13th (2016) | Transcript

An in-depth look at the prison system in the United States and how it reveals the nation's history of racial inequality.
13th (2016) - Poster

13th is a 2016 American documentary film directed by Ava DuVernay. The film explores the intersection of race, justice, and mass incarceration in the United States.
The title refers to the Thirteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution, which abolished slavery throughout the United States and ended involuntary servitude except as a punishment for conviction of a crime. The documentary argues that slavery has continued in the United States by criminalizing certain behavior, convict-leasing, suppressing African Americans, the war on drugs, and mass incarceration. The film features interviews with activists, politicians, scholars, and formerly incarcerated individuals.
It was released on Netflix on October 7, 2016.

* * *

[Barack Obama] So let’s look at the statistics.

The United States is home to 5% of the world’s population… but 25% of the world’s prisoners.

Think about that.

[Van Jones] A little country with 5% of the world’s population having 25% of the world’s prisoners?

One out of four?

One out of four human beings with their hands on bars, shackled, in the world are locked up here, in the land of the free.

We had a prison population of 300,000 in 1972.

Today, we have a prison population of 2.3 million.

The United States now has the highest rate of incarceration in the world.

So, you see, now suddenly they’re in an awakening that, “Oh, perhaps we need to downsize our prison system. It’s gotten too expensive. It’s gotten out of hand.”

Um, but the very folks who often express so much concern, uh, about the cost and the expanse of the system are often very unwilling to talk in any serious way about remedying the harm that has been done.

History is not just stuff that happens by accident.

We are the products of the history that our ancestors chose, if we’re white.

If we are black, we are products of the history that our ancestors most likely did not choose.

Yet here we all are together, the products of that set of choices.

And we have to understand that in order to escape from it.

The 13th Amendment to the Constitution makes it unconstitutional for someone to be held as a slave.

In other words, it grants freedom… to all Americans.

There are exceptions, including criminals.

[Khalil G. Muhammad] There’s a clause, a loophole.

[Kevin Gannon] If you have that in the structure, in this constitutional language, then it’s there to be used as a tool for whichever purposes one wants to use it.

[Cobb] One of the things to bear in mind is that when we think about slavery, it was an economic system.

And the demise of slavery at the end of the Civil War left the Southern economy in tatters. Uh, and so this presented a big question.

There are four million people who were formerly property, and they were formerly kind of the integral part of the economic production system in the South.

And now those people are free.

And so what do you do with these people?

How do you rebuild your economy?

The 13th Amendment loophole was immediately exploited.

After the Civil War, African Americans were arrested en masse.

It was our nation’s first prison boom.

[Gannon] You were basically a slave again. The 13th Amendment says that “Except for criminals, everybody else is free.”

Well, now if you’re criminalized, that doesn’t apply to you.

[Michelle Alexander] They were arrested for extremely minor crimes, like loitering or vagrancy.

And they had to provide labor to rebuild the economy of the South after the Civil War.

[Cobb] What you got after that was a rapid transition to a kind of mythology of black criminality.

Go back and, you know, read the rhetoric that people used then.

They would say that the Negro was out of control, that there’s a threat of violence to white women.

So the same sort of image that we had of Uncle Remus and these genial, kind of, black figures was replaced by this rapacious, uh, menacing, Negro male evil that had to be banished.

[Gannon] Birth of a Nation was just a profoundly important cultural event.

[Muhammad] It’s the first major blockbuster film, hailed for both its artistic achievement and for its political commentary.

And when it was released, it had this rapturous response.

You know, there were lines everywhere that it was being shown.

Birth of a Nation confirmed the story that many whites wanted to tell about the Civil War and its aftermath.

To erase defeat and to take out of it sort of a martyrdom.

Woodrow Wilson, the sitting president, had a private screening of it in the White House. He calls it, “History written with lightning.”

And every image you see of a black person is a demeaned, animal-like image.

Cannibalistic, animalistic.

The image of the African American male.

[Cobb] There’s a famous scene where a woman throws herself off a cliff rather than be raped by a black male criminal.

In the film, you see black people being a threat to white women.

All the myths of black men as rapists was ultimately stemmed by the reality that the white political elite and the business establishment needed black bodies working.

[Cobb] What we overlook about Birth of a Nation is that it was also a tremendously accurate prediction of the way in which race would operate in the United States.

[Cobb] Birth of a Nation was almost directly responsible for the rebirth of the Ku Klux Klan.

It had received this romantic, glowing, heroic portrait.

The Klan never had the ritual of burning the cross.

That was something that D.W. Griffith came up with because he thought that it was a great cinematic image.

So it was literally an instance of life imitating art.

The ripples emanate far out from just the simple fact that it’s a movie in the early motion picture age.

[Cobb] With the tremendous burst of popularity that the Ku Klux Klan had as a result of Birth of a Nation came another wave of terrorism.

[Stevenson] We had lynchings between Reconstruction and World War II.

Thousands of African Americans murdered by mobs under the idea that they had done something criminal.

[reporter] At the National Democratic Convention in New York in 1924, it is estimated that at least 350 delegates were Klansmen.

[Stevenson] The demographic geography of this country was shaped by that era.

Now we have African Americans in Los Angeles, in Oakland, and Chicago, and Cleveland, Detroit, Boston, New York.

And very few people appreciate that the African Americans in those communities did not go there as immigrants looking for new economic opportunities.

They went there as refugees from terror.

We didn’t just land in Oakland, in LA, in Compton, in Harlem, in Brownsville in 2015.

This is generational… generational trauma.

[reporter] The letters “KKK” were carved with a penknife on the chest and stomach of this man in Houston, Texas, after he had been hanged by his knees from an oak tree and flogged with a chain.

The Chicago Negro boy, Emmett Till, is alleged to have paid unwelcome attention to Roy Bryant’s most attractive wife.

[Stevenson] And then when it became unacceptable to engage in that kind of open terrorism, then it shifted to something more legal.

Segregation. Jim Crow.

[Alexander] Laws were passed that relegated African Americans to a permanent second-class status.

These things really begin to live out the prophecy that Griffith was making about the way that race operates.

And this fear of crime is central to all of this.

Every time you saw a sign that said “white and colored,” every time you had to deal with the indignation of being told you can’t go through the front door.

Every day you weren’t allowed to vote, weren’t allowed to go to school, you were bearing a burden that was injurious.

[Alexander] Civil rights activists began to see the necessity of building not just a civil rights movement, but a human rights movement.

[Martin Luther King Jr.] And I think we should start now preparing for the inevitable.

[crowd] Yeah!

[King] And let us, when that moment comes… go into the situations that we confront with a great deal of dignity, sanity and reasonableness.

[KKK member] They want to throw white children and colored children into the melting pot of integration, through out of which will come a conglomerated, mulatto, mongrel class of people.

Both races will be destroyed in such a movement.

[reporter 1] We just got a report here on this end that the students are in.

[reporter 2] Negroes were trying to integrate the bathing beaches.

And the Florida Advisory Committee to the US Civil Rights Commission warned that the city was becoming a racial superbomb with a short fuse.

[Alexander] Civil rights activists began to be portrayed in the media and among, you know, many politicians as criminals.

People who are deliberately violating the law, segregation laws that existed in the South.

[King] For years now, I have heard the word “wait.”

It rings in the ear of every Negro with piercing familiarity.

This wait has almost always meant never.

Justice too long delayed is justice denied.

I think that one of the most brilliant tactics of the civil rights movement was its transformation of the notion of criminality.

Because for the first time, being arrested was a noble thing.

Being arrested by white people was your worst nightmare.

Still is, uh, for many African Americans.

So what’d they do?

They voluntarily defined a movement around getting arrested.

They turned it on its head.

[Cobb] If you looked at the history of black people’s various struggles in this country, the connecting theme is the attempt to be understood as full, complicated human beings.

We are something other than this, uh, visceral image of criminality and menace and threat to which people associate with us.


[protestors screaming]

We’re willing to be beaten for democracy, and you misuse democracy in the street.

Let us lay aside irrelevant differences… and make our nation whole.


[Gates] The Civil Rights Act and the Voting Rights Act said, “Finally, we admit it. Though slavery ended in December 1865… we took away these people’s rights, and now we’re gonna fix it.”

[Marc Mauer] For the first time, you know, promise of equal justice becomes at least a possibility.

Their cause must be our cause, too.

[Alexander] Unfortunately, at the very same time that the civil rights movement was gaining steam, crime rates were beginning to rise in this country.

Crime was increasing in the baby boom generation that had emerged immediately after World War II.

Now they were adults.

So, just through sheer demographic change, we had an increase in the amount of crime.

…and became very easy for politicians then to say, um, that the civil rights movement itself was contributing to rising crime rates, and that if we were to give the Negroes their freedom, um, then we would be repaid, as a nation, with crime.

[Stevenson] The prison population in the United States was largely flat throughout most of the 20th century.

It didn’t go up a lot. It didn’t come down a lot.

But that changed in the 1970s.

And in the 1970s, we began an era which has been defined by this term, “mass incarceration.”

