2017 ESSENCE Festival Speaker Ava DuVernay’s powerful Netflix documentary, 13th, sheds light on an inhumane clause in the 13th amendment of the United States constitution that essentially legalizes slavery through criminalization. Narrated by a diverse group of activists, lawmakers and social influencers, the film places a particular focus on the detrimental effects that the clause has had on the Black community, as well as how U.S. coroporations and multiple government administrations have had a hand in keeping the irrevocably damaging criminalization cycle alive in Black communities for decades.
Here are 14 eye-opening facts the documentary examines.
The United States is home to 5% of the world’s population, but 25% of the world’s prisoners.
The U.S. prison population in 1970 was just above 327,000. The current prison population is over 2 million.
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The 13th amendment to the U.S. constitution makes it unconstitutional for anyone to be held as a slave. There are exceptions, including criminals.
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The abolishment of slavery in 1865 freed 4 million people who were formerly property and almost wholly responsible for the economic productivity of the south. This left a significant void in the U.S. economy, leaving officials struggling with how to rebuild and put freed Black people back to work in the most cost-efficient, yet still "legal," way possible.
Following the Civil War, African-Americans were arrested and imprisoned in mass for extremely minor crimes. Those prisoners were tasked with providing the labor to rebuild the economy of the south after the Civil War, thus making them "slaves" yet again.
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The 1915 film ‘Birth of a Nation’ depicted the African-American male as a violent, animalistic, out of control, evil, member of society. Sitting president Woodrow Wilson held a private screening of the film at the White House that was viewed as a major cinematic event. The film was widely heralded as a catalyst for the rebirth of the Klu Klux Klan.
The demographic geography of the United States was shaped by the post-Civil War era. During that time, Black people were subjected to criminalization without just cause, thus resulting in many African-Americans fleeing to various places throughout the country in an effort to escape the threat of wrongful criminalization by the government and law enforcement officials who aimed to keep Black communities oppressed.
The Nixon administration began the cycle of criminalizing African-Americans struggling with drug addictions, rather than increasing availed resources for treatment and rehabilitation.
Nixon Advisor John Ehlrichman allegedly admitted that the Nixon Administration intentionally encouraged the public to associate African-Americans with heroin in an effort to disrupt Black communities by vilifying them in the news and creating the false narrative that Black people were vicious criminals destroying the country through drug abuse and distribution.
Black men account for an estimated 6.5% of the U.S. population, however, they make up 40.2% of the U.S. prison population.
1 in 3 Black males is expected to go to prison in his lifetime. 1 in 17 white males is expected to go to prison in his lifetime.
The prison industrial complex relies historically on the inheritances of slavery.” - Angela Davis
Republican Congressman Newt Gingrich admitted that the consequences for crack and consequences for cocaine should have been the same. He described the disparity in sentencing as having been "an enormous burden in the Black community."
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The United States has the highest rate of incarceration in the world.