Dozens of Elgin-area residents came together Tuesday night to discuss ongoing systemic racism in America and laws some experts argue criminalize, target and racially profile disadvantaged black and other minority populations.
It was the third of Elgin Community College's "Targets of Hate" series focusing on the 13th Amendment and prisons.
Attendees watched the Academy Award-nominated Netflix documentary "13TH," whose title refers to the 13th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution abolishing slavery. From slavery to the Civil Rights Movement and beyond, the documentary addresses the war on drugs, mass incarceration of blacks feeding a burgeoning prison industry and police brutality; it also features archival footage and testimony from activists, politicians, historians and former prisoners.
It also highlighted the disproportionality of blacks in the prison system. Blacks comprise 40.2 percent of the U.S. prison population. In 2016, the imprisonment rate for black women was almost double the rate for white women in state and federal prisons. Black men ages 18 and 19 also were 11.8 times more likely to be imprisoned than white males of the same age, according to the Bureau of Justice Statistics.
Lori Pickering of Algonquin said she found the documentary and discussion eye-opening.
"I felt ignorant. I felt saddened," she said, acknowledging that she didn't know how systemic the suppression of blacks has been historically. "I think that this was a great opportunity for people to hear this view. It should be put in the classroom and put out there more."
ECC's Targets of Hate series began last fall in the aftermath of the August rally by white nationalists and supremacists in Charlottesville, Virginia, that erupted into deadly violence. Earlier sessions also addressed controversial topics being debated nationally -- displaying the Confederate flag and monuments, and hate speech versus freedom of speech.
This time, organizers sought to raise awareness about what's happening within the justice and prison systems.
Joyce Fountain, ECC sociology professor, urged attendees not to be dismissive of the experiences of others or make sweeping assumptions about different groups of people.
"Racism is real," she said. "And one of my litmus test questions is ... based on what you believe you know about race in America, would you choose to be black in America? However you answer that question, you have some idea about what being black ... being white might be (like), and what those differences might be."