This is a nation of laws, and as Abraham Lincoln has said, “No one is above the law. No one is below the law.”

And we’re going to enforce the law and Americans should remember that, if we’re going to have law and order.

♪ Breaking rocks out here On the chain gang ♪

♪ Breaking rocks and serving my time ♪

♪ Breaking rocks out here On the chain gang ♪

♪ Because I’ve been convicted of crime ♪

♪ Hold it steady right there While I hit it ♪

[Richard Nixon] Each moment in history is a fleeting time, precious and unique.

But some stand out as moments of beginning… in which courses are set that shape decades or centuries.

This can be such a moment.

It’s with the Nixon era, and the law and order period when crime begins to stand in for race.

If there is one area where the word “war” is appropriate, it is in the fight against crime.

Part of what he talked about was a war on crime.

But that was one of those code words, what we might call “dog-whistle politics” now, which really was referring to the black political movements of the day, Black Power, Black Panthers, the antiwar movement, the movements for women’s and gay liberation at that time, which Nixon felt compelled to fight back against.

Once the federal government, through the FBI, moves into an area, this should be warning to those who engage in these acts that they eventually are going to be apprehended.

[Cobb] There’s this outcry for law and order.

And Nixon becomes the person who articulates that perfectly.

[Nixon] There can be no progress in America without respect for law.

Many people felt like, uh, we were losing control.

[Nixon] We need total war in the United States against the evils, uh, that we see in our cities.

Federal spending for local law enforcement will double.

Time is running out for the merchants of crime and corruption in American society.

[siren wailing]

The wave of crime is not going to be the wave of the future in the United States of America.

We must wage what I have called “total war” against public enemy number one in the United States, the problem of dangerous drugs.

“A war on drugs.”

And that utterance gave birth to this era, where we decided to deal with drug addiction and drug dependency as a crime issue rather than a health issue.

Hundreds of thousands of people were sent to jails and prisons for simple possession of marijuana, for low-level offenses.

America’s public enemy number one in the United States is drug abuse.

In order to fight and defeat this enemy, it is necessary to wage a new, all-out offensive.

This call for law and order becomes integral to something that comes to be known as the Southern strategy.

Nixon begins to recruit Southern whites, formerly staunch Democrats, into the Republican fold.

[Alexander] Persuading poor and working-class whites to join the Republican Party in droves…

By speaking to, in subtle and non-racist terms…

…a thinly veiled racial appeal…

…talking about crime, by talking about law and order or the chaos of our urban cities unleashed by the civil rights movement.

[Nixon] We have launched an all-out offensive against crime, against narcotics, against permissiveness in our country.

[Alexander] The rhetoric of “get tough” and “law and order,” um, was part and parcel of the backlash of the civil rights movement.

[reporter] A Nixon administration official admitted the war on drugs was all about throwing black people in jail.

He said, quote,

♪ The end of the Reagan era I’m like 11 or 12 or ♪

♪ Old enough to understand The shit’ll change forever ♪

♪ They declared the war on drugs Like a war on terror ♪

♪ But what it really did was Let the police terrorize whoever ♪

♪ But mostly black boys But they would call us niggers ♪

♪ And lay us on our belly While they fingers on they triggers ♪

Raise your right hand and repeat after me.

I, Ronald Reagan, do solemnly swear…

I, Ronald Reagan, do solemnly swear…

that I will faithfully execute the Office…

The election of Ronald Reagan was, uh, in many ways, transformative, in a negative sense.

President Richard Nixon was the first to coin the term “a war on drugs,” but President Ronald Reagan turned that rhetorical war into a literal one.

It’s back to school time for America’s children.

And while drug and alcohol abuse cuts across all generations, it’s especially damaging to the young people on whom our future depends.

The modern war on drugs was declared by Ronald Reagan in 1982.

As we mobilize for this national crusade, I’m mindful that drugs are a constant temptation for millions.

Popular opinion polls of the day show that it wasn’t an issue for most people in the United States.

But Reagan was determined to put this onto the agenda to define it as a problem.

A war against drugs is a war of individual battles.

Reagan used his wife, for example, in this “Just Say No” campaign.

She has helped so many of our young people to say no to drugs.

Nancy, much credit belongs to you.

This is your brain.

This is drugs.

This is your brain on drugs.

I joined it.

And some people said, “Well, how can you join a person declaring a war on drugs, someone like Ronald Reagan?”

I joined with Nancy Reagan because she said, “Just say no.”

Just say no so loud that everyone around you can hear it.

We’re talking about a general education that we’re talking about.

We’re not talking about locking up people.

We’re talking about educating people. We’re talking about prevention.

There was a crisis in the US economy at that time.

I regret to say that we’re in the worst economic mess since the Great Depression.

There is a frontal assault on institutions that are designed to assist human beings, on the education system, welfare, on jobs, healthcare.

Government programs that can’t be paid for out of a balanced budget must be paid for out of your pocket.

[reporter] The rich are getting richer and the poor are getting poorer.

The idea of expanding, uh, the freedom of American business and the entrepreneurial class…

We will save $1.8 billion in fiscal year 1982.

[reporter 1] Luxury stores like Neiman Marcus predicts record sales.

[reporter 2] The number of Americans dipping under the poverty level has reached the highest rate in two decades.

Yes, there has been an increase in poverty, but it is a lower rate of increase than it was in the preceding years, before we got here.

It has begun to decline, but it is still going up.

[Mauer] In the mid-1980s, we were already starting to embark on a war on drugs and then all of a sudden, along comes this new drug, crack cocaine.

Steve Young reports on a new kind of cocaine called crack.

It’s dangerous. It’s deadly. It will kill you.

“The drug epidemic is as dangerous as any terrorist that we face.”

That is just some of what was said today to House and Senate committees holding hearings on drug abuse in America.

[Mauer] We have this drug that could be marketed in very small doses, relatively inexpensively, this was going to just take over communities, and particularly African American communities.

Crack was largely an inner-city issue and cocaine was largely a suburban issue.

Smokable cocaine, otherwise known as crack, it is an uncontrolled fire.

[Mauer] Congress, in virtually record time, established mandatory sentencing penalties for crack that were far harsher than those for powder cocaine.

The same amount of time in prison for one ounce of crack cocaine that you get for 100 ounces of powder cocaine.

[reporter] Police here are cracking down on crack dealers.

Usually black or Hispanic, Latino, they were getting long sentences for possession of crack.

You’re black with crack cocaine, you goin’ to prison for basically the rest of your life.

Um, and if you’re white, you’re pretty much getting slapped on the wrist.

Cocaine… was more sophisticated.

It was just a powder.

[Reagan] By next year, our spending for drug law enforcement will have more than tripled from its 1981 levels.

All of a sudden, a scythe went through our black communities, literally cutting off men from their families, literally huge chunks just disappearing into our prisons, and for really long times.

[Reagan] Millions of dollars will be allocated for prison and jail facilities.

[Cobb] These sorts of disparities under Reagan quickly exploded into the era of mass incarceration.

What Reagan ultimately does is… takes the problem of economic inequality, of hypersegregation in America’s cities, and the problem of drug abuse, and criminalizes all of that in the form of the war on drugs.

We absolutely should have treated crack and cocaine, uh, as exactly the same thing.

I think it was an enormous burden on the black community, but it also fundamentally violated a sense of core fairness.

When crack cocaine hit in the early ’80s, there were a lot of mayors who felt very strongly that this is a real threat and they wanted to crack down.

And Rangel was one of the guys pushing for stronger sentencing.

It may have seemed like a good idea at the time, but it sure didn’t work out as being effective.

Then, years later, there was an effort to rewrite history, that it was a racial disparity put in by mean white people.

Um, it’s not where it came from.

In many ways, the so-called war on drugs was a war on communities of color, a war on black communities, a war on Latino communities.

And you see a rhetorical war that was, you know, announced as part of a political strategy by Richard Nixon and which morphed into a literal war by Ronald Reagan, um, turning into something that began to feel nearly genocidal in many poor communities of color.


[Mauer] So Nixon’s Southern strategy was implemented right after the civil rights movement.

He played on fear of crime, and law and order to win the election easily.

Reagan promised tax cuts to the rich, and to throw all the crack users in jail, both of which devastated communities of color but were effective in getting the Southern vote.

There’s really no understanding of our American political culture without race at the center of it.

[Mauer] And in 1981, just before Reagan assumed the presidency, his campaign strategist, Lee Atwater, was caught on tape explaining the Southern strategy.

[Atwater] In other words, you start out…

♪ They claiming I’m a criminal ♪

♪ But now I wonder how Some people never know ♪

♪ The enemy Could be their friend, guardian ♪

♪ I’m not a hooligan I rock the party and ♪

♪ The minute they see me, fear me I’m the epitome ♪

♪ A public enemy ♪

♪ Used, abused without clues I refuse to blow a fuse ♪

♪ They even had it on the news ♪

♪ Don’t believe the hype, don’t Don’t, don’t, don’t believe the hype ♪

[Stevenson] The war on drugs had become part of our popular culture, in television programs like Cops.

When you cut on your local news at night, you see black men being paraded across the screen in handcuffs.

