13th Documentary Review – America’s Slavery Loophole

 You can watch '13th' on Netflix
You can watch '13th' on Netflix

'13th' is a Netflix documentary directed by Ava DuVernay and was released on October 7th, 2016. It involves an aspect of American history that no one was taught in school because it doesn't go along with the oft white-washed narrative of U.S. history that society prefers to hear.

There is a loophole in the 13th amendment. I have written about it before on this site and I think it laid the foundation for our modern prison complex. A complex that has evolved over the generations, but seems to keep in place some aspects of America many have been indoctrinated into believing were no longer in existence. 

Some of us heard about this originally in the successful documentary series 'Hidden Colors.' Specifically, Hidden Colors 2 where there is a section dedicated purely to America's prison complex. Some may have heard about it even before that, but one thing is definitely for sure...none (or at least very, very few) of us learned about this in school when we learned about the 13th amendment and how it ended slavery.  

The '13th' documentary goes into how the 13th amendment says slavery is illegal unless you're found guilty of a crime and go to jail. So immediately, the criminality of Blackness was born.  In films like 'Birth of a Nation' by D.W. Griffith, one can see the word "criminal" being used while showing a white man in blackface attempting to rape a white woman. So the criminalization of black people has in part been propped up by a corporate media that has helped spread the unnatural fear of blackness since Griffith's film. A film that directly led to a resurgence of the KKK.

I think the documentary does a great job at connecting the dots. Dots that go back before any of us were born. I think sometimes when we discuss problems that occur in America today as Black people, we lose sight of just how long these systems of oppression have been in place. Not only that, but a MAJOR mistake has been made post-Integration where we have allowed ourselves to think that the worst of our past is in our past. That as a society we can never return to the barbaric ways of old. People think this while we currently today live in a society where a young child like Tamir Rice can be killed, on camera, and his killer (a police officer) is not even charged with his murder. Is that not Emmett Till, only without the malicious brutality against his body? We think we've come so far, yet we live in a society where a child like Kalief Browder, who was only 16 when he was arrested (for a crime he didn't commit), can spend 3 years in a prison like Rikers Island without even being charged with a crime. He sustained a level of mental scarring that eventually led him to commit suicide at the age of 22. 

No, we have not progressed nearly as far as some would have you believe. We are still very much a society defined by stereotypes and preconceived notions of people we deem to have less value.

The documentary also breaks down the false "war on crime" and "war on drugs" which in effect were really wars on black people. Nixon said that we need "total war" on crime in America. Under his administration, the official backlash to the Civil Rights movement was in full effect as the country took a militaristic approach to solving the problems with drugs and crime.

The documentary then shifts into the Reagan administration and how he took the drug war to another level. Reagan was extremely problematic for America in the long run, but he was incredibly popular in his time and you even have some Democrats today who will speak favorably of Reagan...despite how damaging his administration ended up becoming. The discussion in the documentary then shifts to the use of cocaine, what I would have liked to see it touch on is the Iran-Contra scandal. Iran-Contra was basically the conspiracy that involved the U.S. government allowing drugs to be shipped into the country (specifically into inner cities) which gave the government the ability to then come in and arrest tons of people in the black community. Gary Webb wrote a book called 'Dark Alliance' which exposed the entire scandal. The 'war on drugs' was completely manufactured from start to finish. Much like the invasion of Iraq, it was based on faulty evidence, outright lies and propaganda...and much like the invasion of Iraq, the corporate media played a huge role.

Sadly, the Black community bought into many of these lies meant to justify waging war on their own. Some of it was out of a genuine feeling that locking people up and throwing away the key would actually help the community. Some of it too was pure ignorance on the part of too many community leaders who should've known better.

'13th' then gets into the continuation of this system under Bill Clinton. Three strikes and you're out, truth in sentencing, mandatory minimums and the $30 billion 1994 omnibus crime bill were all products of the Clinton administration. The crime bill increased state funding to build more prisons and also increased the size of law enforcement. The crime bill is the reason why small towns have become militarized and swat teams have become so normal, that in some cases today they're used when carrying out search warrants on homes of suspected drug dealers. Not to handle the rare hostage situation as some erroneously believe.

One part of the documentary I liked the most was the focus on black leaders such as Assata Shakur, Angela Davis, and Fred Hampton. All three represented the fear of black resistance that has always permeated American society. So much so that Van Jones mentions that one can't tell a history of black leadership in America and not also talk about how those leaders were often criminalized. Some of them were killed, others were imprisoned on trumped up charges (sometimes being framed as in the case of Assata Shakur), while others still were forced to flee the country. Black resistance to state violence and legalized oppression has always been met with hostility and violence in America.

All in all, the documentary was very well made and is mandatory viewing. The criminalization of black people in America is something that people will be learning about for centuries I believe. It has been going on long enough and has destroyed so many lives that it's impossible to imagine a future where it'll be forgotten. I personally believe it has permanently stunted the growth of freedom and liberty in this country.

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