Commentary #109: Thoughts on “13th”

Image Credit: The Maine Campus

As part of my continuing education on Black Lives Matter and becoming a better ally, I wanted to sit down and watch this documentary on Netflix.

Immediately after finishing it, I wanted to watch it again. I was overwhelmed, horrified, and angry.


Ava DuVernay is a master. The interviews that were conducted spanned from activists, to authors, to former Presidents!


Saturday, July 25th

I need to write more after I watch it again tomorrow. More to come. Thanks for reading!


Update – Monday, July 27th

I sat down and watched this again yesterday. I had my phone out and took proper notes this time. Keep in mind – This was originally released in 2016.

The United States makes up five percent of the world’s population, but has 25 percent of the world’s prisoners.

The documentary is very much a timeline from the Civil War through 2016. One of the key points was D.W. Griffith’s “The Birth of a Nation” (1915) film. The burning cross symbol was created by Griffith, not the KKK, because Griffith thought it was a good cinematic image.

The Nixon era (1968-1974) was the beginning of the “War on Drugs.” Nixon took drug addiction and drug dependency and made it a crime issue, rather than a health issue. I also learned a lot about the Southern Strategy – Taking Democrats on multiple southern states and leading them to the Republication Party.

The Reagan era (1981-1988) was the modern war on drugs. Nancy Reagan embarked upon the “Just Say No” campaign. Crack cocaine came on the scene – It was in small doses, and cheaper than powdered cocaine. Mandatory sentencing penalties were enacted that were harsher for crack cocaine. Black communities were virtually decimated – Men started disappearing from the homes and neighborhoods overnight and not coming back for years because of getting arrested and convicted for possessing crack cocaine. At this point, economic inequality, hyper-segregation, and drug abuse were all criminalized. It turned into a war on communities of color. Black people have been (are still are) over-represented in the news media as criminals. The “super-predator” label was thrown around constantly. Black parents ended up, inadvertently, supporting policies that were criminalizing their own children. The Central Park Jogger case in New York City was absolutely awful.

The George H.W. Bush era (1988-1993) was affected during the campaign for President. The Democratic candidate, Michael Dukakis was holding a commanding lead, until Willie Horton was let out of prison on a weekend pass, and went on a horrific crime spree that included kidnapping, assault, rape, and murder. The Bush campaign used Horton’s story as part of a campaign ad on crime.

The Clinton era (1993-2001) sent a strong message of “Democrats are not soft on crime.” More police were put on the street, federal funding for law enforcement was upwards of $100 million dollars. Polly Klaas was murdered. The massive 1994 crime bill ($30 billion dollars) included the “three strikes law” – Three felonies and you’re put in prison for the rest of your life, mandatory minimums for sentencing, truth in sentencing where prisoners serve at least 85 percent of their sentence, parole was virtually abolished. This led to a massive expansion of the American criminal justice system, including prisons and law enforcement. Even the smallest police forces were militarized with military-grade weapons and equipment. Years later, Clinton admitted that “I made the problem worse.”

The documentary then goes into the case of Trayvon Martin, who was gunned down by George Zimmerman in Florida on May 26, 2012, and the issue of “stand your ground” laws since then.


One of the most fascinating segments was about the American Legislative Executive Council (ALEC). It’s a private club that brings together politicians and private corporations. Walmart eventually left ALEC, but the American Bail Coalition and Koch Industries remain. One key stakeholder for years was the Corrections Corporation of America (CCA). They make contracts with states to build private prisons, and then the states are required to keep those prisons filled. CCA has made $1.7 billion in profit – They’re getting rich off punishment. In addition, CCA holds contracts to detain immigrants. In essence, CCA has merged the immigration system and the prison system. After a major story from NPR in 2010, CCA left ALEC.

However, the Prison Industrial Complex continues to make money. Companies such as Corizon Healthcare, Aramark, and the National Correctional Industrial Association are involved with supplying healthcare, food, and “jobs” to prisons and prisoners. I say “jobs” in quotes because what I really mean is prison labor.

Another problem is the issue of bail and bond. Kalief Browder was arrested for a crime he did not commit. His bail was set at $10,000. He couldn’t afford the bail, so he sat in jail. They offered him a plea deal, but he said no. He wanted to go to trial. After three years, all the charges were dropped. However, by that point, he’d been in Rikers Island and in solitary confinement multiple times. The system is designed to break you in 30 days. Browder died by suicide at 22 years old after he was released.

In the United States, there has been 100 years of Jim Crow, terror, and lynching. If you’re a convicted felon, you can’t vote and you can’t get a job. How do you re-enter American society? You can’t. Some progress has been made in “removing the box” to take the felony conviction question off job applications, but there’s a long way to go.

The lifetime likelihood of imprisonment for white men in 1 in 17. For black men, it’s 1 in 3.

Black men make up 6.5 percent of the U.S. population. Yet, they make up 40.2 percent of the U.S. prison population.

There was footage of riots in Watts (1965), Detroit (1967), Newark (1967), Los Angeles (1992), Ferguson, Missouri (2014). The common thread? Police brutality.

The overarching message from the interviewees is that people of color want to have human dignity. And to live in the United States, the supposed greatest country on this planet, and there’s a significant number of people who don’t have human dignity? That’s not okay in my book. We need to do more work, America.


Until the next headline, Laura Beth πŸ™‚

Commentary #97: Thoughts on β€œWon’t You Be My Neighbor?”

When Al was on a recent business trip, I made a list of movies I wanted to watch after getting home from work. Having little success in locating many of them through Netflix, Amazon, and Hulu, I found Won’t You Be My Neighbor? through Amazon Prime Video.

I’d heard this documentary made you cry, and it’s definitely true. I learned a lot about Mr. Rogers, both the man and the genesis of the television show.

Morgan Neville (20 Feet from Stardom, Best of Enemies: Buckley vs. Vidal) is masterful storyteller.

I was a bit worried about the length – A little more than 90 minutes. I wasn’t sure if the “whole story” would be captured in that time frame. Neville, however, proved me wrong.

The interviews were amazing. Neville captured everyone he possibly could – Joanne Rogers, John Rogers, Jim Rogers, Elaine Rogers, Yo-Yo Ma, Francois Clemmons. And Fred Rogers and Koko the gorilla in archival recordings.

The show originally debuted in Canada in 1962. It began in the U.S. in 1966 on the regional Eastern Education Network. Its national debut was on February 19, 1968.

One of the interesting things about the documentary was seeing the origin story. I knew the show covered topics that most children’s programming avoided, but it was fascinating to see archival footage from 1967 and 1968, discussing the Vietnam War and Robert Kennedy’s assassination, among other things.

I started watching Mister Rogers before I could talk. New episodes aired on PBS until 2001, so I remember the “modern era” of the show. I learned about things from how Crayola crayons are made, factories, jobs, books, conflict, death, friendship, family, and more.

This documentary is filled with nostalgia, and one of the best things I’ve seen in 2019. I’m very happy Morgan Neville decided to do this – I hope it was as rewarding for him as it was for me.

Watching this now is the perfect lead-up to the upcoming film, A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood, starring Tom Hanks. I can hardly wait for Thanksgiving week. You’ll find me first in line for tickets.

Until the next headline, Laura Beth πŸ™‚