13th-Documentary Re

The film the 13th holds that the current criminal justice system is essentially a restructuring of slavery, made possible by the provisions of the 13th amendment. As the amendment states, slavery and involuntary servitude are unconstitutional unless someone has been convicted of a crime. This allowed states to continue to keep slaves as long as they disguised it as something else, and the current system remains largely segregated as a disproportionate amount of those incarcerated are of color despite nearly equal crime rates. This could be for a number of reasons, particularly because of implicit racial bias of those working in the system as well as structural inequalities that lead to more people of color being incarcerated.

The film gave a good historical context of how mass incarceration became what it is, as the United States dominates the world in the number of incarcerated individuals we hold. One part that I found striking came from the Civil Rights movement, when there was a short clip showing a long line of men walking, single file, with signs hanging around their neck saying “I am a man.” This was powerful because it shows just how difficult life was for people of color at the time, as they were not even given their humanity. At a protest today no one would be holding a sign saying this because we consider that as a given, so it is important to consider where we have come from as a society and what people decades ago had to fight for. However, we must remember that inequalities still exist today, they have just become restructured to become more implicit as those in power realized they had to be discreet in committing injustice.

An example of how powerholders reworked their tactics of keeping people unequal based on race to make them more discreet is with the presidency of Richard Nixon. He started the war on drugs, although he did not institutionalize it, but he did turn it into a “criminal” issue rather than a health issue. Aside from drugs, his biggest fear was losing support for the Vietnam war, so his administration adopted the Southern Strategy which manipulated rich, white people to support him. They associated hippies with marijuana and blacks with drugs in order to paint them as criminals and people to be afraid of. Since then, political tactics of manipulation have continued in order to keep those dominant in their dominant position. This raises a challenge for advocates to continually be critical to ensure implicit bias and injustice do not continue.

As disheartening as the film was at times, there was also a sense of hope generated by some of the stories told. Angela Davis is an example of a woman who prevailed against all odds in the face of injustice. Realizing how powerful she was in the movement, the federal government labeled her “armed and dangerous” and one of the “ten most wanted fugitives,” when it seems that her method of choice was nonviolent resistance. The government feared her, so instead they made the rest of society fear her. Despite this, she did not quit speaking out and showed that wods can be extremely effective in challenging the status quo. She used her intellect to prove that she was not guilty, and her story provides an example for future movements. I believe that the points raised by the film were real and something needs to be done about it, and that the spirit of the work done by Angela Davis and her colleagues can serve as a guide.


One Reply to “13th-Documentary Re”

  1. This was a great summary of a couple of the key points of the documentary. Angela Davis was one of the leaders in the black community that was silenced. While you alluded to this by illustrating how red tape was all around her, I think it is important to mention that leaders were systematically barred or disabled from leadership in the black community throughout American history. I also agree that one of the key messages of the documentary was humanizing “criminals” and people of color in general. This is something that can often times get mistranslated to the masses as setting free violent criminals instead of simply treating all human beings with a basic level of respect.


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