Black Lives: Doom. Choosing Between Good and Bad in Black US Neighborhoods
The ninth and final episode of RT’s Black Lives series focuses on positive changes Black community leaders are making in Baltimore – against great odds.
It starts by profiling a Black barber who learned his trade in prison, after being locked up at 16 for dealing drugs. Coming out with a skill he could use to support himself provided a clear pathway out of illegal activities destined to send him back to jail.
They also interview a black postal worker who asserts he claims he never had the “nerve” to dabble in illegal drugs.
We also meet a former gang leader who founded Men Against Murder after getting out of prison. The group enlists the help of other ex-cons to monitor illegal street activities and partner with families to get kids out of gangs and off drugs. He talks about running a group that assists young people transition out of foster care (in most states, the foster system simply suspends services at 18, leaving many of their wards homeless and jobless).
There are also heartbreaking scenes following a young African American with a good resume and no criminal record in his unbelievably disheartening struggle to find a job.
Black Lives: Addiction – Insiders Speak Out About the Murky Drug Trading World in the US
This episode consists of interviews with an ex-cop, a former gang leader and various drug dealers and ex-drug dealers. It also features a debate between a Black pastor and a drug dealer whether whether the latter can earn as much money doing a “legal” hustle. The dealer, who deals drugs mainly to pay child support, highlights his genuine lack of legal options. As Michelle Alexander documents so vividly in The New Jim Crow, his criminal record disqualifies him for student aid, public housing and most employment.
In my view, the main weakness of this episode is its failure to examine the CIA role in international drug trafficking or their role (first exposed by late investigative journalist Gary Webb and subsequently admitted by the CIA Inspector General) in supplying crack cocaine to California gangs. See
CIA’s Drug Trade Essential to Geopolitics
The CIA and the Drug Trade
CIA Drug Trafficking on Prime Time TV
Tears in the Bayou
Directed by Rico King (2017)
This documentary is about gun violence in Houston’s African American Third Ward. Houston, the fourth largest US city, is home to more than a dozen multibillion dollar companies. It also experienced 4,194 murders between 2003-2017.
The film begins by tracing the history of Houston’s once thriving African American community with its strong African American businesses. Beginning in the1980s, the Third Ward collapsed economically, with the loss of good paying manufacturing jobs and many small businesses. As in many other cities, as men lost their jobs, more and more households were headed by single mothers supporting their families on low-wage caretaking jobs. And growing numbers of teenagers and young adults turned to drug dealing to help their families put food on the table.
The film profiles numerous local gang members, families of young people killed by gun violence, religious leaders and community activists and organizers.
For me, hearing gang members describing their own individual experiences was the most valuable part of the film. They talk at length about their parents being continuously away from home (at work) and having nothing to show for it; their own inability to find work; the pressure and stress of providing for their families through drug dealing, hustling, stealing and even armed robbery; their regard of fellow gang members as “family”; their genuine fear of being out on the street unarmed; and their horrific experience of recovering from multiple gunshot wounds.
Although the filmmakers cite research regarding the direct correlation between poverty, lack of economic opportunity and death by gun violence, none of the solutions the film proposes to to address the main underlying problem. This, in my view, is the documentary’s major weakness. I was also disappointed that they failed to address the Third Ward’s high rate of youth suicide – which apparently is even higher than the rate of death by gun violence.
Locked Up Warriors
Al Jazeera (2013)
Locked Up Warriors is an Al Jazeera documentary about New Zealand’s mass incarceration of its indigenous people.
New Zealand is second only to the US in its rate of mass incarceration. Although New Zealand’s indigenous Māori make up only 15% of New Zealand, they represent half its prison population. This relates largely to political pressure for longer sentences – despite a host of studies showing long sentences significantly increase re-offending.
For me the most interesting section of the film concerns New Zealand’s gang culture and the longstanding rivalry between our two largest gangs – the Mongrel Mob and Black Power. It’s not uncommon for Māori offenders to be third generation gang members.