Please note! This essay has been submitted by a student.
The documentary “13th” displays how America has merely given slavery a new coat of paint and a new fancy name, imprisonment. The 13th Amendment says that slavery shall not be permitted except as a punishment for a crime committed and Congress can enforce this law basically wherever they see fit. So in a way it was never truly hidden, people just choose to gloss over it. While slavery may have been abolished, the rights of African-Americans were still being robbed from them. The government spun a web of lies to ensure African-Americans would be painted as criminals and second-class citizens.
They arrested civil rights activists and then claimed that civil rights only contributed to high crime rates as if the government wasn’t directly responsible for this movement happening in the first place. If these people weren’t denied their rights and arrested for attempting to acquire them, would crime even be an issue? Why are people who fight for rights and equal treatment in the so-called “Land of the Free” criminalized? Prison labor doesn’t just resemble slavery, it practically is. The original idea behind prison labor is that it would grant trade skills to those incarcerated to help them re-enter society. However, this is not the case at all. Most prison labor jobs are just maintenance of the facility. To add to this, they are paid disgustingly below minimum wage despite technically working full-time jobs. Forced labor combined with the intense dehumanization that occurs inside of the prison harkens back to the way plantation workers treated the slaves that worked in that facility. Even the jobs that these slaves were assigned were simply just keeping the facility in order much like prisons. There was no betterment of the individual, no benefits, no compensation, and most importantly, no discernable concern for basic human rights.
The government has even introduced drugs into minority populations simply to arrest them for drug possession and then have them put into the prison system to work to improve these facilities and increase the prison population. , Now why would the government want to increase the prison population? Because it makes money. Now just who are the easiest people to incarcerate? The disenfranchised minority groups that reside in our country, specifically African Americans. This is what happens in a primarily capitalist society, more and more ways of making money are discovered and incorporated to generate as much money as possible to keep our economy afloat. The so-called “War on Drugs” from the 70s and 80s was simply a target on blacks to throw them in jail to create a feedback loop of crime. Simply labeling drugs as a health issue wouldn’t generate money like it would when it was labeled as a crime issue, so it became a crime rather than something that could be remedied and studied to prevent. It doesn’t help that this criminalized them in the public eye and using that fear of crime to fearmonger the public as well simply made people believe that incarceration was the safest way to go. Introducing easily-created and extremely harmful drugs like crack cocaine into an impoverished group and then arresting them for the same thing you popularized to improve the facilities they’re being kept in to facilitate more incarceration all the while generating tons of money is an ingenious but disgusting feedback loop created by the same government who claims to care for the weak and shelter the poor. The poor are indeed being sheltered but in a prison.
In this very documentary “13th”, it’s stated that regular powdered cocaine was more of a suburban issue, where predominantly whites live. But the crack was primarily an inner-city issue, where blacks and other minorities live. Now despite regular cocaine being much harder to acquire and much more expensive, it receives a much lower sentence than the easier to manufacture and acquire version, crack cocaine. “One ounce of crack cocaine gets you as much prison time as 100 ounces of powdered cocaine.” (DuVernay & DuVernay, 2016) With this data, it is not hard to see that crack was designed to be used as a weapon to take these minorities and imprison them to keep the prison labor machine oiled and working as well as possible to generate as much money as possible. On the domestic side of things, this cut off many men from their families and most likely ruined these families’ chances of ever climbing the class ranks to live a better life. Essentially killing 2 birds with one stone, imprisoning men, and keeping their families down to generate more disenfranchised blacks to be imprisoned. The millions of dollars the Reagan administration put into prisons were not to improve them for the prisoners but to improve them for the owners of the prisons. It is no more evident than in the increasing numbers of inmates in the US prison system. From 1972 to 1988, the US prison population went from roughly 200,000 to a little over 600,000. (“Criminal Justice Facts”, 2019) To put it aptly, the war on drugs wasn’t a war on drugs, it was a war on black people. The way blacks were labeled as things like “super-predators” had an almost animalistic tone to them, comparing them to beasts in a way. This is not at all different than how they were treated during the times of slavery. Auctioned off like cattle and described as savages from an uncivilized land, often shown to the public in cages or other forms of confinement much like how they’re shown in handcuffs and the back of police cars on television.
Racial profiling is one of the American police force’s biggest issues. When the “Stop and Frisk” laws were passed in 1968, the issue was magnified to an extreme degree. Now an officer doesn’t even need to explain his reasoning or what crime he believes is being committed when he stops you and begins to frisk. All he needs is an arbitrary set of reasons to stop someone. This leads to officers with an agenda or particular biases stopping those who they believe to be committing a crime solely based on their biases and nothing else. This conflicts with the 4th Amendment heavily. The 4th Amendment protects Americans from unreasonable searches and “Stop and Frisk” is a heavily flawed law that is entirely based on the individual officer rather than a code or guideline to merit a brief frisk. While possibly seeming reasonable to the officer, to the individual being frisked this can be entirely unreasonable because there is no probable cause and you can be arrested based solely on an officer’s “hunch” rather than anything concrete. So an officer can stop a black man because he believes he is carrying a weapon, but for what reason does the officer believe the black man has a weapon? Solely because he is black and because in the officer’s eyes that makes him prone to criminal activity? This is what leads to the unreasonable law. It is simply too vague to be deemed reasonable in most situations. Searches should require probable cause, not a simple hunch. There are too many variables in the situation and this muddies the waters because in the officer’s eyes he believes he is correct while the black man may believe the search was unwarranted and unreasonable which violates his 4th Amendment rights, making discussion of the situation extremely difficult. So in short I believe “Stop and Frisk” is an inherent violation of 4th Amendment rights in most situations and shouldn’t be in active practice unless a code or guideline is developed to make grounds for a stop and frisk less vague.
In conclusion. “13th” presented was more than just a summary of the history of discrimination in America. It displayed how discrimination against African-Americans has not changed at all but rather just evolved. Slavery has been abolished unless you’re a criminal. Discrimination hasn’t gone away, it’s just not as public. Different terms are being used, and “dog-whistle politics” are evidence of this. The government may say Jim Crow is dead but they’re lying to all of our faces. Jim Crow is alive and well, he’s just wearing a mask and a new set of clothes.