Black people, black men and black people in general, are overrepresented in news as criminals.

When I say overrepresented, that means they are shown as criminals more times than is accurate, that they are actually criminals, right, based on FBI statistics.

I mean, I’m a big believer in the power of media full of these clichés that basically present mostly black and brown folks who seem like animals in cages, and then someone can turn off the TV thinking…

“It’s a good thing for prisons, because, otherwise, those crazy people would be walking on my block.”

Creating a context where people are afraid.

And when you make people afraid, you can always justify putting people in the garbage can.

Chances are you could run into a kid waiting to relieve you of your purse or wallet.

Every media outlet in the country thinks I’m less than human.

I began to hear the word “super predator” as if that was my name.

Super predator.

[reporter 1] Super predator.

“Super predators,” end quote.

That’s the word they used to describe this generation, and it was very, very effective.

Experts call them super predators.

They are not just gangs of kids anymore.

They are often the kinds of kids that are called super predators.

No conscience, no empathy.

[reporter 2] A group of kids growing up essentially fatherless, godless and jobless.

For me, what’s disturbing is the degree to which black people bought into that.

Animals, beasts that needed to be controlled.

When those grandmothers say, “But he’s a good boy.

He never did anything,” don’t you believe it.

[Deborah Small] Black communities began to actually support policies that criminalized their own children.

[reporter] Last night, the eight teens accused of the attack were arraigned on charges of rape and attempted murder.

[Cyril] In the Central Park jogger case, they put five innocent teens in prison, because the public pressure to lock up these quote, unquote animals was so strong.

You better believe that I hate the people that took this girl and raped her brutally.

You better believe it.

[Cyril] Donald Trump wanted to give these kids the death penalty, and he took out a full page ad to put the pressure on.

These children, four of them under 18, all went to adult prisons for six to eleven years, before DNA evidence proved they were all innocent.

We make them their crime. That’s how we introduced them.

“That’s a rapist. That’s a murderer. That’s a robber. That’s a sex offender. That’s a burglar. That’s a gang leader.”

And through that lens, it becomes so much easier to accept that they’re guilty and that they should go to prison.

The objective reality is… that virtually no one who is white understands the challenge of being black in America.

So you have then educated a public, deliberately, over years, over decades, to believe that black men in particular, and black people in general, are criminals.

I want to be clear, because I’m not just saying that white people believe this, right?

Black people also believe this and are terrified of our own selves.

You want to go back to the days of military weakness, caring more about criminals than victims?

We can’t risk that. I’d like your vote on Tuesday.

[man] Leadership that’s on your side. Michael Dukakis for president.

In the midst of the, uh, presidential campaign, an ad was released about a person by the name of Willie Horton.

[announcer] Bush and Dukakis on crime.

Dukakis not only opposes the death penalty, he allowed first degree murderers to have weekend passes from prison.

One was Willie Horton.

This became a focal point of an entire presidential campaign.

[announcer] Horton fled, kidnapped a young couple, stabbing the man and repeatedly raping his girlfriend.

Weekend prison passes. Dukakis on crime.

Dukakis had protected the program, vetoed an effort to repeal it, in that he favored letting murderers out on the weekend.

[Kilgore] That Dukakis had a double-digit lead over Bush before the campaign focused on Willie Horton, and after that, Bush overtook Dukakis and won the election.

[announcer] Which candidate for president can you count on to be tough on crime?

George Bush.

Bush won the election by creating fear around black men as criminal, without saying that’s what he was doing.

A very racially, um… you know, divisive moment.

Depicting an African American criminal, I think, was deliberate on the part of that campaign.

There’s no one who can tell me otherwise.

Liberals call him Willie Horton to make it sound like you’re being dismissive.

Original article was Reader’s Digest. William Horton, no picture.

The Democrats want you to know he’s black.

Thanks, Grover.


It was not his name, it was his image that was sensationalized.

Liberals that announced that it was mean to pick on a murderer and a rapist lose all credibility on this discussion. They just lose it.

And people go, “We don’t want to hear anything else you have to say about crime.”

No matter what anybody says or what anybody does, they know exactly what button they were trying to hit with that ad.

[announcer] Stabbing the man and raping his girlfriend.

It went to a kind of primitive fear, a primitive American fear, because Willie Horton was metaphorically the black male rapist that had been a staple of the white imagination since the time just after slavery.

[Muhammad] Here was a black man convicted of rape.

“I will be the savior and protector of the white population.”

Never minding the fact that the history of interracial rape in this country, that that record is far more marked by white rape against black women than of black men against white women.

[breathing heavily]



[Patsey choking]

[Cobb] This idea that had such great artistic utility in 1915 in Birth of a Nation still had a great deal of political utility almost at the end of that century.

The way that we appeal to voters’ sense of fear and anxiety in our nation runs through black bodies.

♪ Yo, lil’ Kadeija pops is locked ♪

♪ He wanna pop the lock ♪

♪ But prison ain’t nothin’ But a private stock ♪

♪ She be dreamin’ ‘Bout his date of release ♪

♪ She hate the police ♪

♪ But loved by her grandma Who hugs and kisses her ♪

♪ Her father’s a political prisoner Free Fred ♪

♪ Son of a Panther That the government shot dead ♪

♪ Behind enemy lines My niggas is cellmates ♪

♪ Most of the youths Never escape the jail fates ♪

♪ Super maximum camps Will advance they game plan ♪

♪ To keep us in the hands of the man Locked up ♪

[announcer] A new generation of Democrats, Bill Clinton and Al Gore.

They don’t think the way the old Democratic party did.

They’ve sent a strong signal to criminals by supporting the death penalty.

Looking at the way in which Democrats were defeated in 1988, or they were defeated in 1984, or they were defeated in 1980, there comes to be a sentiment among the Democrats that they have to adopt a position that is much more, uh, kind of, centrist.

It became virtually impossible for a politician to run and appear soft on crime.

I was not for the bill that he was talking about because it was not tough enough on the criminal.

[Stevenson] In an environment where everybody’s doing the same thing, everybody’s competing to be tough on crime, you quickly all end up in the same space, so it doesn’t become a political advantage unless you do something more.

We need more police on the street.

There is a crime bill which would put more police on the street, which was killed for this session by a filibuster in the Senate, mostly by Republican senators.

We’d consistently had, “Squishy, soft liberal won’t protect you.

Tough, conservative will protect you.” And we won that fight every time.

And by the late ’80s, early ’90s, people like Bill Clinton had begun to figure out they had to be able to match us.

I will faithfully execute the Office of President of the United States.

Bill Clinton is trying to figure out how he can deal with a country that’s still basically Reagan’s country, but he’s trying to govern as a Democrat.

Violent crime and the fear it provokes are crippling our society.

Then some high-profile, very horrendous crimes take place.

Residents pull together in the search for 12-year-old Polly Klaas.

They are now coping with the discovery of her body over the weekend.

[Mauer] Polly Klaas, abducted from her bedroom at home and ultimately killed, which led to the California “three strikes and you’re out” law.

When you commit a third violent crime, you will be put away and put away for good.

Three strikes and you are out.

A person’s convicted of their third felony, essentially that person is mandated to prison for the rest of their lives.

[reporter] So many third-strike defendants awaiting trial, the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department is forced to release 4,200 misdemeanor inmates every month to make room for incoming three-strike prisoners.

It’s in line with many other policies we’ve created, particularly mandatory minimums.

“Mandatory sentencing.” We said we were no longer going to let judges consider the circumstances around a crime.

We’re just going to impose a mandatory sentence.

And that’s a difficult thing for judges because they are trying to dispense justice on a daily basis and are unable to do so.

[reporter] In many California communities, all civil trials have been canceled to catch up with the criminal case workload.

[Glenn E. Martin] We’ve taken discretion away from judges, arguably the most neutral party in the court, and given it over to prosecutors.

Ninety-five percent of elected prosecutors throughout the United States are white.

Serious, violent criminals serve at least 85% of their sentence.

[Stevenson] We passed Truth in Sentencing that kept people imprisoned for 85% of their sentence.

[Martin] Truth in Sentencing. You’re sentenced to an amount of time.

The public wants to be confident that you’re gonna do just about every bit of that time.

We’ve done away with parole.

So, in the federal system, when you get 20 years or 30 years, that’s what you got.

We had parole in this country as a mechanism for getting people out of jails and prisons when it was clear that they were no longer a threat to public safety.

Sharanda has spent the last 16 years in prison, and she’ll die there, because she was sentenced to life without parole.

Her only crime? Transporting cocaine.

And when I say “only crime,” I mean only crime.

She had no other arrests. None.

The judge was required… required to send Sharanda away for life.

[Clinton] Longer sentences, three strikes and you’re out, almost 60 new capital punishment offenses…

[Mauer] And then comes the Congress with a proposal for a $30 billion federal crime bill of 1994 that was heavily loaded towards law enforcement incarceration.

I propose a 21st century crime bill to deploy the latest technologies and tactics to make our communities even safer.

That omnibus crime bill was responsible for a massive expansion of the prison system.

