Just Mercy

 Just Mercy by Bryan Stevenson

The story of  lawyer Bryan Stevenson's founding of the Equal Justice Initiative in the southern US, and of the wrongly convicted people for whom he fights. It's gut-wrenching, but it's an important book that needs to be read.                  

The main storyline concerns Walter McMillian, a black man accused of murdering a white woman and placed on death row before his trial. Let that sink in for a minute. Death row before the trial - apparently to see if fear might make him confess. When he did go to trial, the evidence proving he was nowhere near the crime scene, and therefore could not be guilty, was ignored by police, prosecutor, judge, and jury. He was found guilty and sentenced to be executed. It is sickening to think, to know, that this happened not that long ago in a country that prides itself on being the "land of the free and the home of the brave". 

Other stories tell of child convicts sent directly to adult prisons to be beaten and raped for years, and of people with mental and physical disabilities being horribly abused by the 'justice' system. It is infuriating to read about laws that were put in place to protect people being ignored or twisted by people in authority to further their own ends. 

Thankfully Stevenson also writes about his victories - achieving freedom for prisoners locked up for decades for crimes they didn't commit, and getting others moved off of death row and back among general prison populations. These positive notes breathe some hope into the horror, making it easier, but not easy, to keep reading.

A few lines that stood out to me:

“Each of us is more than the worst thing we’ve ever done.” 

“We are all implicated when we allow other people to be mistreated.” 

“Constantly being suspected, accused, watched, doubted, distrusted, presumed guilty and even feared is a burden borne by people of color…”  

“I decided that I was supposed to be here to catch some of the stones people cast at each other.” ...this from a lady who sits in the courtroom day after day simply to offer a comforting word or touch to anyone who might need it.

Just Mercy might keep you awake at night, but if it leaves you, all of us, wanting to do more, do something to help in our own corner of the world, then I say it is sleep well lost.   


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