A Critique of Just Mercy, a Book by Bryan Stevenson
In the book Just Mercy by Bryan Stevenson, Bryan who is an attorney guides us through his life in Alabama and how he helps defend innocent, poor men on death row who were wrongly convicted. Throughout each case, we see how a good proportion of the men sentenced were specifically chosen because of race and vulnerability. Poverty is a key ingredient for vulnerability in Just Mercy and is also a great issue for African Americans in the South during this time. The main theme of this book, according to Bryan Stevenson, is that “ The opposite of poverty is not wealth; the opposite of poverty is justice.” This statement means black people are being treated so cruelly that not even all the money in the world could overcome the satisfaction they would receive for having freedom and fairness. This is easily shown from the beginning of Just Mercy through racial profiling, poverty, and police brutality/mistreatment.
Racial profiling refers to the discriminatory practice by law enforcement officials of targeting individuals for suspicion of crime based on the individual’s race, ethnicity, or religion. Although local officials in Alabama didn’t discriminate off of religion, they did discriminate off of ethnicity and race. Being black predominantly meant you were dangerous and a threat to society. For example, Walter McMillian was an African American man who was accused by Ralph Myers of killing Ronda Morrison. All of Walter’s family knew he could not have murdered her because he was a very hardworking man and they had evidence that he was at a fish fry with them while the murder took place. The only evidence the police had on Walter was that he “ was an African American man involved in an adulterous interracial affair, which meant he was reckless and possibly dangerous” (Pg. 34). Just by being black and having an interracial affair was sufficient enough evidence for them to believe Ralph Myer’s fake story and convict Mr. McMillian which is not just. Another example of racial profiling in the book involves the author, Bryan Stevenson, during his early twenties. Bryan was sitting in his car one night until a SWAT car came rushing down the road and stopped right in front of him. The police shined a light on him in suspicion, so Bryan got out of his car very frightened and was going to try and walk home until they threatened, “Move and I’ll blow your head off!” (Pg. 40). As you can see these police officers only believed Bryan was threatening and unsafe based on his race. After, they illegally searched through his car and sadly found no evidence to be able to take him back to prison. Bryan was then let go but was very moved by the incident and now had a better understanding of what poor, colored people where struggling with in Alabama. Both of these occurrences show how it is a struggle for African American’s to fit into society and why racial profiling affects their daily life. Blacks living in poverty can’t walk outside without having anyone thinking they are dangerous or threatening which is why they would much rather have the feeling of freedom and equal representation than monetary satisfaction.
Poverty is another great struggle that people in Alabama have to live with. They key theme of Just Mercy is poverty and it is shown throughout each case Bryan has to defend. The majority of blacks, and even some whites, living in the south are having to live on the streets or even avoid proper hospital care because they don’t have enough money to afford it. There are occasions where mothers can’t afford prenatal care and try to deliver their own babies which is unsafe. For instance, Marsha Colby lived in a poor rural Alabama town with her husband Glen Colby, where they struggled financially. They lived in a crowded trailer with their six children and they knew they were at risk when they heard warnings for Hurricane Ivan to hit. After the damage the hurricane had done, Marsha found herself pregnant. One of the problems was that she “knew that a pregnancy at her age was very risky, but she couldn’t afford a doctor. She didn’t have the money to spare” (Pg. 229). Marsha knew what to expect from her prior deliveries so she thought she’d make the best of it. For a couple of days she wasn’t feeling well so she sat in a hot tub of water thinking it would help. Out of nowhere she felt loads of pain go through her body and started to go into labor. She had delivered a stillborn baby and tried reviving the infant, but saw he wasn’t breathing and concluded he was dead. Her neighbors saw that she wasn’t pregnant anymore, but there was no baby insight and called the police. Marsha was then arrested and charged with capital murder. The court concluded that “the child would have survived with medical attention” (Pg. 231). Many women suffer with this same problem and are too scared to get professional help to deliver and take care of their babies. Not having enough money to afford hospital care shouldn’t be a worry for pregnant mothers because it is not safe and could end up having mothers being wrongly convicted for killing their child. Wealth is not the opposite of poverty, but it is justice and we see it here because mothers who cannot afford treatment are being sentenced for “killing their children” but in reality, they just do not have the money to see doctors and get their kids killed on accident which isn’t fair for them.
In addition to racial profiling and poverty, Bryan Stevenson shows us how police mistreatment and brutality occurs in his book. Police mistreatment is still a worldwide problem and exists in the U.S., affecting predominately black prisoners physically and mentally. Police mishandling prisoners is one example of mistreatment and is shown with Bryan’s first client named Henry. Bryan first came into the Southern Prisoners Defensive Committee as an intern and was asked to visit this man named Henry. He was only supposed to tell him his execution date was pushed back, but once Bryan gave him the news, he became very happy which surprised him. After hours of talking, the guard came back in very angry because they have gone over the amount of time they were given to talk. So “he roughly shackled Henry’s ankles. The guard was so angry he put the cuffs on too tight” (Pg. 11). Bryan saw this and was concerned for how tight he put the shackles on Henry, but the officer angrily told him to leave. In many of Bryan’s cases you can see how police mistreat their prisoners, exhibiting abusive behavior. Many of these brutalized prisoners are poor and colored, which is not a surprise. It is not right what these black prisoners have to face everyday and they deserve the equal care and rights that white prisoners receive. Bryan shows us how justice and equal representation for men in these situations would be a greater pleasure than anything else.
