Monday, November 7, 2016

Documentary Review: 13th #BlackLivesMatter And They Always Have

Art exhibit in Los Angeles entitled "Manifest Justice"
The documentary film 13th is streaming on Netflix currently, connecting the dots between slavery, lynchings, elections, and mass criminalization/incarceration of black people in the U.S.

The title of Ava DuVernay's examination of racial politics over hundreds of years comes from the amendment to the constitution that freed everyone regardless of the color of their skin. Oops, except criminals.

Statistics on arrests, convictions and incarceration -- even of minors -- did and do lean heavily toward people of color even though they don't apparently use more drugs or commit more violent crimes than white people. 

Demonizing an entire group via fear tactics promoted in mass media is an old trick. 13th has much to say about the role of the 1915 racist propaganda film Birth of a Nation, originally titled The Clansman (note: the K in Klansman came later.)

Sad that in the 21st century, with its vast amount of truth out there just waiting to be found, the trick still works to keep the wealthy protected from having to share with their fellow man.
Data chart here.

The U.S. now has 25% of the world's prisoners locked up. We lead the planet in incarceration. And, surprise! It is highly profitable. Not only to operate the prisons, but to steal the labor of those kept within.

The documentary leans heavily toward testimony by scholars and public figures interspersed with archival footage of the chained black men and boys who have built the roads, infrastructure and other wealth that white families continue to inherit. 

I'm not super interested in Barack Obama's crocodile tears about mass incarceration. 

Coming off eight years of doing next to nothing to stem the tide of prisons-for-profit or extrajudicial assassination of black people by law enforcement, one is reminded that subjection to slavery is not part of his heritage (his father was an economist from Kenya and his mother was white). But the filmmaker probably thought that celebrity spokesmen would help draw in audiences, and she is probably right.

Exploiting the 13th amendment's loophole for criminals has affected elections for decades as more than 2 million felons lost the right to vote. Many prisoners were convicted under draconian laws designed to get  "tough on crime" politicians elected by the fearful white voters who retained suffrage. 

Many prisoners were guilty of no crimes against persons or property. Their "crimes" of drug possession would be treated as a health issue in a truly civilized society.

The documentary does a good job of tracing the outlines of the war on drugs and its hideous effects, but it offers little in the way of solutions. The demonization of each black man, woman or child gunned down by police continues apace. 

Our prisons are full of fathers and mothers whose children are growing up without them. Those are the lucky ones that weren't just shot and killed.

The ongoing senseless cruelty of our government and "justice" system is what I'm actually afraid of. That, and the indifference of most of the people most of the time. This year saw the biggest prison strike in U.S. history, met with deafening silence from the corporate media. Big surprise.
source: The Intercept

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