‘Elementary Genocide’ examines the truth behind mass incarceration rates of black youth


According to a report done by the Sentencing Project, 1 in 3 black males will go to prison in their lifetime. Filmmaker Rahiem Shabazz examines how policy and environmental  circumstances lead to mass incarceration rates for black youth.

Shabazz recently sat down with rolling out to discuss his new documentary, Elementary Genocide.

What inspired you to write and direct the film Elementary Genocide?

Growing up, I found myself on the wrong end of the law. Being incarcerated provided me with the necessary time to reflect on where it all went wrong, and how I could shift the paradigm of my life from negativity and violence to one of positivity and enlightenment. It was through education that I was able to see a new definition of life and it showed me that the unimaginable can become reality.

In what ways are young black boys being prepared for prison at an early age?

It starts as early as when a young black male enters kindergarten. Education experts say the number of words a black child knows when they start kindergarten is approximately a third of the words a white child knows. Therefore, black boys are at a disadvantage from the beginning. So parents need to start teaching their children before the doors of kindergarten open. By the 4th grade, more than 50 percent of African-Americans do not meet the standard criteria in reading. Statistically speaking, if you’re not reading on grade level by the 4th and 5th grade, there is a 75 percent chance you will end up in prison or drop out of school. Eighty percent of drop-outs end up in prison and 40 percent of that 80 percent are African-Americans. Black boys have statistically higher probability of walking the corridors of prison than the halls of college.

Why do you think incarceration rates for young black males are so high?

We can start with the disparity in black students who are suspended or arrested at three times the rates of whites for similar offenses. Students who are suspended are twice as likely to repeat a grade and three times as likely to enter the juvenile system. So suspension is a counterproductive disciplinary tool. Secondly, blacks male offenders are sentenced to federal prison terms nearly 20 percent longer than those imposed on white males convicted of similar crimes. Then there is the profit motive from private corporation that invest in prison. The U.S. criminal justice system consumes $212 billion a year and employs 2.4 million people, more than Wal-Mart and McDonald’s combined. The annual cost per inmate in New York was $167,731 last year, that’s nearly as much as it costs to pay for four years of tuition at an Ivy League university.

What do you want the overall impact of this film to be?

This documentary is about more than just the inmates in our prisons, or even the young boys targeted to fill the beds in those prisons. Elementary Genocide is about fatherless children, motherless sons, communities missing leaders. It affects us all. After my stay in the New York State penal system, I made it my mission to help as many individuals stuck in similar situations as possible, and this was my goal when creating Elementary Genocide.

For more information, visit Rashaentertainment


A.R. Shaw is an author and journalist who documents culture, politics, and entertainment. He has covered The Obama White House, the summer Olympics in London, and currently serves as Lifestyle Editor for Rolling Out magazine. Follow his journey on Twitter @arshaw and Instagram @arshaw23.


  • JJ
    November 30, 2013

    how can I see the movie

  • Jeannette Harkin
    November 30, 2013

    Time for kids to take responsibility and their parents too…..blacks or whites that commit crimes should go to jail. I live in Florida and most of the crime I see on tv is done by young blacks. All the excuses of why they do this and the tough life they have is ridiculous. if you commit crime you are going to end up in jail and should!

    • Kenny
      November 30, 2013

      Anyone that commits a crime should end up in jail. The article is saying blacks are sentence for longer sentence than whites for similar crimes. Its a known facts more white are drug users but, blacks are arrested and jailed more often. Its racism Jeannette.

    • Sir Christopher McFarlane
      December 1, 2013

      Tv overexposes crimes committed by blacks. If you take a look at statistics for murder, for instance, you’ll see that blacks commit pretty much the same numbr of murders as white people. Moreover, if you compare the likelihood of a black person and a white person to be convicted when tried for the same crimes, shows that conviction rate and jail crime are higher for blacks.

  • Mrs. Bailey
    December 1, 2013

    I seen the trailer for “Elementary Genocide” and was blown away. I’m an African-American school teacher and I’m taking my whole class to the movies when this documentary comes out.

    • tiredofracists
      March 28, 2015

      You are a school teacher and you are African-American or do you teach in an African-American School?

      ….how about “I saw the trailer”…not “I seen the trailer” What subject do you teach…Ebonics?

      I am white and I teach school as well.

  • IssacWall
    December 3, 2013

    As a white american, it shames me to see how my race treat black and hispanic youth. One day we are going to have to pay for the crime of slavery and the wrongful imprisonment of blacks. God have mercy on our souls.

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