Just Mercy: A Story of Justice and Redemption by Bryan Stevenson
For advocates of social justice Just Mercy presents a scathing exposé of the inequalities, racial bias and discrimination that has characterised the US justice system, most notably in the South. It documents the indefatigable dedication of social justice lawyer Bryan Stevenson, founder of the New Non-Fiction Equal Justice Initiative in Montgomery, Alabama. Lauded as a real-life Atticus Finch, Stevenson has championed the rights of the disenfranchised and most disadvantaged: assisting clients on death row, challenging excessive punishments, helping disabled prisoners and assisting children incarcerated in adult prisons facing life-without-parole convictions.
Stevenson presents extensive case studies that document inherent injustices sanctioned by law enforcement and legitimised through abusive justice systems within the US. Most notable is the case of Walter McMillian, an African American wrongfully accused of a murder and unlawfully put on death row as a pretrial detainee. As Stevenson worked on Walter’s defence he uncovered appalling lawlessness not only on the part of law enforcement officers, but also a grave miscarriage of justice through the court system. Stevenson testified that evidence had been wilfully ignored in order to expedite Walter’s conviction to appease the community with a crime solved and a criminal punished.
The statistics cited by Stevenson are damning. America has the highest rate of incarceration in the world with a disproportionate African American representation among the prison population. According to Stevenson the privatisation of US prisons has corrupted initiatives that focus on rehabilitation and instead contribute to mass incarceration. In particular, the pursuit of profit has seen the creation of new crimes and harsher sentences ensuring that more people are locked up and for longer terms.
Stevenson’s legacy is not limited to his successes in achieving landmark social justice reform but also his reputation as a crusader of mercy and compassion. A profoundly important work.
Natalie Platten works as a bookseller at Readings Malvern.