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Eye-Opening ’13th’ Addresses Crime, Punishment and Corruption

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During a film review session during Thanksgiving break, a few other VOXers and I decided to watch the documentary “13th.” I was eager to watch this film directed by “Selma” filmmaker Ava DuVernay. I hadn’t heard much about it, but those who spoke about it said it was a must-see that was so sad it made them cry. The hour and a half I sat through “13th” was one of the most eye-opening of my life.

The beginning of the documentary played creepy and disturbing clips of director D.W. Griffith’s original 1915 film “Birth of a Nation,” with white people in black face showing black people as low-down dirty criminals who rape women and terrorize communities. Later in the film, “13th” begins to address the Civil Rights Movement, specifically the Black Panthers, a group that contributed to the over-criminalization of black people.

Crime in minority communities is such a misunderstood issue. “Cracking down on criminals” is a stance many politicians (including Bill Clinton, George W. Bush and Donald Trump) have used on their campaign trails to win elections. Instead of seeking to better minority communities, politicians (both Democratic and Republican) prey on the American people’s fears about criminals and worsen problems by taking unnecessary extreme stances on crime. And this is the basis for the entire problem the film aims to expose: prisons, police, private corporations and justice systems have abused and misused criminals from minority communities.

the13th_27x40_1sheetBefore watching the documentary, I didn’t have the slightest idea about anything that happens in prisons. I had no idea prisoners had to work for more than 10 hours for just 10 minutes of phone time with a loved one, eat food contaminated with maggots, were used by private corporations for cheap labor and so many other things that angered me. No matter what they’ve done, prisoners are still human beings who don’t deserve to be caged like animals. I moved to tears by some of the stories of the current and ex-prisoners. It’s frustrating that we live in a nation that claims to be so equal and fair, but our prison systems don’t demonstrate those beliefs at all.

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What angers me the most is that after all the fighting we’ve done for civil rights as a people, the justice system, as so clearly demonstrated by the documentary, is still hurting people of color and abusing minority communities.

No person of color can deny that the crime rates in our communities are atrocious and that a lot of times we can be our own enemies more than the police are. However, the criminal justice system’s corruption can never be justified by talking about how bad the crime rates are among people of color. People are being put in prison for more than 20 years for petty crimes such as marijuana, and being murdered by police without justification other than the fact that they looked suspicious.

The criminal justice system has been unfairly biased against people of color since we were freed by the 13th Amendment. By watching this documentary, I hope other teens across the nation of any political orientation or race can become enlightened to the true nature of our criminal justice system and work toward fighting the wrongs that it does to all people, especially people of color.

“13th,” an Original Netflix Documentary, is currently only available via the streaming service.

Miranda is a senior at Duluth High School who loves journalism and photography.

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