Cries of shock and gasps of disbelief echoed off the walls from students who watched stock footage of a black man being pushed, kicked and beaten by a mob of white men. The voice-over of current president Donald Trump from his campaign rallies intermingled with the footage stating, “Knock the crap out of ‘em would ya? In the good old days this doesn’t happen because they used to treat them very very rough and when they protested once, you know they would not do it again so easily.”
The film continued with footage of black protesters being assaulted at his campaign rallies intercut with footage of restaurant sit-ins and protesters being sprayed with fire hoses in the 1960s.
“They’d be carried out on a stretcher. In the good old days, they’d rip him out of that seat so fast, and in the good old days law enforcement acted a lot quicker than this,” Trump said.
Photos of lynched black bodies and the deformed corpse of Emmett Till in his casket left one student with tears streaming down her face. Another viewer covered their eyes when footage of the death of Eric Courtney Harris played across the screen, his strained voice crying, “You shot me man! I’m losing my breath!” and the police officer responding with, “Fuck your breath!”
When the screening of Ava DuVernay’s film “13th” ended, a tableau of 35 students sat in stunned silence in the WiFi Lounge last Tuesday night. The Office of Student Life hosted the screening with light snacks and a discussion afterwards led by student Destinee Blackmon, her friend Juan Gonzalez, and supervised by Carrie Afuso. The discussion focused on student reactions, their impression and what they learned from the film.
PCC student Michelle Thang Tamsatid admitted that her knowledge on the subject of mass incarceration was limited.
“All I know is that the 13th amendment abolished slavery,” she said. “I wouldn’t say I’m very knowledgeable or educated on the subject, but I try to be.”
PCC student Ryan Hong also admitted to not having much knowledge about the subject contained in the film.
“I just know it’s about slavery and what I learned in high school … I think I remember something like that from US history class,” Hong said.
Many of the students said that they either had not seen the film or were not knowledgeable about the subject, but hoped to learn more.
The post-film discussion allowed the students to react and engage with what they had just watched. This led to some disagreements and opposing viewpoints, which created a significant debate.
PCC student Karolina Andrade who has family in law enforcement, took exception to some of the depictions of police officers in the film and in the discussion. Andrade stated that more nuance was needed because she felt that police officers were being judged based on the actions of a few, that police officers were being killed as well and that if more people followed rules and laws, there were would less instances of police interaction.
“I hear what you’re saying as far as the whole Blue Lives Matter thing but there’s a difference between being a police officer and being a person of color and that’s why I feel like the movements are just different because obviously Black Lives Matter is about black people and black people being able to exist,” Gonzalez said.
“You don’t choose to be black but you do choose to be a police officer, so I feel like the responsibility needs to be at a different level, the expectations need to be at a different level and so it’s really not fair to put the conversations side by side, because one is about just existing as who you are and the other is you choosing to do a job and not doing it how it should be done, so they are completely different narratives.”
Blackmon further expanded on Gonzalez’s comment by explaining that sometimes the rules are not set up in someone’s favor to begin with if they’re black or another minority.
“You were saying we should be following laws and we should be following rules and I completely agree with that but also think about on the flip side when that whole narrative is not set up for you from the beginning,” Blackmon said.
“I think this film does a really good job of illustrating the evolution of exactly that, that this being a society that was not created for everyone.”
When asked for final reactions at the end, many students said they had no idea how pervasive mass incarceration was in society, nor did they know how far-reaching its effects were. Many students agreed that seeing Trump’s words intercut with the footage from the ‘60s was powerful imagery and an accurate representation of the world as they see it today.
“It really just brought to the surface a lot of things that are happening but it seems like people are either not really not noticing or more people are just kinda tolerating it, and we know it’s there but no one really wants to do anything about it,” PCC student Ryan Spears said.
Blackmon ended the discussion explaining to the room how the students could use their newfound knowledge to affect change and continue the discussion.
“I had a white friend talk to me and ask me, ‘What can I do?’ and I told her watch this film because this is gonna explain so much that I cannot in this moment and she did and she said, ‘Oh my God I just didn’t know,’ so that’s a good place to start, educate yourself and educate others.”
“13th” is currently available on Netflix as well as “13th: A Conversation with Oprah Winfrey and Ava DuVernay” about the making of the film.