Growing up in Southern California I wasn’t exposed to any racial segregation, but I did learn in school about how blacks where severely mistreated and taken away their rights. It was not surprising seeing what these prisoners had to go through. Being racially profiled and mistreated was a common situation during this time. My reaction was probably different than other races and classes of identity because others, as in African Americans, would have reacted in a more offensive way. If I was to happen to be black, I would react the same exact way because I would believe that I was just as human as any of those other white police officers or prisoners and that I’d deserve the same amount of freedom and fairness as them. Being a colored man living in poverty would be a tough life. Not having equal independence is not just and it is why the “The opposite of poverty is not wealth; the opposite of poverty is justice” (Bryan Stevenson).
The Unfair Role of Race in the Criminal Justice System in Just Mercy, a Book by Bryan Stevenson
Just Mercy by Bryan Stevenson is almost like a real life version of To Kill A Mockingbird. It is a story of multiple instances where people were wrongly or unfairly convicted. Bryan Stevenson is the lawyer who represents these people free of charge. Many of these cases display how race plays an unfair role in the criminal justice system. Not only are minorities unfairly treated, but so are the mentally ill and minors. The main character who has been wrongly convicted is a black man from Alabama named Walter McMillian. After the murder of a well-liked young, white girl, police cannot find someone to arrest. When Walter is accused by a white man, he is quickly arrested, despite his alibi of being at a fish fry with dozens of people miles away at the time of the murder. Although Stevenson is eventually able to fight and prove Walter’s innocence, he ends up spending six years on death row, leaving him traumatized and scarred.
Bryan Stevenson works for a non-profit agency that provides lawyers to those who are wrongly convicted free of charge. There are a number of programs like this around the country. An example of this kind of agency is South Alabama Volunteer Lawyers Program located in Mobile, Alabama. According to their website, they have over 855 volunteer lawyers who work with low income clients on certain types of civil cases.
Bryan Stevenson’s practice in Montgomery, Alabama is very similar to the South Alabama Volunteer Lawyers Program. According to his book and LinkedIn page, he is the Executive Director of Equal Justice Initiative, or EJI. On EJI’s website, it has a number of tabs at the top listing what issues are important to the organization. It has a Racial Justice tab, Children in Prison tab, Mass Incarceration tab, Death Penalty tab, and a Just Mercy tab. Under the Racial Justice tab, there are three sub-tabs labeled “Evolution of Slavery”, which gives the reader a brief history on the enslavement of black people in America, “Legacy of Lynching”, gives us a moderately lengthy history and background of the lynching of African Americans in the South, “Resistance to Civil Rights”, gives us a walkthrough of the Civil Rights Movement and the backlash African Americans faced for speaking up for what was right, and lastly “Presumption of Guilt”, essentially explains how African Americans are and always have been presumed by the dominant (white) culture to be inferior, which makes them more deserving to be incarcerated and enslaved because it is for their own good.
Stevenson describes his program as volunteer based. Although it is a private practice, everyone using his services is affected by the state criminal justice system. During the time period when the book took place, EJI was just starting out, so Stevenson was not able to take on as many clients as he can now that his practice is pretty well developed. This meant that some people went without getting any service and were put to death. However, Stevenson took on as many clients as he possibly could.
Although by the 1980s, racism and segregation were not blatantly allowed in laws, for example the Jim Crow Laws, racism was (and is) still heavily practiced and engrained into Southern culture especially. This meant that it also affected the criminal justice system, which was supposed to be unbiased and fair. Stevenson’s practice fought against institutional racism and practices of racism in the criminal justice system. Because blacks have always been mistreated, it was easy for everyone to pin murder on a poor, black Alabama man. It would be easy enough to get away with. Stevenson and his colleagues practice specifically for cases like Walter McMillian’s.
Stevenson also expanded his areas of interest past racial inequality. He represented people who were more vulnerable to unfair treatment like women, blacks, minors, and the mentally ill. He was not always able to keep these people from being executed though, which took a serious emotional toll on him.
One of the clients he represented was Vietnam veteran, Herbert Richardson, who was seriously affected by trauma from his childhood and the war. His Richardson’s case, he assembled a bomb and when it went off, two children were unintentionally killed. He did not mean to kill anyone; he did not do anything out of malice. And he was mentally ill. However, he was still executed in 1989.
Stevenson’s thought process behind what he fought for was that everyone deserves to be treated fairly and with respect, regardless of his or her race, sex, age, or mental condition. Throughout our nation, especially in the conservative, Southern states, equality has not always been practiced. As a black man in America, Stevenson probably experienced some racism. People probably did not expect him to be so driven and successful in his field as a lawyer, but he graduated from fantastic schools and has gone on to be recognized by groups like the New York Times and TED Talks. Not to mention, he has won several awards in his field.
I believe he hit the nail right on the head with his discussion of racism and race based issues in his book. As a white woman, I have not experienced the amount of discrimination and oppression that a black person or incarcerated person has. Stevenson knows exactly what he is talking about from experience and his knowledge of black history.
