The American Democracy Project hosted an event called 13th: The History of Racial Inequality in the United States on Nov. 7 in Bonner Lecture Hall. The event was held to raise awareness about the history of inequality in the United States.
During the event, the Netflix documentary 13th was shown. The documentary showed scholars, activists and politicians analyzing the criminalization of African-Americans and the United States prison boom.
Before the movie started there was a guest speaker, Kelley Christopher, a professor in the criminology department. She started the discussion mentioning how important it is for our generation to come together for the greater good.
The real topic of discussion was brought up when Christopher brought up the ending of slavery. She went into a more in-depth historical analysis of slavery. She went on to explain the history and meaning of the Black Codes, laws governing the conduct of African Americans. Christopher went on to say that the main purpose of the code was to restrict African American freedom and compel them to work for low wages.
Christopher went on to mention the problems that make the homeless suffer. The homeless are being criminalized by just loitering.
“If the homeless have no jobs and do not have a home what are they going to be doing. What do you expect from there if nobody is going to help them,” said Christopher.
She went on to explain how vagrancy and homelessness correlate. Vagrancy refers to the offense of a person who has no means of support or domicile while able to work. State laws and ordinances state that vagrancy laws cover loitering, associating with reputed criminals, prostitution and drunkenness. The punishment is a fine or months in prison.
“We are filling up jails and prisons with petty crimes. Lawmakers have claimed that these laws are necessary to preserve the public order, but it is just a way economically and politically powerful people to exert control over the lower classes,” said Christopher. “The rich people are getting rich off of people going to prison.”
She went on to discuss the beginning history of Mass Incarnation. The whole movement started with president Ronald Regan. Regan wanted to force family values. Then in the 1980’s crack had a really impacted the African-Americans really bad. When this happened he went onto to had a bill made called the Anti-Abuse Act.
“If a person was arrested for having five grams of crack then the person would get five years in prison. This only affected African Americans as cocaine was considered the white man’s drug,” Christopher said.
The movie went on to explain that there are more African-Americans in prisons than there were slaves. Secondly, the movie had stated that in the Constitution that it is acceptable to hold someone as a slave only if they are a criminal.
“To house one inmate per year who is considered a minimum security threat it would cost $20,000 per year. It would cost $60,000 thousand to house a maximum security and death row inmate.”
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