Socialist Worker

Brutality lives on in US as prisons replace plantations

by Saba Shiraz
Issue No. 2525

Ava DuVernay (right) grills right winger Newt Gingrich

Ava DuVernay (right) grills right winger Newt Gingrich in 13th

Black people in the US make up 5 percent of the total population—but 25 percent of the prison population. This insightful documentary film exposes the reality behind the statistic.

Using interviews, footage, pictures and anti-racist music, filmmaker Ava DuVernay—who directed Martin Luther King film Selma—takes us through a history of racism and resistance.

The US criminal justice system disproportionately targets black people.

The film interviews scholars and activists who insist that, although slavery was abolished, the US prison system has taken its place.

The title refers to the 13th Amendment to the US constitution, which outlaws slavery “except as a punishment for crime”.


Prisons are an industry, and heavily privatised. That makes them places which need to be filled and can be funded by businesses.

Massive corporations such as Victoria’s Secret use prisoners for free labour, producing and packaging their products.

We are shown how successive presidents found ways of justifying throwing poor black people into prisons. The war on drugs, media bias and the militarisation of police all play into this.

It was alarming to learn about the American Legislative Exchange Council, a huge corporate lobby group that rewrites state laws.

It promoted the “stand your ground” gun law that saw George Zimmerman cleared of murder after killing unarmed black teenager Trayvon Martin.

13th challenges you to think about how the profits of the rich feed their need for racism.

And it satisfyingly articulates the need for the Black Lives Matter movement.

Black History Month

October is Black History Month and there are events up and down Britain.

Riots, Racism and Resistance in Imperial Britain, is the subject of a talk in Glasgow’s Gallery of Modern Art, or there’s a showing of The Black Panthers: Vanguard of The Revolution film in Leicester.

Merseyside Maritime Museum’s hosts the film Dakar 66: Fifty Years On, a look at “the world’s first black art festival” in the Senegalese capital.

A Belgrade Theatre show in Coventry tells the stories of Ira Aldridge and Paul Robeson as part of the Multicultural Shakespeare project.

Many events are free so it’s well worth checking out what’s on in your area.

The Displaced

Photojournalist Guy Smallman, whose work appears in Socialist Worker, has documented the lives of internally displaced Afghan people since 2008.

Children in Afghanistan

Children in Afghanistan (Pic: Guy Smallman)

Since then the number of people living in appalling conditions due to war, poverty and land disputes has risen to 1.2 million. Sadly, the situation is about to get a whole lot worse.

Neighbouring Pakistan is now carrying out its threat to expel 3 million Afghan refugees many of whom have no homes or land to return to.

19 Oct—2 Nov, Mon to Fri 9.30am-5.30pm, Amnesty Human Rights Action Centre, New Inn Yard, London, EC2A 3EA. Free

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