Stevenson’s EJI has positively affected so many people. He himself has represented a number of oppressed people and was either able to reduce their sentences to life in prison without parole from the death penalty or even win their freedom back. His drive to right America’s wrongs is something to aspire to. As a social worker, I want to incorporate that into my thought process more than I already have. It may not pay well, but assisting oppressed, low-income people is the right thing to do. They need the help the most because they have been given the fewest opportunities.
The idea of institutional racism and fighting that is what drives my position. It still exists in modern culture. Minorities are still not given an equal chance as whites. Blacks have always been oppressed and have fought for hundreds of years to at least be treated as equals. First generation immigrants have to work especially hard to build wealth and a foundation for their family and their future children and grandchildren. Often times, they are the hardest working groups of people and have the least to show for it. As a social worker, I want to work to make sure these groups get the same opportunities as everyone else. They should be just as entitled to things like a college education as a wealthy, white person.
This book has made a serious impact on the way I see racism. I have always acknowledged and been saddened and angered by the way racism still plays a big part in our society. But to actually see it play out to such an extreme only 30 years ago enrages me and makes me want to get involved.
Redemption Through Mercy in Just Mercy, a Book by Bryan Stevenson
Just mercy is an extraordinary book, it’s a very powerful truthful story mostly about getting potential for mercy to redeem us and fix this broken system of justice. Bryan Stevenson is a fearless, strong, wise hero who stood for the right things even when some people did wrong and that’s what mainly stood out to me. Most of all, that’s why I recommend this book because it was very inspirational, challenging, engaging, and vividly written. The book just mercy is a powerful true story that has an impact a people lives. Reason why I say this because as I read just mercy by Bryan Stevenson, Stevenson shares his time of being a lawyer. He wanted to defend those most desperate and in need. Such as the poor, the people who was wrongly condemned or accused of something that they have never done. As Bryan Stevenson continue sharing other people stories on what happened to them and the reason why they were treated wrongly. Stevenson starts to lose his understanding of mercy and justice; Not only Bryan Stevenson but could also see myself I read these stories it had me think as a reader what we when we talk about when we say justice. But no matter how matter how hard the struggle of getting justice for the lives of those he defended, Stevenson never gave up. He always found the negative things such as a long sentencing of some of his clients a positive way and have an inspiring argument for compassion in the pursuit of true justice. As said before, this way I recommend this book because it gives inspiration, challenging, engaging, and vividly written. This is a great read for all ages.
Just mercy was well written but challenging as well. Reason why I say Just Mercy was challenging is mainly because just mercy challenges the reader’s perspective and was very incisive. When reading just mercy there is sometimes difficult words to understand or sometimes a misunderstanding in between the story. In my opinion, I believe this caused a little problem with certain readers such as myself. A reader want a book or an article that’s challenging but still understandable. I felt as that certain passages in the story was misunderstood and was hard to comprehend. Also, this was a minor problem when reading the book, mainly because readers would stop reading and always either ask what does something mean or don’t understand. Other than the minor challenges in the book “Just Mercy” it was still a terrific article and turned out very well.
When reading Just mercy there was a connection with the African American race and very eye opening to understand what was going on. There was racial profiling and African Americans treated wrong and sometimes accused of not doing something they never done before. For example, in the Just Mercy on page 93 there was a young named Michael and he was accused of murder when he was nowhere near the area of the murder but the police accused Michael and had him put on death row. Walter McMillian niece kept explaining how she had been with Michael that following day and was with him all day. The police didn’t listen and had Michael sentence to jail. This made everyone in the family feel insecure about their lives including Walter niece as she states “I feel like they done put me on death row, too” knowing that she is innocent as well as Michael. This is a reason why I say Just mercy is engaging, because it has connections till this day for our young African Americans. The justice system is still doing the same things as they did 20 years ago, also it’s the truth and doesn’t leave any details out on the most important sections in the book.
Finally, the inspiration this book gives to our society today for all ages. It gives the right tone as not to be a follower but a leader as Bryan Stevenson shows. I loved the way Bryan Stevenson shows how negative things can’t stop our lives and to always think positive even when its negative things surrounding you. Stevenson came out of his way of helping others when not needing to and that shows a lot. Its shows to care fr others that’s need help when not asking for it because at the end of the day everyone needs a hand. This really stood out to me throughout the novel mainly because it shows me how to become a better man and I would like to thank Bryan Stevenson for that. So if someone was to ask me is Just mercy a good book to read I will absolutely recommend them to read it because it is a terrific outstanding novel for all ages as said before.
The Use Of Logos In Bryan Stevenson’S Book Just Mercy
Innocent until proven guilty is not always the case for some people. Bryan Stevenson’s book Just Mercy is about him becoming a lawyer and revealing true events that has happened to people. In the book, Stevenson explains how he represented and gave guidance to a man by the name of Walter McMillian who was wrongfully convicted of murdering a woman, Rhonda Morrison, and was eventually released after six years of being on Alabama’s Death Row. Stevenson uses Walter’s circumstance and other true events to illustrate his book. He uses logos effectively by providing readers with solid evidence of what he is stating such as people with a mental illness being put on death row, how there is corruption in the police force, and how women are targeted by police and other law enforcements, especially poor ones. Stevenson supports his claims with evidence, facts, and the ability to show proof and verification.
The first way Stevenson uses logos is how prisons hold large amounts of mentally ill people. He states, “America’s prisons have become warehouses for the mentally ill”. He follows by stating “Mass incarceration has been largely fueled by misguided drug policy and excessive sentencing, but the internment of hundreds of thousands of poor and mentally ill people has been driving force in achieving our record levels of imprisonment. It’s created unprecedented problems”. This allows the reader to understand how many people are sent to prison with mental disabilities, and makes the reader think about how the person with the mental illness could be helped or getting treatments in other facilities in oppose to going to prison and being placed on death row. Stevenson points that “Today, over 50 percent of prison and jail inmates in the united states have a diagnosed mental illness, a rate nearly five times greater than that of the general adult population. Nearly one in five prison and jail inmates has a serious mental illness. In, fact there are more than three times the number of seriously mentally ill individuals in jail or prison than in hospitals; in some states that number is ten times. And prison is a terrible place for someone with mental illness or a neurological disorder that prison guards are not trained to understand”. This persuades the reader that Stevenson is using evidence and facts to prove to the reader that there are a great number of people in prison or on death row with a mental illness and moves the reader to agree with Stevenson that prison is not a place for a person with a mental illness to be.
Throughout the book, Stevenson has taken many cases involving a person with a mental illness such as Herbert Richardson, who had a history of psychological health problems and trauma. He was executed for unintentionally killing a young girl. He also took the case of a man named Avery Jenkins who was a disabled man, convicted of murder and sentenced to be executed. Stevenson won his case, and Jenkins was eventually sent to a mental facility. People should have the opportunity to get the help and treatment they need. Throughout the book, Stevenson explains how Sheriff Tate and other law enforcement are not following the laws and pursuing situations unfairly such as the false testimony from Ralph Myers against Walter McMillian. “Ralph Myers began to have second thoughts about his allegations against McMillian. He was also facing indictment in the Morrison murder. He’d been promised that he wouldn’t get the death penalty and would get favorable treatment in exchange for his testimony, but it was starting to dawn on him that admitting to involvement in a high-profile murder that he had nothing to do with was probably not smart. A few days before the capital murder charges against McMillian were made public, Myers summoned police investigators and told them his allegations against McMillian weren’t true. At this point, Tate and his investigators had little interest in Myers recantation. Instead, they decided to pressure Myers to produce more incriminating details because, well, the story wasn’t true, the investigators weren’t having it. It’s not clear who decided to put both Myers and McMillian on death row before trial to create additional pressure, but it was a nearly unprecedented maneuver that proved very effective”. Stevenson then states “It is illegal to subject pretrial detainees like Walter and Myers to confinement that constitutes punishment. Pretrial detainees are generally housed in local jails, where they enjoy more privileges and more latitude than convicted criminals who are sent to prison…”. This shows the reader that Stevenson is providing facts that it was unlawful and wrong for both Myers and McMillian to be sent to death row without being convicted. This also proves that Sheriff Tate and other investigators are not following the laws how they should be, especially by making Myers testify falsely against McMillian. Sheriff Tate and the Investigators should have been penalized or punished for what happened and be released from their duties.
Another way Stevenson uses logos is he took the case of a woman named Marsha Colbey. Colbey was a poor white woman living with her husband and children in a crowded trailer. She soon found out that she was pregnant, and all the worrisome and anxiety led her back to wanting drugs. “Marsha knew that a pregnancy at her age was very risky, but she couldn’t afford to see a doctor, she just didn’t have the money to spare. Having endured six previous deliveries, she knew what to expect and thought she’d make the best of it with prenatal care. She tried not to worry even though she’d been experiencing pains and problems with this pregnancy that she didn’t remember having before. There had been bleeding; if she could have afforded an examination, a doctor would have found signs of placental abruption… One day, she wasn’t feeling well and thought a long hot bath would do her good. She settled into a tub of hot water minutes before a violent labor began. She sensed it was happening too fast and before she knew it, she’d delivered a stillborn son. She desperately tried to revive the infant, but he never took a breath”. Colbey buried the infant near their home, when their neighbor eventually noticed that she was not pregnant anymore. She then told a worker at the school she worked at to call the police. Marsha Colbey was charged with capital murder. “In time, the Alabama Supreme Court interpreted the term environment to include the womb and the term child to include fetus. Pregnant women could now be criminally prosecuted and sent to prison for decades if there was any evidence that they had used drugs at any point during their pregnancy. Dozens of women have been sent to prison under this law in recent years, rather than getting the help they needed”. Marsha Colbey had used drugs prior to her pregnancy, but never during. This shows the reader that Stevenson provided evidence to show how woman were being sent to prison without getting the right help. Women can not help if they give birth to a stillborn baby, and they certainly should not be punished for it especially if they are poor.
Stevenson successfully uses logos by effectively giving concrete evidence of what he is stating. He provided facts after illustrating events such as people with mental illnesses being put in prison and placed on death row, how there is corruption in the police force, and how women are being targeted by law enforcements, especially poor ones. Stevenson supports his claims with facts, evidence, and the ability to show proof and verification. Stevenson also persuades the reader more efficiently by confirming and validating what he is stating in those events.
