‘Just Mercy: A Story of Justice and Redemption’ by Bryan Stevenson: Chapters 1-4.

 

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.
Just_Mercy_courtesy_Equal_Justice_Inititive_t670 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.

 

 

‘Just Mercy: A Story of Justice and Redemption’ by Bryan Stevenson: Introduction

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

And sometimes, the worst things we’ve done are minute compared to the distorted things our systems do.

I started hearing about Just Mercy by Bryan Stevenson last year when it popped up on year-end lists and some black legal scholars I follow mentioned it.  It’s a moving, humanizing take on mass incarceration and the criminal justice system, written by a lawyer advocate for prisoners, the great-grandson of slaves who went to Eastern and then Harvard Law, and ended up

In this introduction, he describes himself knock-kneed and out-of-place in law school, finding an internship and a clearer sense of purpose when he begins working with the Southern Prisoner Defense Committee– and encountering, in bolted down cells, the precious human contact of being face to face with prisoners.  He moves between his description of his first time meeting a death row inmate and the big picture figures and realities we’re starting to fathom, far too late: ballooning prison populations, 1 in 3 black men incarcerated at some point in their lives, a prison industrial complex riddled with moral and political corruption, and grievous sin for a nation with many of them.

if The New Jim Crow articulated our disease with prophetic truth, it feels like Just Mercy will pull on our consciousness and consciences with personal import and awakened compassion.  I’ll keep posting as I read.

(Shout out to New Hope Oakland, my church, for prompting me to read at last.)