Today’s book, Just Mercy, is one of my favorites. I read it in 2015 (I think) without a pen to underline, asterisk, and margin-write (I just wanted to “enjoy” it), which was a HUGE mistake.
So, I re-read it this past August.
Bryan Stevenson, the author, “was a gifted young attorney when he founded the Equal Justice Initiative, a legal practice dedicated to defending the poor, the wrongly condemned, and those trapped in the furthest reaches of our criminal justice system.”
I had NO idea that so many people on death row were wrongly (and often intentionally) convicted of crimes. Just Mercy is full of powerful true stories of some of these men and women whom Bryan Stevenson has worked so hard to defend.
“This book is about getting closer to mass incarceration and extreme punishment in America. It is about how easily we condemn people in this country and the injustice we create when we allow fear, anger, and distance to shape the way we treat the most vulnerable among us. It’s also about a dramatic period in our recent history, a period that indelibly marked the lives of millions of Americans–of all races, ages, and sexes–and the American psyche as a whole.” (p. 15)
There’s just so much good stuff in these pages, so much valuable history (yet so interesting that you don’t even realize you’re learning). It’s tough stuff to hear though–our country’s sordid past of racism.
(Did you know that it wasn’t until the 1950’s, when school segregation was declared unconstitutional, that many states in the South put Confederate flags on their state government buildings and erected Confederate monuments?? HELLO.)
I had to fight some FEELINGS when the author would recount some of the encounters he had with judges and law officers down south.
Like this judge who said, “I’m going to grant your motion, Mr. Stevenson, but I’ll be honest. I’m pretty fed up with people always talking about minority rights. African Americans, Mexican Americans, Asian Americans, Native Americans… When is someone going to come to my courtroom and protect the rights of Confederate Americans?” (p. 193)
Um, I have an idea about when. HOW ABOUT IN 18-FREAKING-65 WHEN THE CIVIL WAR ENDED??? Oh, but wait. That wouldn’t work. BECAUSE THE CONFEDERATES LOST THE WAR.
OMG. Somebody needs to hold me.
Mr. Stevenson did a much better job of reining in his emotions than I would have.
I love what he told one judge: “Your Honor, I just want to say this before we adjourn. It was far too easy to convict this wrongly accused man for murder and send him to death row for something he didn’t do and much too hard to win his freedom after proving his innocence. We have serious problems and important work that must be done in this state.” (p. 225)
So much good stuff in this book. Read it.
(Related note: I think prisoners are a group of marginalized people who get overlooked perhaps more than any other group. For Christians, the command to care for/remember/visit the prisoner is made several times throughout the Bible. I wrote to a prisoner for the first time recently. It’s not hard to find people to write to.)
Bryan Stevenson and Equal Justice Initiative (EJI) are doing great work across the country. Next spring a lynching memorial opens up in Alabama. (I’m totally going the next time we’re in the States.) Watch this video:
EJI’s website has lots of great info if you want to learn more about lynching, slavery, and finding justice for the wrongly accused.
(All links are Amazon Associate links.)