The Social Injustice of the American Criminal Justice System Presented in Just Mercy, a Memoir by Bryan Stevenson
American society is obsessed with safety. We spend millions of dollars implementing systems to try and keep citizens safe. What is often overlooked is the corruption that lies within America’s criminal justice system, the transgressions that occur daily, and the way these issues disrupt thousands of innocent lives each year. In his narrative Just Mercy, Bryan Stevenson brings to light many of the issues surrounding America’s criminal justice system.
His personal accounts of his own experiences in America’s criminal justice system reveal that criminal and social justice, race, and mercy are all closely interrelated in American society. These issues are all in their own way classic ideals of America. Just Mercy demonstrates the need for American Society to recognize the social injustice that happens in America’s criminal proceedings–based on discrepancies in race and wealth–and show mercy and compassion to fight injustice.
Many American citizens would associate criminal justice with a feeling of security. It is a system our government has supposedly implemented to catch criminals and put them behind bars, leaving people to go to bed at night feeling safe. However, Stevenson takes a different approach to criminal justice. Rather than point out the benefits, Stevenson talks about the injustice that occurs within our supposed criminal “justice” system. Stevenson practices law in Alabama and Georgia, two Deep South states with an underlying cultural current that impacts his work significantly. Many clients that Stevenson represents are African American, and part of a community that is still trying to recover from legal segregation, such as the Jim Crow laws.
In addition to recovering from Southern Reconstruction, the African American community still experiences severe hate crimes. This element of racism leads to injustice in Stevenson’s cases, where impoverished black teenagers are often wrongfully accused or punished in extreme ways. The main story line that Just Mercy follows is that of Walter McMillian, a black man who was put on death row for a murder that he did not commit. Despite overwhelming proof of Walter’s innocence, the racist culture in Alabama meant that many law officials simply overlooked evidence. Stevenson notes that “reading the record had shown (him) that there were people who were willing to ignore evidence, logic, and common sense to convict someone and reassure the community that the crime had been solved and the murderer punished,” (Stevenson 112).
This shows that in this case, and many cases similar to the McMillian case, American Society was willing to overlook truth and justice in order to obtain a sense of false security. The law officials didn’t care if they caught the right criminal, as long as they has a scapegoat, especially if said suspect was African American and didn’t have the means to afford a great lawyer. Closely associated with the idea of criminal justice is that of social justice. Stevenson’s book shows that in practicing social justice, one can arrive at criminal justice that is not corrupt. Founder of the Equal Justice Initiative, Stevenson dedicated his life to creating social and criminal justice. For Stevenson, much of that was building rapport and trust with his clients.
Despite his overwhelming schedule, Stevenson always became close to his clients, stating in his book that “we talked about food (Walter) liked, jobs he’d worked when he was younger. We talked about race and power, the things we saw that were funny, and the things we saw that were sad” (Stevenson 103). Stevenson also tells Walter that “’everybody needs help, so we’re trying’” (Stevenson 103). Trying to improve the world, one life at a time, was how Stevenson made a difference and how he practiced social justice. He tells a story about how he represented a young boy who had shot his abusive stepfather (Stevenson 121), and stories about children that were tried as adults and sentenced to die in prison.
Writing about finding, exposing, and attempting to reverse these injustices painted a clear picture of what social justice really means: Fairness and equality for everyone, despite whatever race or socioeconomic status a person comes from. Unfortunately, racial divides do play a large role in creating injustice. This reveals the hypocrisy of America—we value diversity, calling ourselves the “big melting pot.” We value justice and equality, two principles our country was founded on. Yet despite all this, legal officials are still holding ridiculous charges against men such as Walter, simply because they don’t care about finding justice for a black man, and they can get away with it. Stevenson references a W.E.B. Du Bois story about the lynching of a black man who had become a teacher.
Stevenson ponders the impacts of the lynching on the community of that man, speculating that “There would be more distrust, more animosity, and more injustice” (Stevenson 101). In a similar way, Stevenson believes that everyone in Walter’s hometown, Monroeville, will judge the black community based solely on Walter’s convictions: “Walter’s family and most poor black people in his community were similarly burdened by Walter’s conviction… The pain in that trailer was tangible—I could feel it. The community seemed desperate for some hope of justice. The realization left me anxious but determined” (Stevenson 101). In this way, it becomes evident that injustice in these small southern towns is a vicious circle.
The wealthier and powerful white people refuse to allow black folk truly “equal” rights, demeaning them such as Walter was demeaned, ignoring evidence and keeping them in prison when they don’t necessarily belong there. Prisons that are for profit help make white people wealthier, and keep the blacks poor so that the African American community has little chance to break the circle of white people continuing to subjugate black people. Even Stevenson, a middle class man and practicing lawyer experiences hate crimes based on his race.
In his memoir, Stevenson relates an experience where he was held at gunpoint after listening to a song in his car, simply because there had been petty crime in his neighborhood recently. The officers who attempted to arrest Stevenson blatantly broke the law, and while Stevenson knew this because of his legal background, he was too frightened to challenge it. Looking back on the incident the next day, Stevenson comments that
I was a twenty-eight-year-old lawyer who had worked on police misconduct cases. I had the judgement to speak calmly to the officer when he threatened to shoot me. When I thought about what I would have done when I was sixteen years old or nineteen or even twenty-four, I was scared to realize that I might have run. The more I thought about it, the more concerned I became about all the young black boys and men in that neighborhood. Did they know not to run? (Stevenson 43).
