13th (available on Netflix) is an incredibly important and beautifully made film that situates the loophole in the 13th amendment that allows involuntary servitude for persons who have been “duly convicted of a crime” in the long history of variously successful attempts to reimpose the moral, and in many cases the practical, equivalent of slavery on African-Americans. The film features the brilliant and charismatic Michelle Alexander and the great Angela Davis, as well as anti-death penalty advocate and civil rights activist Bryan Stephenson, among others
From the Klan to Jim Crow and lynching, to the “war on drugs” and the “war on crime” (dog whistle code words for the war in Black people) the murder of black leaders like Chicago’s Fred Hampton of the Black Panthers, not to mention Martin and Malcom, and mass incarceration that has put 2.3 million people in jail,and prison, 40% of them Black men, who comprise 6.3% of the population, this country has made unremitting and fairly successful efforts to keep black people where they were before the Civil War. Young black men have a 1-in-3 likelihood of going to prison, compared to a 1-in-17 likelihood for their while counterparts. (Figures from film).
I have a client who may be risking 12 years in prison after spending 3 years in jail without a conviction because he couldn’t make bail (another racist twist to the system because black people make in average only slight more than half what white people do, http://money.cnn.com/2016/06/27/news/economy/racial-wealth-gap-blacks-whites/, and their unemployment rates are twice the white rate, _not_ counting incarcerated persons–a point made by the movie), refused a deal I got him for _probation_ because, he says, he will just have his probation violated by an arrest for walking while black. He’d rather take his chances in a trial.
He’s not being irrational. The prosecutor from whom I got the deal,pretty much warned me point blank that that’s what would happen. And the probation violation that sends you to prison for an arrest, probable cause standard rather than beyond a reasonable doubt is a further racist ribbon in this nasty package white people and accommodating black politicians have made for their poorer black male counterparts.
Of course black people aren’t property and can’t be literally sold down the river anymore, but the 13th amendment loophole is big enough to float a steamboat through. This is a useful corrective to the worshipful treatment of the 13th amendment in Spielberg’s typical flag waving soft-focus epic on the framing and passage of that amendment.