And beyond that, it provided all kinds of money and perverse incentives for law enforcement to do a lot of the things that we nowadays consider to be abusive.

It will be used to build prisons to keep 100,000 violent criminals off the street.

[Stevenson] Not only does he increase funding to states to build prisons to lock up as many people involved in drug crimes, but also to put 100,000 police officers on the street.

Crime has been a hot political issue used too often to divide us.

What President Clinton did in 1994 is actually far more harmful than his predecessors because he actually built that infrastructure that we see today, the militarization all the way down to small, rural police departments that have SWAT teams.

[Cobb] And again we see this kind of notching up of the number of people who were being arrested at every level and this kind of exploding prison population.

[Cory Booker] We are a nation that professes freedom, yet we have this mass incarceration, this hyperincarceration, uh, that is trawling into it, grinding into it, our most vulnerable citizenry, and is overwhelmingly biased towards people of color.

[Clinton] But I want to say a few words about it.

Because I signed a bill that made the problem worse.

And I want to admit it.

His 1994 crime bill, something that he now admits was a mistake…

There were longer sentences.

And most of these people are in prison under state law, but the federal law set a trend.

And that was overdone. We were wrong about that.

Well, I think it’s important that President Clinton, um, acknowledges that things didn’t turn out exactly as he and all of us would’ve wished.

I’m happy that he realizes the error of his ways.

I think he knew back then that it wasn’t good policy, I’ll be honest.

Back then, there was an outcry over the rising crime rate.

And people from all communities were asking that action be taken.

Now, my husband said at the NAACP last summer that it solved some problems, but it created other problems, and I agree.

I’m glad to see that he is apologetic, but I think he has to take responsibility and accountability for that, and so does Hillary, because she supported it, then and up until recently.

[reporter] Bill Clinton faced off against a group of Black Lives Matter protestors protesting a 1994 crime bill that they say led to a surge in the imprisonment of black people.

I don’t know how you would characterize the gang leaders who got 13-year-old kids hopped up on crack and sent ’em out onto the street to murder other African American children.

Maybe you thought they were good citizens. She didn’t.

She didn’t!

[crowd cheering]

You are defending the people who kill the lives you say matter.

Tell the truth.

We can’t ignore the reality of force here.

The policies that Bill Clinton put forward, you know, mandatory minimums, three strikes…

Those were a use of political force.

They forced millions of people, who would not otherwise be in prison today, into prison.

They forced families to be broken.

They forced children to live without their parents.

That’s what happened.

[Jones] Why?

We shouldn’t ask, “Why is Bill Clinton so strong?”

We should ask, “Why is the black community so weak in our inability to defend ourselves?”

Let’s not forget how many martyrs we put in the ground in the ’60s and ’70s.

Let’s not forget how many of our leaders had to leave the country or are in prison.

You stripped out a whole generation of leadership.

You ran them out the country, you put them in prison, you put them in… in cemeteries.

And then you unleash this blitzkrieg, and we don’t have the ability to defend ourselves.

You can tell the story of white leadership in America and never mention the FBI one time.

You can’t tell the story of black leadership, not one, without having to deal with the full weight of the criminal justice system weaponizing its black dissent.

I’m tired of living every day under the threat of death.

I have no martyr complex.

I want to live as long as anybody in this building tonight.

[Jones] Dr. King, people forget, was not this beloved figure that everybody wants to put on a pedestal.

Uh, he was considered one of the most dangerous people in America by the head of the Federal Bureau of Investigations.

Don’t tell me that Dr. King has no relevance to young brothers in the street.

They dealing with little cops. He was dealing with the top cop.

[Malcolm X] We were brought here against our will.

We were not brought here to be made citizens.

We were not brought here to enjoy the, uh, constitutional gifts that they speak so beautifully about.

[Jones] Malcolm’s whole entourage was infiltrated with police.

He may have had as many police as he had regular folk in his entourage, under cover.

So afraid of black dissent.

FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover today asserted that the Black Panthers represent the greatest internal threat to the nation.

[Gates] J. Edgar Hoover said these Panthers represent the greatest threat to American democracy at the time.

The Panthers never were that big.

I mean, no one in their right mind could ever believe that the Black Panthers were gonna bring down the greatest military force in the history of the world.

The whole movement was criminalized and destroyed systematically by the government.

People haven’t thought about what it means to lose a Fred Hampton, who somehow was able to pull together blacks and whites and Puerto Ricans and Native Americans to fight for justice at 21.

We’re going to say it after this and after I’m locked up and after everybody’s locked up, that you can jail revolutionaries, but you can’t jail a revolution.

He had to go.

The head of the Black Panthers in Illinois was killed today by police in Chicago.

[reporter] Illinois Panther Chairman Fred Hampton and another Panther leader from Peoria, Illinois, were killed.

This is where our chairman had his brains blown out as he lay in his bed sleeping at 4:30 in the morning.

[Jones] They literally went and shot his whole house up, with his pregnant wife next to him in the bed.

So afraid of a leader that could unite people.

We know the history of folks who’ve done this kind of standing up to these systems, and we know how the system has murdered them, assassinated them, exiled them, excluded them, or found ways to discredit them.

Assata Shakur was one of the great leaders of the Black Liberation Army.

That, um, order given by J. Edgar Hoover was essentially to destroy any black, progressive…

Third World movement in this country.

[Jones] They put her in prison, and her allies said, “We’re not gonna leave her in prison.”

Her white allies said, “We’re not gonna leave her in prison.”

And pulled her out of prison and got her to Cuba. She’s in Cuba right now.

[Shakur] And within the next five years, something like, uh, 300 prisons are in the planning stages.

This government has the intentions of throwing more and more people in prison.


[Davis] Criminalization of Assata Shakur, the use of the media to represent her as a dangerous criminal.

And of course, in my own case, where I was represented by the FBI as being armed and dangerous.

The FBI has put black militant Angela Davis on its list of the Ten Most Wanted Fugitives.

[Jones] Then with Angela Davis, the power of the black intellect…

[Davis] One thing that we have to talk about, coming to grips with, is this whole question of crime.

What does it mean to be a criminal in this society?

That had to be broken up.

[Davis] And in my case, Ronald Reagan was the governor of California, Richard Nixon was the president of the US.

The whole apparatus of the state was set up against me, and they really meant to send me to the death chamber in order to make a point.

The actions of the FBI in apprehending Angela Davis, a rather remarkable, uh, story again…

[Jones] The system tried to put the sister on trial, and the sister said, “No, we puttin’ you on trial.”

[indistinct chatter]

Comes in, the big Afro, she didn’t go press her hair.

She was facing major time.

You know, most people, they’d have got a nice little press.

You know? They’d have been in there with little white gloves on, praying to Jesus. She came in like this.

And she devastated the prosecution and walked out of there free.

[crowd applauds]

[man] But the question is how do you get there?

Do you get there by confrontation, violence?

Oh, was that the question you were asking?

[man] Yeah.

So, I grew up in Birmingham, Alabama.


Uh, after the four young girls who were… who lived very… who lived… One of them lived next door to me.

I was very good friends with the sister of another one.

My sister was good friends with all three of them.

My mother taught one of them in her class. And they went down.

And what did they find? They found limbs and heads just strewn all over the place.

I remember, from the time I was very small, I remember the sounds of bombs exploding across the street.

Our house shaking.

I remember my father having to have guns at his disposal at all times because of the fact that at any moment we might expect to be attacked.

I mean, that’s why, when someone asks me about violence, uh… I just, uh… I just find it incredible.

Because what it means is that the person who’s asking that question has absolutely no idea what black people have gone through, what black people have experienced in this country since the time the first black person was kidnapped from the shores of Africa.

[Jones] And when you strip out a whole generation of leadership, running folk out the country, killing folk, framing folk, you will be vulnerable to Bill Clinton or anybody else.

They’ll do to you what they will.

♪ There’s a man going ’round ♪

♪ Taking names ♪

♪ He has taken my father’s name ♪

♪ And it’s left my heart in pain ♪

♪ There’s a man going ’round ♪

♪ Taking names ♪

♪ Going ’round ♪

♪ Going ’round ♪

[reporter] An armed neighborhood watch leader saw Martin walking inside a gated subdivision near Orlando.

He thought the 17-year-old looked suspicious.

[George Zimmerman] He’s got his hand in his waistband.

And he’s a black male.

[sighs] These assholes, they always get away.

[dispatcher 1] Are you following him?


[dispatcher 1] We don’t need you to.

[indistinct screaming]

[dispatcher 2] Do you think he’s yelling “help”?

[woman] Yes.

All right, what is your…


[reporter] A deadly shooting in Sanford.

Police have the gun, they’ve got the shooter, but they have not arrested him.

[Stevenson] Zimmerman, armed with a gun, followed this quote, unquote suspicious kid after the dispatcher told him not to.

They ended up on the ground in a fight, and George Zimmerman shot and killed Trayvon Martin.

The police could not arrest Zimmerman because of this Florida law called Stand Your Ground, which says that you can kill someone if you feel threatened.

Even though it was Zimmerman who had pursued Martin throughout the neighborhood with a gun.

