BET’s Charged: The DA vs. Black America explores the complicated problem of the role of attorneys in deepening the crisis of mass incarceration.
Reforming the interconnected crises of mass incarceration and mass criminalization continues to be a major social justice task in this era of Black Lives Matter. The pursuit of this effort has required — demanded — a multimedia syllabus of sorts to inform the American public about what these crises are, furnish details about all the various components of the criminal justice system, explain and explore its origins, speculate about its future and offer solutions.
BET’s Charged: The DA vs. Black America is the latest addition to a considerable and growing national curriculum on reforming our country’s criminal justice system. Produced by Emmy Award winner Shoshana Guy, Charged takes viewers beyond the simple but indispensable need for across-the-board police reform (including the option of taking police departments off the institutional table altogether) to the even more complicated problem of addressing the role of lawyers in deepening mass incarceration.
From Guy’s perspective, “when people think about mass incarceration, they think about the police. What we’re talking about, in this case, is in terms of what drives the [mass incarceration] numbers is the discretionary power of district attorneys and prosecutors.”
The willful or unwillful neglect of this reality, at least, is what Guy takes away from the current discourse on mass incarceration and is the motivating force behind how the film is angled. It is an aspect of the problem of how mass incarceration disproportionately impacts black and brown bodies, which carries the potential of being drowned out by the more popular subject of spotlighting racial bias in police departments.
Guy says, “As one of our sources that’s quoted in the piece says, ‘It’s the police that can walk you to the door, but the district attorney or the prosecutor that entrenches you in the system.’”
Charged is an outgrowth of the BET program Truth Series, which was launched in 2015. The documentary series examines the black experience through the lens of various themes and events of crucial significance to black life, such as Hurricane Katrina and O.J. Simpson trial.
The movement for Black Lives continues to grow, and with it, the dire need to develop an immediate plan to bring the carceral crises to a slow, grinding halt.
As the narrator, The Roots band member Black Thought, passionately tells us:
“The mass incarceration of Black people in America is real. Today, there are more African American men on probation, parole or in prison than were enslaved in 1850. [The criminal justice system is] in urgent need of reform.”
Having knowledge about the extraordinary power that district attorneys and prosecutors wield, in order to implement that understanding when strategizing movement activity, is a big step in making that reform tangible.
Watch the trailer below: