Just Mercy: A Story of Justice and Redemption, Bryan Stevenson 2014

Just in case you sometimes wonder what the appeal of Make America Great Again is, read this moving and infuriating book and get a sobering look at what America was like in the South of the late 20th C and in many ways remains today.  Stevenson, a Harvard Law School student in 1983 spends a few weeks with the Southern Prisoners Defense Committee and finds his life work.  He  moves back to the south of his roots and takes on death row cases in Alabama and Georgia.  He soon becomes involved with the incredibly unjust murder conviction of Walter McMillian, a young black man who was convicted of murdering a young white woman in Monroeville, AL and condemned to death row for a crime that he not only didn’t commit but for which there was absolutely  no evidence against him.  (In an irony that only real life can provide, Monroeville was the home of Harper Lee whose To Kill a Mockingbird tells the story of a black man convicted of a crime he didn’t commit.)  Stevenson skillfully winds Walter’s story through the book as he gives us examples of injustice to racial minorities, the developmentally disabled, and the poor.  It made my teeth grind and my stomach turn to read about our justice system that has resulted in the highest per capita incarceration rate in the world and enriched the private industrial-prison complex even as people without the means to hire legal representation are locked away for minor offenses.  This is an important book to read and Stevenson is a fine writer.  His Equal Justice Initiative continues to do important work while our Congress grinds slowly towards reducing the mass incarceration of people of color and poor whites.  The fact that one in three black male babies born in this  century can expect to be incarcerated is cited by Stevenson as the fourth in the cycle of major events that have resulted in injustice towards blacks: slavery, Reconstruction, Jim Crow and now mass incarceration.  If we can successfully address the latter, it will largely be due to the work of Stevenson and others whom he has recruited to this effort.  This is an important book to read by a man who Nicholas Kristof has called the “American Mandela”.

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