There are many stories in the news that have circulated recently about what happens when young black boys do try and run out of fright, and violent occurrences that happen between white police officers and young black teenagers. This level of violence is not seen against young white teenagers in similar conditions. As progressive as America prides itself on being, there is still an underlying tone of racism, and this racism negatively impacts many poor black people that are wrongly accused and convicted of crime.
However, one of the most remarkable things about Stevenson’s memoir is his hope for humanity despite the injustice he has witnessed. This leads us to the fourth idea of mercy. Stevenson shows that only through human mercy and compassion are we able to overcome the horrors related to race and socioeconomic divides that exist in the prison system. Stevenson points out that none of us should be judged solely on our worst moment, and that only in realizing our own personal flaws can we accept others as they come. Mercy is vital to humanitarian existence, because it means seeing people as human beings, rather as being poor, or black, or mentally ill.
Not all of us are very similar to one another, but we are all just human, and in realizing that, we can have mercy for others and fight injustice. We see this in one of the stories Stevenson tells, featuring a conservative prison guard that had the confederate flag tattooed on his body. The prison guard is cruel towards Stevenson because of his race, and cruel toward the inmates. Avery Jenkins, who Stevenson represents in this trial, experienced severe abuse in the foster care system as a child. When the prison guard learns of Mr. Jenkins background, he feels mercy, because he too was abused as a child. The guard explains that ’It was kind of difficult for me to be in that courtroom to hear what y’ all was talking about. I came up from foster care, you know. I came up from foster care too… Man, I didn’t think anybody had it as bad as me… But listening to what you was saying about Avery made me realize that there were other people who had it as bad as I did. I guess even worse’ (Stevenson 201).
The guard experiences mercy because he realizes that Avery is another human being who has experienced similar traumas in life. If someone who is seemingly so closed-minded can change their views to show others kindness and mercy, than so can America as a society. This is why mercy is key in ending injustice and promoting equality. Injustice happens in the world. Injustice is almost as American a theme as equality, because in America, it is believed that one may have their own opinion, even if it is hateful.
However, on a much broader scale, it is also American to experience mercy. Because mercy is a human trait that we all possess, and experiencing mercy and compassion is how society can improve itself and make the world a better place. Will injustice ever end? Probably not. Discrimination has always happened in history, and may continue happening for hundreds of years. Mercy is not giving up because there will never be change. Mercy is appreciating the small changes, and seeing each person on an individual level.
Society is made up of individuals, and if one person at a time can be helped, than gradually society will also be helped. Racism is still prevalent in America today, sending hundreds of black men and women to jail for crimes they did not commit. Similarly, children or mentally ill people who are in need of compassionate rehabilitation find themselves locked in jail, penniless and defenseless. There is no excuse for this criminal injustice, just as there is no excuse to ignore mercy. Through mercy is the strength and will to make the world a better place.
Criminal Justice Questions in Just Mercy, a Book by Bryan Stevenson
Bryan Stevenson writes about his work in Just Mercy. He was raised in a working class African American family. At the age of 16 his grandfather was murdered by kids trying to steal his television. Stevenson did not let this bring him down. He went on to become an attorney with a degree from Harvard Law School. He then went to Georgia to work for the Southern Center for Human Rights and then on to Alabama to start the Equal Justice Initiative. This is where Stevenson writes about the most of the work he has done for prisoners on death row, fighting the death penalty and life sentences without parole for juvenile offenders, and confronted abuse of the mentally ill, the mentally handicapped and children in prison. Just Mercy is an easy read to dive into. The stories that are told within the book are captivating, and can ultimately change the way the justice system is thought of.
Stevenson addresses many issues that came up within his work for the Equal Justice Initiative. He discusses the flaws within the justice system, and the unfairness when it comes to civil rights. One case of his that he discusses in the book that he is extremely proud of is the case of Walter McMillian. Walter McMillian was a man convicted of murdering a girl on testimonies that were fabricated and almost hard for anyone to believe. Despite having alibi witnesses, including an officer, that placed him eleven miles from the scene of the crime, he was still convicted and was places on death row prior to being convicted. The jury in his case found him guilty and ruled for life in prison. However, Judge Robert E. Lee Key overrode the jury’s recommendation and sentenced McMillian to Death. Stevenson could not believe that a jury would find McMillian guilty on such a preposterous fabrication of evidence.
Stevenson fought hard to get the conviction overturned and to get a new trial, but ultimately kept getting turned down. He finally turned to a last resort. Stevenson went on “60 Minutes,” and they aired a segment on Walter McMillian’s case in 1992. Three months after the segment aired, Alabama court of Appeals granted McMillian a new trial. A few days after a new trial was granted, the prosecution dropped the charges against McMillian. Had Stevenson gave up his fight for McMillian after the many devastating denials, and not gone to “60 Minutes” an innocent man would have been killed.
The McMillian case raises many criminal justice questions. It raises questions about the ethics of the police officers involved in the case. They pushed and fabricated testimonies to put an innocent man on death row. It can make people wonder, if there is a murder case, where the public is putting pressure on the police to make an arrest, would all officers violate their ethics and lie just to put someone behind bars for the murder, even if they are innocent? The officers got one suspect they could easily put the blame on for the murder and fabricated evidence to put him away mainly to satisfy the community.
