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Racially Charged: America’s Misdemeanor Problem • Full Documentary

Racially Charged, featuring voice over from Mahershala Ali, exposes how our country’s history of racial injustice evolved into an enormous abuse of criminal justice power. 13 million people a year – most of them poor and people of color – are abused by this system. Through first-person accounts of those charged under the Black Codes of the Reconstruction era paralleled with the outrageous stories of people trapped in the system today, the film brings to light the unfolding of a powerful engine of profits and racial inequality. With the emergence of the Black Lives Matter movement, this film provides historical context and examines America’s history of racist oppression. After the civil war, and after abolition, Southern states repurposed their misdemeanor systems to criminalize and control the African-American labor pool. They arrested them and charged them with minor crimes, punishing them with fines they could not pay in order to lock them up and sell them back to private industry. The mechanism that they used is one that we still see today, that private industry acted as a surety. Southern legislatures tried to re-inscribe a form of slavery through a system of laws called black codes. These codes essentially tip the hand of the South with respect to how it’s going to use the criminal justice system over the course of the next century, to coerce black people back to labor. By creating laws that criminalize and create convictions for Blacks, they were allowed to enslave them again through the practice of convict leasing. Convict leasing allowed plantation owners and in many cases, corporations, to lease incarcerated people from the state government or county government for forced labor. As seen in the film, this misdemeanor system has led to the deaths of countless innocent black people including George Floyd and Eric Garner. George Floyd was approached because of a misdemeanor (using a fake $20 bill) and Garner was approached for the misdemeanor offense of selling loose cigarettes. Our misdemeanor system acts in many ways like a gateway for police violence. If we want justice for George Floyd we need to convict the cop who murdered him but we also need to dismantle the system that led to his murder.

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