"Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it" George Santayana
The film 13th derives its title from the one exception to the 13th Amendment that abolished slavery in 1865: "except as a punishment for crime." As 13th points out, this exception has allowed the profit driven insitutuion of slavery to continue abated over the last 150 years in one form or another, where only the name has changed.
The very coherence with which Compton's own documentary filmmaker Ava Du Vernay insightfully lays out the various historical incarnations of this slavery "exception" with what we now call the prison industrial complex left me with one unanticipated takeaway: If the mostly minority contributors to the making of this exceptional film are representative of the awesome human ability and insight it took to make it, just how much more of this unrealized human potential is in our prisons and still being lost in a for-profit driven incarceration system, where 97% of those behind bars never had a trial, because they were too poor or intimidated by a likely mandatory 30 year sentence, if they went to court and lost.
Where excessive minimum sentencing laws pushed by the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) offer the mostly minority poor caught up in the rigged criminal justice system a Hobson's choice of coping a plea to a crime they didn't commit or facing a trial with a potential mandatory 30 year sentence behind bars. Under these circumstances, it is completely understandable that they choose to play it safe, which winds them up in prison, where once in, many never again emerge.
And once in prison, they are either hit with imaginary infractions that extend their sentences or wind up unemployable, when they finally get out of prison, because of their prior criminal record.
As Du Vernay points out in 13th, the one thing that never changes in whatever incarnation the theft of Black labor takes through slavery to convict leasing to Jim Crow and now to mass incarceration is that the greatest impediment to the end of racism in America has always been that somebody- and not the worker- is always making obscene amounts of money by those who don't think Black Lives Matter.
So you might ask, "Why don't I mention White folks in prison?" Well the answer is simple. In a prison industrial complex that has gone from 357,292 behind bars in 1970 to 2,306,200 in 2014 we find that Blacks make up 40.2% of the prison population. Or put another way, 1 in 17 Whites will spend any time in prison during their lifetimes, while that figure is 1 in 3 for the Black male population.
There is one area that I wish Du Vernay and the others making 13th would have gone into in greater depth. And that is the part that she mentions in passing that purposefully degraded and still segregated public education plays in filling our prison today with those who are still systematically pushed through school without them getting trained or socialized in a manner that might have made them productive members of our society and not capable of being sweep up in the prison industrial complex.
Put another way, I don't think the violence and murder of inner city communities living in terror like Chicago or any other large minority filled urban area in this country would see these astounding levels of violence and incarceration that have now become the rule, without a purposefully failed and segregated public schools system, which remains content to measure its success not by the achievements of its students, but rather by the profits of their vendors, which continue to hold the leadership of these public school systems captive.