By Chris Romo
Hundreds of Kern County residents filled Maya Theater on May 11 in Downtown Bakersfield to watch a screening of the eye-opening documentary “13th,” a film that looks at the racial inequalities that have existed for centuries in our nation’s prison system.
An engaging panel discussion followed the film where community leaders had the opportunity to speak on issues such as how to combat this prison pipeline here locally, and how to improve the relationship between law enforcement and the community.
When panelists were asked if they saw a connection to the school to prison pipeline, one panelist said she wants to look at policies that may not seem racist but are significantly affecting communities of color at higher rates.
“I think a lot of policies that are in place are what it’s referred to as color blind. It sounds like they are a good thing, but when you are in operation and you see the outcomes, there are significant racial inequalities,” said panelist Dr. Rhonda Dugan, an associate professor in the sociology department at California State University, Bakersfield. “I want to look at policy and what is going on to change policy because something is wrong there. Even though it might not say, ‘we are going to target black and brown’ in school there is something in the way that is written and the way that is practiced is where the issue lies.”
The film, directed by Ava DuVernay, who also directed the film “Selma,” features commentary from many accredited educators, activists, and political figures who have lots of knowledge and education on the topic of prison reform or have played a role in its development. Some of these commentators include Angela Davis, Jelani Cobb, Newt Gingrich, Cory Booker, Melina Abdullah, Gina Clayton, Van Jones and many more.
Centered around the 13th Amendment, particularly the clause which reads,“neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States.”
The film suggests that though slavery was banned in 1865, it has now evolved into a new type of servitude.
According to DuVernay, the 21st century version of slavery is the school to prison pipeline of African Americans and other people of color, which traps individuals into a life of poverty.
Here in Kern County, many residents were glad to have the film be screened to the public. “It is important to shed light on all of our history as Americans, even the dark spots,” said Joey Williams, an organizer with Faith in the Valley Kern.
“The purpose is to educate, start conversation, and invite community members to organize to build the beloved community,” Williams added.
Vilma Pineda, a student at CSUB, said she was glad this movie was brought to Kern.
“Maybe this will help open the eyes of the community and finally shed light to our broken prison system, and we can start working on fixing it,” siad Pineda.
Pineda said she had seen the film before the screening but invited others to come watch it because she wanted to bring awareness to the issue.
“People need to realize what’s happening not just in America but here in Bakersfield and Kern County. We have the deadliest police force in the nation, but people want to keep it a secret. We need to speak up for ourselves and say enough is enough, and it is time for some real justice,” Pineda said.
The panelist included by Dr. Rhonda Dugan, Associate Professor at CSUB, James White, Grad Student at CSUB, Joey Williams, Chapter Director at Faith In Kern, Sgt. Clayton Madden of the Bakersfield Police Department, Pastor Dejon Jernagin at Grace Apostolic Community Church and Anthony Fuentes, a teacher at Foothill High School.
Most of the panelists and community members agreed that though relations between the community and law enforcement have improved, there is still a lot of work to be done.