The McMillian case also raised procedural questions. The officers put McMillian on death row before he had even been convicted. This is not procedure, and it raises the question, why would they go about this case this way? It also raises policy questions with the judge overruling the jury’s decision and giving McMillian the death penalty. It is legal in Alabama for the judge to do that, however it is rare for it to happen. McMillian had faith during his trial that he would be found innocent because he was, and he had witnesses to prove where he was at the time. He did not think anyone could believe the lies that were being told to convict him. The whole justice system in the McMillian case was flawed and it failed to protect an innocent man from getting put in jail, and it almost causes an innocent man to be put to death.
The McMillian case should have been handled differently from the beginning. If it had, then Stevenson probably would have never had to of been involved. If law enforcement had done its job, then McMillian would have never been convicted. If the prosecution would have done what was right, then he probably would not have been convicted. If his first defense team had done a better job of discrediting the witnesses and breaking down the prosecution’s case, then McMillian may have not been convicted. When Stevenson went to the new prosecutor about the case, the prosecutor should have seen what went wrong with the McMillian case, and should have worked with Stevenson. Many things about this case should have been done different. The only thing that seemed to have been done right was Stevenson’s fight for McMillian.
Stevenson had many victories like McMillian, but he also had many defeats as well. One in particular that is talked about is Michael Lindsey. He was sent to death row for murdering a white woman. Lindsey was African American. When the victim is white and the person who committed the crime is black, they tend to get harsher sentences than if their races were reversed. Like McMillians case, Lindsey’s jury recommended a life sentence, but the judge overruled and sentenced him to death instead. Stevenson fought for clemency for Lindsey because the jury had wanted him to live, but he was denied and Lindsey got the chair. Despite Stevenson’s defeats, he still fought against the issue of the death penalty.
Along with the McMillian and Lindsey case, Stevenson also fought for other clients. One focus of his was understanding adolescents to committed crimes. He represented many clients that were in prison for crimes they had committed when they were juveniles and he would challenge their sentences. There are many different cases that Stevenson discusses in Just Mercy about people who were convicted to life in prison without the possibility of parole for crimes they committed as juveniles.
One case in particular is the case of Trina Garnett, where a girl was sentenced to life in prison for a crime she committed at fourteen. Trina had a life full of trauma before the crime, and afterwards there was nothing but more trauma. She was mentally unstable due to the trauma, but was still forced to stand trial and was forced to be tried as an adult for second degree murder. (Just Mercy pg. 148-151). This case was not handled the way it should have been. Trina’s court appointed attorney did not bring up her mental state during the trial, and did nothing to keep her from being tried as an adult. She was sentenced to an adult prison, and was raped while in prison, and head her child that she became pregnant with because of the rape, taken from her. Her mental state deteriorated. (Just Mercy pg. 148-151).
Trina is one of the many children who were sentenced to life in prison who had a mental issue, and were abused. Children, and mentally ill prisoners being abused in prison was one of the core issues brought up by Stevenson in Just Mercy. Stevenson addresses these issues by showing examples in his book and provoking feeling out of the reader. Reading some of the examples of children like Trina, made me want to help change the way the system works and make a difference. Children, even if they committed a crime, should not be sent to adult prisons where they are at risk for abuse. When they are sent to adult prisons, they are sometimes put in solitary confinement, which is meant for punishment in prison, not for children who are scared. This was the case for one child Stevenson discusses, Ian Manuel, (Just Mercy, pg. 151-154) who was convicted at age thirteen and sentenced to life in prison and sent to an adult prison. He spent eighteen years, uninterrupted in solitary confinement for his “safety” from adult prisoners. (Just Mercy, pg. 151-154). Imagine the mental state this child was in being confined for eighteen years with little human contact. This happens to many children who are sent to adult prisons, and if they are not in solitary confinement, they are at risk for abuse from the adult prisoners.
When it comes to the issues of children in adult prisons, I believe something needs to be done. Stevenson addresses these issues in his work he does for prisoners that are behind bars for crimes they committed as juveniles. “the incongruity of not allowing children to smoke, drink, vote . . . because of their well-recognized lack of maturing and judgment while simultaneously treating some of the most at-risk, neglected, and impaired children exactly the same as full-grown adults in the criminal justice system.” (Stevenson). This quote by Stevenson explains his views on children in adult prisons perfectly. Why do we treat children the same way as adults when it comes to the criminal justice system?
Out of all the issues addressed in Just Mercy the worst is the abuse of children and the mentally ill in prison. This has gone on as long as children have been able to be sentenced to adult prisons. Not much is done to protect these children or the mentally disabled. The way juveniles are tried in court is one thing that needs to change. The procedures for children who commit violent crimes needs to be reevaluated. Many of Alabama’s policies need to be improved. Out of all the states that still allow the death penalty, only Alabama and Florida give the judge the right to override the jury’s decision and recommend the death penalty. These types of policies need to be changed.
Overall Just Mercy addresses many issues through Stevenson’s work. Stevenson shows how he is fighting for civil and human rights of the prisoners in Alabama and for the policies that need changing. With people like Stevenson working to change the way the system is, the system in Alabama is slowly improving. The Equal Justice Initiative has made a difference in Alabama and will continue to make a difference with Stevenson.
