned about in school, that's because it is.

For this we can thank an exception in the 13th Amendment, which abolished slavery except for as a form of punishment. According to Right on Crime, states spend more than $50 billion per year on prisons. This excessive government spending is fueled by the idea that punishment is the only way to respond when someone makes a mistake. And it tends to disproportionately respond to Black peoples' mistakes. Does that make any of us more free?

But what if we as conservatives were to refocus our attention and resources on restoration, rehabilitation, services for victim's family members and equipping local communities to be best equipped to serve as violence interventionists and preventers?

As conservatives, we must ask ourselves this pressing question: Is freedom really a cornerstone of the American Dream if it isn't accessible to everyone? If people of color are still feeling victimized by our justice system, then the message of this Juneteenth cannot be a celebration of freedom alone. The message must also be we still have work to do to realize our dream.

Conservatives must become messengers of freedom and reform—because there are some disturbing realities about our justice system that tell us that we're not really free.

Demetrius Minor is National Manager for Conservatives Concerned About The Death Penalty, a content creator for The Family Vision Media and a Project 21 Member.

The views in this article are the writer's own.