Mr. Zimmerman felt that he, in self-defense, needed to, uh… to fire his weapon.

[Stevenson] Not only was he not arrested, but in court, Zimmerman actually pleaded self-defense and got off under the Stand Your Ground law.

[woman] We, the jury, find George Zimmerman not guilty.

[man] That Stand Your Ground law that was passed in Florida played a huge role in the Trayvon Martin tragedy and this really ignited the movement that we see today.

[reporter] In the wake of Trayvon Martin’s death, Florida’s Stand Your Ground law came into the spotlight.

How did this law not only get in place in Florida, but around the country?

And all the fingers kept pointing back to ALEC.

ALEC sounds like the name of a high school lacrosse player who just got baked and wrecked his dad’s Saab.

But incredibly, it’s actually even worse.

ALEC is a political lobbying group.

[all] ALEC is a political lobbying group.

They write laws…

They write laws… and give them to Republicans. -and give them to Republicans.

Stand Your Ground…

Stand Your Ground…

was written by ALEC.

was written by ALEC.

[Graves] ALEC is this private club, and its members are politicians and corporations.

But the real question is, should politicians and corporations be in the same private club?

Under the umbrella of ALEC corporate members, uh, get to propose laws to their political counterparts, most of whom are Republicans.

So, through ALEC, corporations have a huge say in our lawmaking.

And at ALEC task force meetings, corporate lobbyists secretly vote as equals with lawmakers on bills that those lawmakers then introduce to become laws in our states.

ALEC is everywhere.

Roughly one in four state legislators are members.

And I’m proud to stand with ALEC today.

And it’s not hard to see why. ALEC makes their jobs troublingly easy.

Here’s their model Electricity Freedom bill, which at one point says, “Be it therefore enacted, that the State of (insert state) repeals the renewable energy mandate.”

So, as long as you can remember and spell the name of your state, you can introduce legislation.

We’ve also seen ALEC bills introduced where a lawmaker forgot to take the ALEC letterhead off the bill.

Without remembering to take off the ALEC letterhead to try to distance the real role of ALEC and ALEC corporations from those bills.

I’m just curious. Does it have…

Does the legislation have some connection to ALEC?

Representative Atkins, I’m not sure why we’re pursuing this course of questioning.

This bill is my bill. It’s not ALEC’s bill.

The reason I ask is because earlier you passed out a handout that says “Gottwalt” at the top, and it says “Health Care Compact,” and there’s a logo right in the middle of that page.

And I went to the ALEC website, and there’s exactly the same font, the same size and the same logo.

I mean, literally, it’s verbatim.

[Graves] It’s shocking to know that ALEC has been around for more than four decades now.

And it’s even more startling to see how it began.

[Reagan] ALEC has forged a unique partnership between state legislators and leaders from the corporate and business community.

[Graves] Corporations have influenced laws for decades, through ALEC.

They want everybody to vote.

I don’t want everybody to vote.

As a matter of fact, our leverage in the elections quite candidly goes up as the voting populace goes down.

[Graves] Nearly every ALEC bill benefits one of its corporate funders.

And the corporation Wal-Mart was a long-standing member of ALEC at the time that it adopted the so-called Stand Your Ground law.

It’s a law that created an atmosphere where gun sales boomed.

Wal-Mart is the biggest seller of long guns in the US, has been the largest retailer of bullets in the world.

So it’s reasonable to think that Wal-Mart benefited from these Stand Your Ground laws that ALEC pushed that initially prevented the arrest of the killer of Trayvon Martin, uh, and was designed to prevent the arrest, prosecution and conviction of the killer of Trayvon Martin, including through changing the jury instructions to require that a jury be told that someone like George Zimmerman has a right to stand his ground, but not that someone like Trayvon Martin has a right to stand his ground against someone like George Zimmerman with a gun assailing him.

After the outcry over Stand Your Ground and the Trayvon Martin tragedy…

Wal-Mart stepped out of ALEC. It left ALEC, abandoned ALEC.

But the Wal-Mart family continues to fund ALEC.

Other corporations followed suit and stepped away from ALEC, but many corporations are still members, including…

Koch Industries, State Farm Insurance, PhRMA, which is the lobbying group for the pharmaceutical industry.

ALEC has been supported by the tobacco industry as well as AT&T and Verizon.

And for nearly two decades, one corporation was Corrections Corporation of America.

[announcer] Every day, we serve our communities.

From small towns to large cities, at more than 60 locations across our country.

As the nation’s fifth largest correctional system, we build, own and manage secure correctional facilities.

[Graves] CCA was the first private prison corporation in the US.

It started as a small company, in Tennessee, in 1983.

These folks started making contracts with states.

And they had to protect their investments, so the states were required to keep these prisons filled even if nobody was committing a crime.

And in the late ’80s and early ’90s, this became a growth industry unlike very few growth industries in America’s history.

Uh, it was absolutely a model guaranteed to succeed.

[Graves] And one of the ways we see that is through the role of CCA within ALEC to advance a series of bills.

All the legislation you could think of that we fight so hard against, “three strikes, you’re out…”

Three strikes and you are out.

…mandatory minimum sentencing laws…

…serve at least 85% of their sentence.

…were the ones they were putting out there like on a premiere pre-fixed dinner menu, a steady influx of bodies to generate the profit that would go to the shareholders.

[Stevenson] Through ALEC, CCA became the leader in private prisons.

It’s a multibillion-dollar business today that gets rich off punishment.

[announcer] We are America’s leader in partnership corrections.

We are CCA.

[Graves] And so, through ALEC,

CCA had a hand in shaping crime policy across the country, including, not just prison privatization, but the rapid increase in criminalization.

I think this accusation, you know, quite frankly, is just false.

That somehow ALEC was in favor of imprisoning a bunch of people, uh, because of private prisons…

I think that’s just, unfortunately, one of these tactics they do on ALEC.

ALEC pushed forward a number of policies to increase the number of people in prison and to increase the sentences of people who are in prison.

I’m trying to think how you address it. It’s hard to address something that’s like almost like folklore at this point.

They are not doing anything to really clean up that past or to address the real consequences for real people of the extreme policies they’ve pushed.

In fact, it doesn’t talk about its past history.

I mean, it’s hard for me to even understand, uh, what they’re even talking about. A lot of it.

CCA directly benefited, directly profited from its investment in ALEC, the American Legislative Exchange Council.

And the American people, in many ways, were harmed by these policies due to the mass incarceration of people, particularly people of color.

Look, right now our position is that we want less people in prison.

I don’t think that helps the private prison industry, quite frankly.

I think myself and the lawmakers, we’re just always looking for better, innovative ways to run government.

I think that’s one thing as conservatives, who believe in the free market and limited government, we pride ourselves on.

We’re supposed to be the party of innovation.

[Graves] Another bill that ALEC innovated was SB 1070.

CCA was on the ALEC task force that pushed that law that gave police the right to stop anyone they thought looked like an immigrant.

This law filled immigration detention facilities, and it directly benefited an ALEC member, CCA.

CCA could potentially reap huge financial benefits from SB 1070, since 1070 was designed to lock up a lot more people in Arizona on federal immigration charges. Cha-ching!

[reporter 1] An influx of undocumented immigrants, many of them children…

[reporter 2] In Arizona, Corrections Corporation of America, or CCA, holds the federal contract to house detained immigrants.

It’s worth more than $11 million every month.

Our, uh, immigration facilities are a disgrace.

There are families kept there, uh, in horrible conditions.

They’re called “detention facilities,” but they’re really prisons for immigrants.

Calling them “detention facility” doesn’t make them not a prison.

They’re a prison. They just have a different name.

We’re having what some people are saying is a creation of a “crimmigration” system.

That there’s the merger of our immigration enforcement and our law enforcement system.

And so, that’s some of the same things that were used in the war on drugs, are now migrating to other populations.

You heard it, uh, with Donald Trump, not about blacks but with Mexicans.

You know, “Oh, well, they’re rapists, murderers.

Oh, and by the way, some of ’em may be good people.”


Oh, boy. You know, where do you start on something like that?

[Graves] In late 2010, CCA left ALEC after a big NPR story came out accusing ALEC of pushing SB 1070.

ALEC doesn’t do anything on immigration.

No. No which way. Not to the right, not to the left. Nothing.

[laughs] So, I don’t really have anything for you on that one. Sorry.

ALEC has recently made what I would describe as a PR move to say that it’s gonna be right on crime.

That it’s gonna be on the right side of criminal justice policy and reform.

That move comes in the wake of its loss of a massive number of corporations.

What ultimately happened is our board looked at the issues that ALEC worked on and decided that we don’t do social issues, we’re focused on economic issues.

We jettisoned basically almost all of our legislation that was pre-2007.

So we basically… Fresh slate going forward.

A fresh start going forward.

[Gina Clayton] This industry knows that it’s dying… and is actually preparing for the next thing.

And the animating factors that have led to such a system like bail.

We’re always gonna see new permutations of a cancer. Right?

And that’s what this is.

And over the last couple years, since 2008, we’ve been involved really in a wholesale reform effort, where 31 states have now adopted positive changes on sentencing, on parole and probation reforms.

