Reviewed by Bev Scott
Just Mercy indicts our “impartial” judicial system. It provokes us to reconsider exactly what is “just punishment” for crime. The author tells how the system often condemns the innocent, passes inhumane sentences for petty crimes and convicts suspects despite contrary evidence. For example, children as young as thirteen are condemned to prison without parole for non-violent crimes. Women are imprisoned for life for birthing babies who died in their wombs. And, people who lack proper legal representation are wrongly condemned to death or to life sentences without parole. The system often fails people who are poor, black or brown, or mentally ill.
The Equal Justice Initiative
For these reasons, as a young lawyer Bryan Stevenson founded the Equal Justice Initiative (EJI). The EJI defends the poor, disparate and forgotten locked in our criminal justice system. The book points out that the racist system results from four painful eras of our history. They were slavery, Reconstruction, Jim Crow and mass incarceration. Currently, the Black Lives Matter movement (BLM) teaches us about racism’s impact on black lives today. But Stevenson’s work began long before the BLM movement. He has long sought justice for those the system has condemned and forgotten. In his career, Stevenson has appealed unfair judgements to state and federal courts. And, the EJI works to uncover ignored evidence and to argue for the rights of those wrongly accused.
In my opinion, Stevenson challenges the system with compassion, commitment and resilience. He brings the voice of someone who has been “in the trenches.” Particularly touching to me, he shares his own insight at a time when he was so discouraged and down. In doing so, Stevenson recognizes that all of us are broken in different ways and deserve mercy. In conclusion, Just Mercy makes a timely addition to anyone’s reading list. We are rightfully giving heightened attention to the failures of our justice system. I highly recommend this book.