When the Thirteenth Amendment was signed by President Abraham Lincoln in 1865 it granted freedom to slaves; however, it left a loophole. It did not grant the same rights to criminals. And that particular clause has been used through history to create a new kind of slavery that largely targets African Americans and other minorities. 13th brings together activists, politicians and scholars to discuss the ramifications of this clause.
The sad reality is that slavery was about economics at its core. When the slaves were granted their freedom they left a gaping hole in the South that needed to be filled. Since the powers that be could not legally enslave them again they created a campaign to criminalize the African Americans that exists to this very day.
This manipulation of history began with the film Birth of a Nation. The black characters in the film were portrayed as less than human and, since it was such a popular film, it embedded that image into the brains of white Americans throughout the country. Black men became associated with rape and crime. D.W. Griffith, creator of the film, showed members of the KKK burning crosses. A practice the group embraced after seeing it on screen.
By criminalizing the black man, it enabled law enforcement to arrest them on minor charges, or even bogus ones. Once they were incarcerated they were used as labor to help rebuild the economy. While most of us like to think our country has moved past that way of thinking, it has not. Only the language and manipulation of current events has. Today the United States makes up only 5% of the world’s population yet we have 25% of the world’s prisons. These prisons, now largely privatized, have over 2 million inmates and over 40% are African Americans.
Unless we, as private citizens, start to rail against this injustice it will not stop. Private corporations are joining together to create laws and purchase our politicians in an effort to insure the prisons remain full. Today they are working on creating a GPS system that will track those who are not in prison. For a young black man who has been targeted by law enforcement there is no escape, even in the outside world.
A relatively small organization called ALEC (American Legislative Exchange Council) has been recognized as the group behind such laws as Stand Your Ground. This is the law George Zimmerman used to be acquitted of murder in the case of Treyvon Martin. The evidence made it clear that he incited the violence and shot Martin on April 11, 2012; however, the Florida law that allowed him to declare self defense saw him go free. Although many corporations cut their ties with ALEC after this incident many did not.
There was one statement made by an ALEC executive that really struck me. He stated that ALEC did not want voters to pass their laws, they want fewer voters. It’s easy to see how interconnected they are with the recent upswing of laws that keep people from being able to vote.
On a positive note, it does speak about the potential of Black Lives Matter. It is not an organization, but a movement. And, although, the government may try to destroy it they will not be able to. There is no address, no specific person to target and that makes it a problem for them, but a boon for those of us who continue to battle injustice.
Join us for this important film. Its creator, Ava DuVernay has done a wonderful job with this essential information and its Emmy award is well deserved.