ALEC has a concerted effort to privatize almost every aspect of government, but we had no idea that they were also aiming to try to privatize probation and parole.

ALEC is no longer concerned about CCA and CCA’s interest.

CCA no longer has a seat at the table with ALEC, so it doesn’t have a financial interest in advancing policies that increase the profits of CCA.

But the American Bail Coalition is still part of ALEC.

Today, our state penitentiaries are filled to the brim and overflowing with inmates.

[Martin] When I think of systems of oppression, uh, historically, in this country and elsewhere, they’re durable.

And they tend to reinvent themselves, and they do it right under your nose.

One of the things they want to do is GPS monitoring.

Having a home confinement system for juveniles, I think, is a great thing ’cause it forces the parents to take responsibility and step up.

Prisons would be more embedded in our homes.

Some of them would be monitored on GPS and things like that.

So folks won’t be locked up in a cage, in a cell, inside of an institution, but they will have ankle bracelets on. They’ll have wrist bracelets on.

Would that help to solve the prison overcrowding problem?


And what I worry about is that we fall asleep at the wheel and wake up, and realize that we may not have people in prisons in rural communities all over America, but that we’re incarcerating people right in their communities.

That is what I see, what a lot of the focus is on, is taking people from prison, putting them in community corrections parole and probation, and really investing in those programs.

How much progress is it really, if communities of color are still under perpetual surveillance and control, but now there’s a private company making money off the GPS monitor, rather than the person being locked in a literal cage?

If we can help you… save crime victims in your legislative district… you don’t mind me making a dollar.

[Graves] And so, ALEC continues to be a body that, while it may have some really strong rhetoric on why it supports crime reform now, suddenly, uh, sort of out of the blue, it actually has real financial interests.

Thank you, ladies and gentlemen.

[crowd applauds]

If you’re in the prison business, uh, you don’t want reform.

You may say you do, but you don’t.

And there are a bunch of people out there desperately trying to make sure that that prison population does not drop one person, because their economic model needs that.

Prison industrial complex refers to the system of mass incarceration and companies that profit from mass incarceration.

That includes both operators of private prisons, which get a lot of attention, as well as a vast sea of vendors.

From SECURUS Technologies, that supplies telephone services, that made $114 million in profits last year…

Those calls to family and friends are costing a pretty penny in state prisons.

They inflate the price that they charge the inmate and the inmate’s family.

[Kilgore] For example, in Maryland, if you earn minimum wage, you’d have to work an hour and a half to afford a ten minute phone call.

There’s also Aramark, one of the big food service providers.

In more than one state, they have been accused of having maggots in the food that they’ve served.

Corizon Healthcare provides healthcare services in 28 different states.

Multimillion-dollar contracts for this service.

Huge incentives given to contractors for very long contracts, so it’s actually a disincentive to provide the service,

because you’re going to be paid anyway.

One of the reasons it’s so difficult

to talk about mass incarceration in this country, and to question it,

is because it has become so heavily monetized.

A little company called UNICOR,

that does $900 million in business annually.

How do they do it?


-Also, prison labor. -[audience laughs]

[announcer] Partnerships between correctional industries

and private business

are a rapidly growing segment of a multibillion dollar industry in America.

[Shaka Senghor] We talk about sweatshops and we,

you know, we beat our fists at people overseas for exploiting poor, free labor,

but we don’t look that it’s happening right here at home every day.

You have corporations

who are now invested in this free labor.

It’s all over.

It’s from sports, uniform, hats, Microsoft, Boeing.

Federal inmates are making the guidance systems

for the Patriot missile system.

JCPenney jeans are made in Tennessee.

Victoria’s Secret.

Anderson flooring wood products are made in Georgia.

It’s always been Idaho potatoes.

They’re planted, grown, harvested, packed and shipped by inmates.

[man] Victoria’s Secret and JCPenney switched suppliers once their ties came to light.

Simply put, corporations are operating in prisons and profiting from punishment.

Prison industries have gotten so big that it’s very difficult now to try and do away with them.

Too much money out there, too many lawmakers that support it because they’re being lobbied.

So, the public’s got to stand up and take it back.

It’ll never get done if they don’t.

♪ And I can see it’s all about cash ♪

♪ And they got the nerve To hunt down my ass ♪

♪ And treat me like a criminal ♪

♪ Yeah, it is what it is And that’s how it go ♪

♪ Get treated like a criminal If crime is all you know ♪

♪ Get greeted like a nigga If a nigga’s all you show ♪

♪ A public enemy That’s in the eye of the scope ♪

[reporter] The night of his arrest,

Kalief Browder was walking home from a party with his friends in the Bronx, when he was stopped by police.

Kalief was, um, charged with a crime, a really petty crime, that it turns out he didn’t commit.

Then they said, “We’re gonna take you to the precinct, and most likely, we’ll let you go home.”

But then, I never went home.

They told you that you could post bail.

Yes, that’s correct.



And, of course…

I couldn’t make that.


My family couldn’t pay it.

There are thousands of people in jails right this moment that are sitting there for no other reason than because they’re too poor to get out!

We have a criminal justice system that treats you better if you’re rich and guilty than if you’re poor and innocent.

Wealth, not culpability, shapes outcomes.

I think what most Americans think of, ’cause they’ve watched so many courtroom dramas and things like that, they think that the criminal justice system is about judges and juries.

Well, that’s really stopped being the case.

This system simply cannot exist if everyone decides to go to trial.

If everybody insisted on a trial, the whole system would shut down.

What typically happens is the prosecutor says, “You know, you can make a deal and we’ll give you three years, or you can go to trial and we’ll get you 30.

So, you want to take that chance, feel free.”

Nobody in the hood goes to trial.

[Rangel] 97% of those people who were locked up have plea bargain.

And that is one of the worst violations of human rights that you can imagine in the United States.

We have, in this country, people pleading guilty to crimes they didn’t commit, just because the thought of going to jail for what the mandatory minimums are is so excruciating.

[reporter] Kalief Browder decided, “I’m not gonna take the plea.”

So, you had to choose between being in prison for up to 15 years and going home right then by admitting you did a crime you didn’t do.

I felt like I was done wrong.

I felt like something needed to be done. I felt like something needs to be said.

If I just cop out and say that I did it, nothing’s gonna be done about it.

I didn’t do it. No justice is served.

[Stevenson] What you’re not taught is that if you exercise that right to a trial, and you are convicted, we will punish you more.

The courts basically punished him for having the audacity to not take a plea deal and to want to take it to trial.

In that time, those three years that he was sitting there and not being charged for anything, that’s when, um, the mental health issue started to deteriorate and he started to get into fights.

[Browder] After a while, I kept hearing the same thing from the whole three years, and I just learned to cope with just being in there, and that was rough. I already knew…

After a while, I just gave up hope.

Three years on Rikers Island, two of that in solitary confinement, and he was a child, a baby.

You miss everything. Everything about being home.

The fresh air, your family, certain events. You want to be home.

When they give you an offer to go home right then and there, it’s like, “I want to go home,” but then you know you didn’t do it, so you don’t wanna plea, take the plea and say that you do it, it’s not right.

I was scared all day because I didn’t know where it would come from.

I don’t know where any harm would come.

[man] Kalief suffered through so many beatings, both by the people he was locked up with and the guards, he ended up attempting suicide on several occasions.

After almost three years in jail, waiting his trial, they dropped all the charges, and he was set free.

[Senghor] He spent two years in an environment that people have argued is designed to break you within 30 days.

I mean, I can’t really tell you what’s next, but…

This happens every day.

[man] Two years after his release from jail, Kalief Browder hanged himself at his home in the Bronx.

He was 22 years old.

If I would’ve just pled guilty, then my story would’ve never been heard.

Nobody would’ve took the time to listen to me.

I’d have been just another criminal.

Prison industrial complex, the system, the industry, it is a beast.

It eats black and Latino people for breakfast, lunch, and dinner.

[Stevenson] We didn’t even think about who gets the jobs of spending time with these folks.

Otherwise, we’d want social workers and teachers.

We’d want people with understanding of human behavior.

And we do the opposite.


[indistinct shouting]

[Dolores Canales] You become numb.

I think that’s what jail does to humans.

That immediate dehumanization and sensory deprivation that nobody can really understand unless they live through it.

So the last 14 years, my son has not had any human contact, other than to be handcuffed by an officer.

Uh, he doesn’t even have a window in his cell, and that’s one thing that really disturbs me.

It troubles me.

I just couldn’t believe it.

I couldn’t believe that we would even have such an architectural design in our country.

I never realized that there was prison cells built like that.

Human beings are not born to be locked up and encaged.

[Canales] Most people wouldn’t keep their pets in the kind of conditions that we keep people in.

Prisons and jails have become warehouses, in the sense that, um, where we’ve moved as a society is that it’s not enough to just deprive you of your liberty.

Um, but we want to punish you, too.

Most of the society, um, don’t understand what it means to be behind those big gates and those barb wires.

[Keene] Once somebody is arrested and convicted, they’re gone.

Nobody particularly cares about them.

