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13th: A Documentary by Ava DuVernay

January 30, 2017

​According to Ava DuVernay’s documentary “13” , Racial hierarchy is maintained in three ways - the prison industrial complex, the imprisonment and killing black leaders in the 60s & 70s, and through the pressure to take a plea bargain. The film not only gives the audience a factual understand of mass incarceration and injustice in America, but it also gives a visually captivating understanding. It's not solely numbers and words but true testimonies from the ones that experienced it first hand. 

 

The Prison Industrial Complex is a linear connection to modern day slavery. It is how the government and industry uses imprisonment, policing, and surveillance to their economic benefit. The documentary is named “13” after the United States 13th amendment which grants freedom to All Humans but, as the film points out, there is a loophole. It grants freedom to all humans except those that have committed a crime. The system of slavery economically upheld the USA. After the 13th amendment was enacted and slavery was legally abolished, there was a need for a new system and so Jim Crow Law was created. Jim Crow Laws were laws enforced to racially segregate black people from white people. Many black people were being arrested for minor offenses such as loitering and vagrancy and taken to prison with no trial or representation. Instead of slavery they called it convict leasing. In prison, they would do all the work they did as slaves and would continue to uphold the economic system of the United States.

 

The 1960s and 1970s were a time of revolution, leadership, and declaration for basic human rights, much like today except the differences lie within leadership. The movements today have no leaders, only the people. What they did to keep racial hierarchy was to rid an entire generation of their leaders. The movements were seen as threats to the entire government and industry system. People such as Martin Luther King Jr, Angela Davis, Malcolm X, were on FBI most wanted lists and/or highly surveilled. It was the FBI that murdered the Chicago Black Panther Leader, Fred Hampton. His home was shot up and he was killed while in bed with his pregnant wife. He was a big threat to them because he spoke about uniting the people no matter the color of their skin, but that the fight was everyone's. 

 

The black intellect, Angela Davis, was framed and imprisoned by FBI agents. She was put on trial and convicted for a crime that she had no connection to. They were afraid of her because she was an icon and role model for people all over the world, and they believed they could make a example out of her by killing her. Many black leaders were killed one after another in this time period leaving the people with no direction. 

 

Soon after came The War on Drugs. Beginning in the 70s, this was an intricate part of destroying black communities throughout the United States. Nixon was president at the time and declared drug abuse the number one public enemy of America. This War kicked off higher surveillance and abuse of black communities and was a sure way to fill jails with black men.

The Justice System plays one of the biggest parts in the black community’s demise. The documentary states that  95% of prosecutors are white. When many black people are taken to jail they are bullied and manipulated into taking plea bargains. They are told they will get less time if they take the plea bargain than if they go to trial. If everyone got a trial the justice system would fall apart. Laws, such as Three Strikes and you’re out, were set in place. These types of laws made it easier to imprison people. Stop and Frisk allowed police officers to stop anyone for anything with no probable cause. These laws kept prisons filled and have taken part in endangering many communities.

 

I believe racial hierarchy is upheld through our education system. We are no longer being taught by ourselves about ourselves. 80% of teachers are white women. This is a detriment to young children's minds and development as they are being molded by people that will not understand them in a culturally, emotionally or psychological way. The history taught in the school system is inaccurate because it solely highlights the Eurocentric views of the world and when students are taught about their past it either focuses on the most negative parts or is watered down. When you don’t know where you come from you have no clear idea of where you’re going. My mother and father gave me something I’m very grateful for - access to the vast spectrum of my history and culture. I believe that's a big part of where my confidence and self-love comes from. It’s because of my history that I know myself better. This school system teaches you nothing about yourself, it only teaches you about dead white men and the way they conquered lands and wrote laws. The system must be dismantled because if knowledge is power and we’re being given the wrong knowledge, then our success lies in the hands of the enemy.    

 

 

 

 

 

 

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