Concerning our Justice System: This TED Talk from Bryan Stevenson, which I watched with the friends at New Hope Church in Oakland, is a great introduction to the message (and messenger) of Bryan Stevenson’s Just Mercy. My first post about the book’s introduction is here.
The abuses and racial injustices of America’s prison and policing systems sear our consciences. Like the Black Lives Matter movement, Bryan Stevenson has a way of making those corruptions of the justice system into something human and stirring, weaving together memoir as a civil rights lawyer, stories of affected people and communities that are as compelling as any page-turner, and historical and contemporary contexts that captivate the moral imagination.
The first four chapters bring us into the story of Walter McMillian, a wrongly convicted inmate awaiting execution in late-1980s Alabama who Stevenson represents on appeal, and whose case is a miscarriage of justice that could only happen in real-life because it’s too unbelievable for fiction. Interspersed with his unfolding account of the story of the crime McMillian didn’t commit and the contorted, nightmarish social, criminal, legal, and penal apparatuses that bring him to death row, the author explains establishing his own legal practice defend and advocate for people like Walter, and the sounding drum for justice that motivates it.
What these chapters make clear is that Stevenson recognizes the critical vitality of being a witness. What I mean is that his work demonstrates what happens when you fearlessly pursue what others spend their lives shielding themselves from. He witnesses executions, and the words and stories of the people who wind up on the chair. He is in the courtroom and he is in the cell block and he is in the church house. And once, affectingly, he is arms-spread over the roof of his own car as a sufferer of illegal police profiling and persecution. His work and his writing are testimonials, testimonies, shattering and stunning, but without soap-boxing, in touch with compassion and history, laced with faith and hope. And so he is a witness in a way that convincingly bespeaks his subject with political, practical, professional, as well as prophetic credibility.
Read this book.