In many ways, the prison systems are sort of in the dark.

So it makes it a lot easier, you know, cognitively and emotionally.

It makes it a lot easier to say, “Send people there.”

[Keene] If you look at the whole problem, you say, “What are we doing?”

We have too many laws locking too many people up for too many things, giving them sentences that are too harsh, putting them in prison, and while they’re in prison, doing very little, if anything, to rehabilitate them so that they can reenter civil society when they get out.

And then when they get out, we shun them.

Over 40,000 collateral consequences for people that come through our criminal justice system.

It’s that question, “Have you been convicted of a felony?” that appears on the job application.

In some cases, it can affect your access to student loans.

They can’t get many business licenses, food stamps if they’re hungry.

…private rentals in regards to housing.

It’s that question that appears on life insurance.

The scarlet letter follows you for the rest of your life in this country.

[Stevenson] In March of 2015, we had tens of thousands of people come to Selma to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the crossing of the Edmund Pettus Bridge.

And very few of those people realized that nearly 30% of the black male population of Alabama today

has permanently lost the right to vote as a result of a criminal conviction.

If you do something wrong, you should pay it back, and then move forward with your life.

But yet, in America, there’s absolutely zero closure.

We actually tell American citizens, when they pay back their debt to society, their citizenship will still be denied from them.

So many aspects of the old Jim Crow are suddenly legal again once you’ve been branded a felon.

And so it seems that in America, we haven’t so much ended racial caste, but simply redesigned it.

♪ You act like the change ♪

♪ Tryna put me in chains ♪

♪ Don’t act like you saving us ♪

♪ It’s still the same ♪

♪ Man don’t act like I made it up You blaming us ♪

♪ Let’s keep it one hundred You gave the name to us ♪

♪ We still in chains We still in chains ♪

♪ You put the shame on us ♪

We are now in an era where Democrats and Republicans alike have decided that it’s not in their interest anymore to maintain the prison system as it is.

Now, all of a sudden,

Hillary Clinton is meeting with Black Lives Matter activists, and talking about it.

It’s time to change our approach and end the era of mass incarceration.

She’s made a major address on it.

We will reform our criminal justice system from end to end and rebuild trust between law enforcement and the communities they serve.

President Obama going to prison, you know, as the first sitting President to ever visit a prison.

We’ve got an opportunity to make a difference at a time when overall violent crime rates have been dropping at the same time as incarcerations last year dropped for the first time in 40 years.

And conservatives, who were always seen or understood within the narrative as being the tough-on-crime ones, um, have now embraced justice reform.

It’s very, uh, man bites dog.

You see, Texas used to spend billions locking people up for minor offenses.

We shifted our focus to diversionary programs, like community supervision.

We got to ask ourselves, “Do we feel comfortable with people taking the lead of a conversation, in a moment where it feels right politically?”

Historically, when one looks at efforts to create reforms, they inevitably lead to more repression.

So, if we leave it up to them, what they’re gonna do is they’re gonna tinker with the system.

They’re not gonna do the change that we need to see as a country to get us out of this mess.

And they’re certainly not gonna go backwards and fix the mess that they have made, because they’re not ready to make that admission.

But as a country, I don’t think we’ve ever been ready to make the admission that we have steamrolled through entire communities and multiple generations when you think about things like slavery and Jim Crow, and all the other systems of oppression that have led us to where we are today.

So much fun! I love it, I love it!

We havin’ a good time?

[crowd cheering]


[crowd chanting] USA! USA! USA! USA!


Fuck you! Fuck you! Fuck you! Fuck you! [spits]

[woman] Don’t you dare do that! Don’t you dare do that!

[Trump] Knock the crap out of ’em, would you? Seriously!

Get him out. Get him out of here!

In the good old days, this doesn’t happen, because they used to treat them very, very rough.

And when they protested once, you know, they would not do it again so easily.

I’d like to punch him in the face, I’ll tell you.


[Trump] I love the old days.

You know what they used to do to guys like that in a place like this?

They’d be carried out on a stretcher, folks.

[crowd cheering]

Yeah, it’s true.

Knock the hell out of that mouth.

The next time we see him, we might have to kill him.

[Trump] In the good old days, they’d rip him out of that seat so fast…

Shut up. Shut the hell up.

[woman 1] No, fuck no.

No, I will not shut the hell up.

[man 1] Why are you even here?

[man 2] Get the fuck out of here, man.

Get out of here.

[woman 2] Be respectful!

[man 3] I care about my son’s future!

[indistinct yelling]

[Trump] In the good old days… law enforcement acted a lot quicker than this.

[crowd cheering]

A lot quicker.

[Nixon] And we are going to enforce the law, and Americans should remember that, if we’re going to have law and order.

[crowd cheering]

I am… the law and order candidate.

[crowd cheering]

We thought… I mean, they called the end of slavery “jubilee.”

We thought we were done then.

And then you had 100 years of Jim Crow, terror and lynching.

Dr. King, these guys come on the scene, Ella Jo Baker, Fannie Lou Hamer, we get the bills passed to vote, and then they break out the handcuffs.

Label you felon, you can’t vote or get a job.

So, we don’t know what the next iteration of this will be, but it will be. It will be.

And we will have to be vigilant.

♪ I’mma prison cell Six by nine ♪

♪ Livin’ hell, stone wall Metal bars for the gods in jail ♪

♪ My nickname, the can The slammer, the big house ♪

♪ I’m the place many fear ‘Cause there’s no way out ♪

[Stevenson] The Bureau of Justice reported That one in three young, black males is expected to go to jail or prison during his lifetime, which is an unbelievably shocking statistic.

[reporter] Black men account for roughly 6.5% of the US population.

They make up 40.2% of the prison population.

We now have more African Americans under criminal supervision than all the slaves back in the 1850s.

The prison industrial complex, uh… relies historically on the inheritances of slavery.

[Senghor] The 13th Amendment says, “No involuntary servitude except for those who have been duly convicted of a crime.”

So once you’ve been convicted of a crime, you are in essence a slave of the state.

The stroke of a pen is not self-enforcing.

And so, while the 13th Amendment is hailed as this great milestone for freedom, and abolitionists celebrate, and this is the end of a lifelong quest, the reality is much more problematic.

Well, once that clause is inserted in there, it becomes a tool.

It’s there. It’s embedded in the structure.

And for those who seek to use this criminality clause as a tool, it can become a pretty powerful one, because it’s privileged.

It’s in the constitution, it’s the supreme law of the land.

Throughout American history, African Americans have repeatedly been controlled through systems of racial and social control that appear to die, but then are reborn in new form, tailored to the needs and constraints of the time.

You know, after the collapse of slavery, a new system was born, convict leasing, which was a new form of slavery.

And once convict leasing faded away, a new system was born, a Jim Crow system, that relegated African Americans to a permanent second-class status.

And here we are, decades after the collapse of the old Jim Crow, and a new system has been born again in America.

A system of mass incarceration that, once again, strips millions of poor people, overwhelmingly poor people of color, of the very rights supposedly won in the civil rights movement.

And so instead of talking about it, we just tried to move on.

After the Civil Rights Act was passed and after the civil rights laws, we tried to play it off.

Because we didn’t deal with it, that narrative of racial difference continued.

And it turned into this presumption of dangerousness and guilt that follows every black and brown person wherever they are.

[siren wailing]

[gun firing]

[officer 1 on radio] You need to get out of the street immediately.

[officer 2] Get out of the way!


[protestors shouting]

[officer 3] This is St. Louis County Police.

Stay off the roadway.

[Melina Abdullah] Ferguson was not simply about Mike Brown.

It was also this pattern of mass criminalization and mass incarceration.

[officer] Back off. Back off.

[protesters shouting]

There was an average of three warrants per household in Ferguson.

And so people rose up because they understood that they were also enemies of the state, seen as enemies of the state.

The communities in which black people live really become occupied territories, and black people have become seen as, um, enemy combatants, right, who don’t have any rights, and who can be stopped and frisked and, you know, arrested and detained and questioned and killed with impunity.

[protestors shouting]

[gun firing]

[Cobb] If we were to look at the larger-scale riots that we know of in, you know, our recent history, from Rodney King, to the Detroit riot in 1967, the Newark riot in 1967,

Harlem riot in 1964, Watts in 1965.

Every single one of those riots was a result of police brutality.

That is the common thread.

Fight back! Fight back!

Fist up! Fist up!

[Gannon] It would be a mistake to say, as many do in the current context, that if you’re against the police, then you’re against law and order.

These are hardworking civil servants putting their lives on the line every day.

And that’s true.

People who join the police do so, you know, to do these sorts of things.

But if you dismiss black complaints of mistreatment by police as being completely rooted in our modern context, then you’re missing the point completely.

There has never been a period in our history where the law and order branch of the state has not operated against the freedoms, the liberties, the options, the choices that have been available for the black community, generally speaking.

And to ignore that racial heritage, to ignore that historical context, means that you can’t have an informed debate about the current state of blacks and police relationship today, ’cause this didn’t just appear out of nothing.

This is the product of a centuries-long historical process.

