13 Times the Movie “13th” Made Me Go, “Oh, Dang”
Boss filmmaker Ava DuVernay's powerful documentary on the prison industrial complex called “13th" made a deep impression on me. Named after the 13th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution which abolished slavery (except as punishment for a crime) the film pleads the case that our modern day incarceration is a new form of slavery. You can watch “13th" on Netflix in full, but if you want to skim through the movie, I broke down time stamps for some of the most poignant parts below.
@7:08 -- D.W. Griffith’s 1915 movie “The Birth of a Nation” is thought to be an artistic achievement and portrays blacks as animalistic and evil. It is in this film that the first instance of a burning cross – which the KKK later adopted – appears in popular media.
@16:41 -- Crime rates are on the rise during the Nixon administration (pinned on the burgeoning Civil Rights Movement) and an increasing number of black men end up behind bars in response to Nixon's "war on crime". This new presidential initiative incites fear in the public at large leading to further crackdowns on black communities.
@18:20 - President Nixon advisor John Ehrlichman admits, "The Nixon campaign in 1968, and the Nixon White House after that, had two enemies: the antiwar left and black people...We knew we couldn't make it illegal to be either against the war or black, but by getting the public to associate the hippies with marijuana and blacks with heroin, and then criminalizing both heavily, we could disrupt those communities. We could arrest their leaders, raid their homes, break up their meetings, and vilify them night after night on the evening news. Did we know we were lying about the drugs? Of course we did."
@29:52 -- On May 1, 1989, Donald Trump buys a full page ad in the "New York Daily News" to bring back the death penalty. The reason? A group of young black men are accused of beating and raping a white female jogger in Central Park. The accused – 4 of them minors – serve as adults before DNA evidence exonerates them.
@36:54 -- President Clinton creates the 1994 crime bill in California, which provides funding for100,000 extra police officers. Police departments swell. Coupled with an overwhelming bias towards people of color, there is a massive increase of minorities behind bars. President Clinton has since said the bill was a mistake.
@43:25 -- According to the Bureau of Justice Statistics Bulletin, blacks were at least 6 times more likely than whites to be in State or Federal prison at yearend 1997. By 2001, the black prison population is 878,400 and at yearend 2002, 10.4% of black males age 25-29 are in prison, compared to 1.2% of white males in the same age group.
@45:14 -- J. Edgar Hoover says the Black Panthers represent the greatest internal threat to the nation. Fred Hampton, a Black Panther in Chicago, Illinois, is killed by police after they rush his home at 4:30am and shoot him in the head while his pregnant wife lay next to him. Hampton was 21.
@53:13 -- The American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) is a private club that lobbies for conservative law. ALEC creates the "stand-your-ground" law that gets George Zimmerman off after he kills Trayvon Martin.
@1:07:38 -- Many people don't know prison labor exists. Partnerships between correctional facilities and private businesses take advantage of prisoners who get little to no pay. Victoria’s Secret and JCPenney are two companies who have participated.
@1:16:34 -- Difficult hurdles for people with a record exist. Some include felony conviction checkboxes on job applications, no access to student loans or food stamps, and the loss of the right to vote. As author Michelle Alexander puts it, “we haven’t so much ended racial cast, but simply redesigned it.”
@1:20:29 -- In response to protesters who might throw tomatoes at his rally in Iowa, Donald Trump says, "Knock the crap out of ‘em, would you? Seriously.” Black and white archive footage of a black man being pushed by a group of white men and black people being carried on stretchers is shown as Trump is heard saying, "In the good old days this doesn't happen because they used to treat them very, very rough."
@1:22:59 -- Lifetime likelihood of imprisonment for white men: 1 in 17. Lifetime likelihood of imprisonment for black men: 1 in 3. Black men account for about 6.5% of the U.S. population and make up 40.2% of the prison population.
Slavery, Jim Crow, the prison industrial complex -- these are all forms of injustice in different eras. To quote CNN political commentator Van Jones from the film.
"We don't know what the next iteration of this will be, but it will be. It will be. And we will have to be vigilant."
(Image credit: Getty, Courtesy Netflix)