By Kristen Johnson
The history of Americans’ treatment of African Americans from slavery onwards is truly revolting. It started with forced migration through slavery, to a hundred years of Jim Crow and lynchings, to institutionalized racism through mass incarceration and governmental programs labeled as something other than what it is – racism.
The documentary 13th is not an uplifting film by any stretch of the imagination, but it is important to watch because it explains the hundreds of years of subjugation and racism that have led to the current Black Lives Matter movement. The simple fact is that slavery didn’t end in 1863 – we’ve simply renamed it to incarceration. It’s a legal way to continue to subjugate African Americans and it is insidious and evil.
The 13th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution reads: Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States, or any place subject to their jurisdiction. That’s a whole lot of latitude for a whole lot of people to take advantage of marginalized people. What’s worse is that there are literally millions of dollars to be made by the private companies who run our nation’s prison systems. The more we get “tough on crime” the more people are in prison and more money can be made. Worse yet is that it extends far beyond prison management – there is money to be made by the people who provide prison clothing, prison food, even prison medical services. Worse yet is that corporations knowingly “hire” prison labor – of course that is free labor (also known as slavery!) Considering the fact that over 40% of the population is prison is African American, though only 6% of the population as a whole is African American, you can see where racism is still at work. Add to that the fact that 1 in 3 black men will be incarcerated at some point in their lives and you can see the institutional racism not-so-behind the scenes.
Watching films of the 1960s civil rights movements gave me chills. Worse yet, films of police officers beating black people in broad daylight as recently as last year will disgust and shock you. The worst part is the politicians behind the scenes pulling the strings. People are literally thrown in jail for years for crimes they did not commit (and viewers will see some of their stories in the film). Also, nauseating things like “mandatory sentencing” leads to people being thrown in jail for LIFE for first-time offenses. Those who are able to get out of jail are marked for life – unable to obtain food stamps, student loans, many kinds of jobs, and are banned from voting. Sounds a like lot slavery, yes?
I have called many times for a total overhaul of our criminal “justice” system, which is really just a form of barbarism and looks nothing like justice. I will continue to lobby my leaders for this desperately needed reform. It’s appalling that the U.S. has more people in prison than any other country in the world. Land of the free? Apparently not.
I absolutely highly recommend this film and I think it is important viewing for each and every American. “Criminals” are not who you think they are. There are fine lines in between the cracks of the system that the average white American cannot see or refuses to see. It’s not okay.
Be the change. Demand change.
Romans 12:21 (NRSV): Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.
Serve all with love.
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