And to not reckon with that is to shut off solutions.

We may have lost the sheets of the Ku Klux Klan, but, clearly, when you see black kids being shot down… then, obviously, we didn’t cut out this cancer.

For many of us, you know, [stammers] whose families lived through this, who are extensions of this kind of oppression, we don’t need to see pictures to understand what’s going on.

It’s really to kind of, like, speak to the masses who have been ignoring this for the majority of their life.

But I also think there’s trouble of just showing, you know, black bodies as dead bodies, too.

Too much of anything becomes unhealthy, unuseful.

I think they need to be seen, if the family is okay with it.

It wasn’t until things were made visual in the civil rights movement, that we really saw, uh, folks come out and being shocked into movement.

You have to shock people into paying attention.

But there’s a kind of historical trajectory that we can trace here, um, through media and technology.

We went back to, um, the slavery era, when people were writing autobiographies or slave narratives.

Later in the 19th century, when people began to use photographs and they showed images.

There’s a famous image of slave Gordon and his back, and you can see just this kind of lattice of scar tissue that is evidence of the whippings that he received.

Or the images of lynchings, which white people produced.

[Abdullah] The murder of Emmett Till was really thought of as being one of the primary catalysts for the civil rights movement.

The willingness of his mother to have an open-casket funeral.

Hundreds and hundreds of black folks filed past and see this young boy

who had been killed by white supremacists in the South.

To publish those photographs in black publications so the entire black world, like our Facebook or our Twitter now, right?

So that the whole black world could see what had happened.

In the 1950s, Dr. King and the civil rights movement used television in this way.

“Look, this is what segregation looks like. These are dogs attacking children. These are people being fire hosed.”

Searching for the medium of technology, that will confirm your experience such that your basic humanity can be recognized.

The difference now is somebody can hold up one of these, get what’s going on.

They can put it on YouTube, and the whole world has to deal with it.

That’s what’s new.

It’s not the protest. It’s not the brutality.

It’s the fact that we can force a conversation about it.

We have been consistently been murdered as a result of police aggression.

They generally would excuse it by calling us criminals.

When they was killing Oscar Grant…


[crowd exclaiming]

When they got to Eric Garner…

[Garner] I can’t breathe.

I can’t breathe.

I can’t breathe. I can’t breathe.

I can’t breathe.

I can’t breathe. I can’t breathe.

[Turner] Everyone pointed out that he was saying,

“I can’t breathe. I can’t breathe.”

But the sentences before that were, “Why are you always stopping me? Why is it, day in and day out, week in and week out, you’re stopping me?”

And that, I think, is hugely important.

When we think about the children who were killed at the hands of the state, I think about Tamir Rice at 12 years old, and the way that he was killed, you know, it hits my heart.

[officer] Go ahead and take your seat belt off. Stop. Stop!


[man] You good?

[rapid beeping]

[man 1 shouting indistinctly]

[officer 1] Roll on your stomach. Now!

[woman] Stop fighting!


[officer 1] I’m sorry. I’m sorry.

[Harris exclaims] Oh, shit.

He shot me, man. I was shot.

[officer 2] He didn’t do shit. You didn’t.

[Harris groans] I’m losing breath.

[officer 2] Fuck your breath.

[woman] Stay with me.

We got pulled over for a busted taillight in the back.

[Alexander] Police violence, that isn’t the problem in and of itself.

It’s reflection of a much larger, brutal system of racial and social control known as mass incarceration, which authorizes this kind of police violence.

That’s why, for me, the brilliance of Black Lives Matter…

They have a distributed leadership model. You can’t find their address.

I mean, Black Lives Matter is not a stoppable phenomenon, by a bullet or anything else.

And so, there’s hope there because of that.

Having people truly understand that when black lives matter, everybody’s life matters, including every single person that enters this criminal justice system and this prison industrial complex.

It’s not just even about only black lives, right?

It’s about changing the way this country understands human dignity.

[Cobb] That’s what, really, this Black Lives Matter moment is about.

This question of whose life do we recognize as valuable?

[Jones] The opposite of criminalization is humanization.

That’s the one thing I hope that people will understand.

It’s about rehumanizing us, as a people, and us, right, as a people, all of us.

The system of mass incarceration has grown, and sprawled and developed an appetite that is gobbling up people in communities of all colors.

But if it hadn’t been for the fact that it began with a group of people defined by race, that we as a nation have learned not to care about, we wouldn’t be talking about two million people behind bars today.

People say all the time, “I don’t understand how people could’ve tolerated slavery. How could they have made peace with that? How could people have gone to a lynching and participated in that? How did people make sense of the segregation, this white and colored-only drinking… That’s so crazy. If I was living at that time, I would have never tolerated anything like that.”

And the truth is, we are living at this time, and we are tolerating it.

♪ Southern leaves Southern trees we hung from ♪

♪ Barren souls Heroic songs unsung ♪

♪ Forgive them, Father They know this knot is undone ♪

♪ Tied with the rope That my grandmother dyed ♪

♪ Pride of the pilgrims Affect lives of millions ♪

♪ Since slave day Separatin’ fathers from children ♪

♪ Institution ain’t just a building But a method ♪

♪ Of having black and brown bodies Fill them ♪

♪ We ain’t seen As human beings with feelings ♪

♪ Will the US ever be us, Lord willing? ♪

♪ For now we know the new Jim Crow ♪

♪ The stop search and arrest our souls ♪

♪ Police and policies Patrol philosophies of control ♪

♪ A cruel hand taking hold ♪

♪ We let go to free them So we can free us ♪

♪ America’s moment to come to Jesus ♪

♪ Freedom ♪

♪ Freedom ♪

♪ Freedom come ♪

♪ Hold on ♪

♪ Won’t be long ♪

♪ Won’t be long ♪

♪ Freedom ♪

♪ Freedom ♪

♪ Freedom come ♪

♪ Freedom come ♪

♪ Hold on ♪ ♪ Hold on ♪

♪ Won’t be long ♪

♪ Won’t be long ♪

♪ The cage bird sings For freedom in the ring ♪

♪ Black bodies bein’ lost In the American Dream ♪

♪ Blood of black being a pastoral scene ♪

♪ Slavery’s still alive Check Amendment 13 ♪

♪ Now whips and chains are subliminal ♪

♪ Instead of nigga They use the word criminal ♪

♪ Sweet land of liberty Incarcerated country ♪

♪ Shot me with your Reagan And now you wanna Trump me ♪

♪ Prison is a business America’s the company ♪

♪ Investing in injustice, fear And long suffering ♪

♪ We’re staring in the face Of hate again ♪

♪ The same hate they say Will make America great again ♪

♪ No consolation prize For the dehumanized ♪

♪ For America to rise Is a matter of black lives ♪

♪ And we gonna free them So we can free us ♪

♪ America’s moment to come to Jesus ♪

♪ Freedom ♪

♪ Freedom ♪

♪ Freedom come ♪

♪ Yeah ♪

♪ Hold on ♪

♪ Won’t be long ♪

♪ Won’t be long ♪

♪ Freedom ♪

♪ Freedom ♪

♪ Freedom come ♪

♪ Freedom come ♪

♪ Hold on ♪

♪ Hold on ♪

♪ Won’t be long ♪

♪ Won’t be long ♪

♪ Freedom ♪

♪ Won’t be long ♪

♪ Freedom come ♪

♪ Freedom ♪

♪ Hold on ♪

♪ Hold on ♪

♪ Won’t be long ♪

♪ Won’t be long ♪

♪ Freedom ♪

♪ Freedom ♪

♪ Freedom come ♪

♪ Freedom come ♪

♪ Hold on ♪

♪ Won’t be long ♪

♪ Won’t be long ♪

♪ Freedom ♪

♪ Won’t be long ♪

♪ Freedom come ♪

♪ Hold on ♪

♪ Hold on ♪

♪ Won’t be long ♪

♪ Won’t be long ♪

♪ Freedom ♪

♪ Won’t be long ♪

♪ Freedom come ♪

♪ Freedom come ♪

♪ Hold on ♪

♪ Won’t be long ♪

♪ Won’t be long ♪

♪ Freedom ♪

♪ Won’t be long ♪

♪ Freedom come ♪

♪ Freedom come ♪

♪ Hold on ♪

♪ Hold on ♪

♪ Won’t be long ♪

♪ Hold on ♪

♪ Freedom ♪

♪ Won’t be long ♪

♪ Freedom come ♪

♪ Freedom come ♪

♪ Hold on ♪

♪ Won’t be long ♪

♪ Freedom come ♪

♪ Freedom ♪

♪ Freedom come ♪

♪ Freedom come ♪

♪ Hold on ♪

♪ Hold on ♪

♪ Won’t be long ♪

♪ Won’t be long ♪

♪ Won’t be long ♪

♪ Oh, freedom ♪

♪ Won’t be long ♪


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Tell Them You Love Me (2023)

Tell Them You Love Me (2023) | Transcript

A professor has a relationship with a nonverbal man with cerebral palsy. Their affair leads to a criminal trial over disability and consent. The film shows interviews and footage presenting both perspectives.

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