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Monday, November 07, 2016

13th documentary: the US Constitution & the US Election Candidates 2016



With the US Elections 2016 taking place tomorrow, I decided to re-watch Ava DuVernay's 13th documentary. In the next one hour 40 minutes, as the documentary takes you on a historical tour of American History, what I would learn and witness about the American history, politics and justice would shake me to the core. I knew the disregard for black life in America was appalling, but what I did not realise was how deeply entrenched in American history this disregard was embedded.

13th, the highly anticipated Netflix Original documentary documents the stark realities that the American Judicial System has been designed to confine the black male to a life of servitude. The 13th Amendment in the American constitution states: 
Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States, or any place subject to their jurisdiction.
In the land of the free where 6.5 percent of American citizens are black males, and also where 40.2% of the American prison population are black males. In the 13th Amendment, no longer can its citizens be slaves, unless and this is crucial, unless they are considered to be ‘criminals’.

The documentary begins with commentators such as writer Jelani Cobb, black intellect and activist Angela Davis, literary critic Henry Louis Gates and Former US Representative Newt Gingrich commenting on D.W.Griffith’s film ‘A Birth of a Nation’ a racially prejudice political film that many site as being the catalyst for the birth of the Klu Klux Klan. In one scene we see white actors in black face leering over a white woman perpetuating the racist idea that black men are not only a danger to society but are dangerous to those whom society upholds as the epitome of beauty, the white woman. When research shows that in reality the statistics are not based on sound reasoning and solid facts but skewed fear mongering.

With the Birth of a Nation comes the open attack on the black community through public lynches. In the South of America through from the late 1800s to 1960s (yes less than 60 years ago) hundreds of images of black bodies hung up by their necks on trees surround by white murderers were proudly displayed on national TV and in the newspapers. What follows is the Jim Crow era, the segregation of blacks and whites. Blacks forced to backs of buses, unable to attend schools and forced to walk off the kerb if a white person was walking by.

Fast forward President Nixon’s implementation on the ‘war on drugs’, dealing with drug addiction and dependency as a crime issue rather than a health issue. To George W. Bush Senior’s stance that proceeding presidents need to be seen as tough on crime. To Ronald Regan’s heavy criminalisation of crack cocaine, a drug typical used within the black community which could land you with a much lengthy jail sentence than those caught with cocaine which was more sophisticated and more commonly used by white community. We find ourselves in 1993 with Bill Clinton as America’s 42nd President and with the prison system reaching capacity due to the mass incarceration of members of the black community. Bill Clinton introduced many policies which were detrimental to the black community including the three strikes and you’re out law, where if an individual commits their third felony they are sent to prison for life. Truth in Sentencing law was also introduced by Clinton, which meant prisoners had to serve at least 85% of their sentence before being released. The 1994 Federal Crime Bill also lead to the militarisation of the law enforcement, in fact 8 billion dollars was set aside for the training of police officers. Much of what we see in America today, the militarisation of the police, even in small departments, the ability of Police officers to kill with impunity and have heavily armed SWAT teams were the ripple effects of Bill Clinton’s Federal Bill policies.

From the murder of Travyon Martin and the legal protection afforded to the deplorable racist George Zimmerman under the Florida ‘Stand your Ground’ law, what 13th highlights is that throughout its history America endorsed and legalised policies and has voted for individuals whose aim, although more subtly than their predecessors is aimed to dismantle, control and criminalise the black community. So afraid of black dissent Civil Rights leaders and Black Activists such as Assata Shakur, Angela Davies and even Martin Luther King Jr. are declared by the then head of FBI J. Edgar Hoover to be the most dangerous criminals in the world and the greatest threats to America.

The underlying theme of 13th is that American history may have evolved but the semantics used to address the black community has stayed the same. The only difference? Subtly. Black people especially black men face modern day whippings and prejudicial treatment. From childhood the black boy is categorised as less likely to succeed, their friendship groups associated with criminal gangs. As a result of police brutality black men and women face modern day lynches at the receiving end of a racist cop’s bullet, their murdered bodies publicised across international news channel and hung on worldwide magazine stands. Lest we forget racist officer Darren Wilson and the Ferguson police department left Mike Brown’s body lying in the street for four hours.

What 13th has taught me is that we shouldn’t be thankful that black people have come a long way as Black men are still disproportionately targeted by police stop and searches, black men still receive a tougher prison sentence for the same crime committed by a white man. And one in three young black males are expected to go to prison in their lifetime this is 1 in 17 white males.

“Justice too long delayed is justice denied” – Martin Lurther King 
By around 4am on Wednesday 9th November 2016 the UK and the rest of the world will know who America has voted to be their 45th President. In the last presidential debate Trump used the same subtly racist rhetoric “Law and Order” when referring to policies aimed at disproportionately imprisoning black men as President Nixon did nearly 50 years ago. Hilary Clinton once used the racist term “super predator” to refer to African American children, she has now back peddled to become a supporter of the #BlackLivesMatter movement and has prominent black celebrities including Jay Z and BeyoncĂ© endorsing her campaign.

It’s extremely scary to think that the only options for one of the highest offices in the World; the land of the free, falls down to a racist businessman and an opportunist woman who has made frankly disturbing and racist statements. Both of whom have once supported policies that have disproportionately vilified, criminalised and imprisoned the black community.

Who will you be voting for in the tomorrow’s US Elections 2016? #TeamClinton or #TeamTrump? Will you be casting third votes? Let me know in the comments below.


Rosh xo


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