Just Mercy by Bryan Stevenson: Mercy is the Best Way to Treat People
A Problem with the American Justice System
Just Mercy is Bryan Stevenson’s personal record of his career as, essentially, a guardian (more specifically, a legal aid) to those discriminated against by the law. Off the bat, readers are informed about his history briefly, and we learn his motives behind going into this area of study. I found it oddly endearing that his grandmother was one of the main reasons he found his interest – she constantly educated him on the struggle for equality, as we learn she was the daughter of slaves in Virginia. Right away, I knew this book was going to be extremely swaying, as Stevenson has such a personal account in the matter. The fact that he cared so deeply for his grandmother obviously played a huge part in his empathy for the victims of unfair incarceration, and victims of discrimination overall.
The main point Stevenson communicates throughout the book is the fact that there is a problem with the American justice system. He believed it vilified certain marginalized groups, i.e. African Americans, while barely punishing others, i.e. White people. From the stories he describes, it’s hard not to feel the same way. Although this is a memoir of many pain-filled stories, I found relief in the fact that they do stem from a greater good. Stevenson was able to meet all these people through the foundation of the Equal Justice Initiative he started with his friend Eva Ansley in Alabama. The program was what allowed Stevenson to speak up for all these men and women victimized by the justice system.
There is an assortment of “victims” he uses as examples throughout the book, all being falsely sentenced of their crimes or just harshly punished. One person’s story, however, is the central story told of the book, taking about half of the book just to tell. Walter McMillian was a Black man accused of murdering a White woman, Vickie Pittman. We learn that Walter is a somewhat “American Dream” story – he was born into a poor family but eventually became very successful as an adult. I think this is part of what makes McMillian’s story so compelling to me; he had overcome all the adversity faced to him as a child growing up in these conditions, and he still got unfairly treated in the end by the legal system.
Ralph Myer’s story was completely contradictory to McMillian’s – in fact, he’s the man who made the false accusation sending McMillian to death row. I found his story very tough to understand emotionally because part of me despised him for almost ending another man’s life so easily. However, as I read on further I started to have more and more empathy for him. After learning how much environmental interactions can influence adult behaviors, I couldn’t help but almost sympathize with Myer. He was born to a poor socioeconomic family, and he suffers from psychological problems stemming from past trauma. He’s initially also convicted for the murder of Miss Pittman, and that’s when he falsely accuses McMillian of it.
I start to feel empathy for him once I realized how much he tries to take back his statement. I have always been a firm believer in allowing people the grace to make up for their mistakes, no matter how bad they may seem. I became so frustrated reading how difficult the justice department made it for Myers to, essentially, do the right thing! To me, this is where the evidence of this racial disparity in the system really came to light. It seemed that the law would rather have a Black, easily victimized man go to jail for a crime he didn’t commit, than spend the resources and time to find the true offender.
Eventually, Myers is assisted by Stevenson’s foundation, EJI, and is able to retract his statement, exonerating McMillian from his death row sentencing (which seemed to go on forever, at least how Stevenson described). I was honestly terrified to read the end of this first section, I didn’t think I could handle the story ending in McMillian’s unfair death. As corny as it may be, I felt myself release an actual breath of relief finding out he was acquited from his death row sentencing, as I’m sure many other readers did too.
While there was a lot more information Stevenson covered in this book, I found the personal victim accounts the most gripping, and the most intriguing. Apart from the actual victim accounts, though, he explores a lot surrounding the underlying racial inequalities still present in modern-day America and our justice system. I found the ending quite beautiful; Stevenson’s description of McMillian’s eventual death and funeral. This is where I really understood how much McMillian impacted Stevenson’s entire worldview. Stevenson basically concludes the book with a simple statement about how there is always room for positive transformation, and immediate punishment is not always the way. Mercy, just mercy can be the best way to treat even the evilest seeming people.
Unfairness in the Justice System in Just Mercy by Bryan Stevenson
The novel, Just Mercy, by Bryan Stevenson is his detailed narrative as a legal advocate for wrongly convicted and harshly sentenced individuals, particularly minorities. The book mainly focuses on the organization Steverson was co-founder of, “The Equal Justice Initiative” and Walter McMillian, a black man wrongfully accused of murder and put on death row in Alabama in the late 1980’s. McMillian was a successful businessman who lost his reputation after an affair with a white woman named Karen Kelly. Karen was involved in criminal activities with Ralph Myers, a mentally unstable white man who accused “Karen Black Boyfriend” of Ronda Morrison, a beloved local woman who was killed. Just Mercy really impacted me, unfairness in the justice system the predominance of racial minorities in jails and prisons suggests systemic bias. This book aggregates and personalizes the struggle against injustice in minorities.
The message of this book, hammered home by dramatic, I myself im a minority as Hispanic female and had family members that were affected with the unfairness in the justice system. I recently had an uncle that was deported to The Dominican Republic after being unfairly accused of sexual accusations that occurred about 5 years ago. After 5 years,the accuser recanted, however, nothing but anger and sadness to my family due to the fact that my uncle was not guilty, but due to how the justice system works he was claimed guilty for it all. Just like McMillian my uncle left behind his three kids and wife by themselves.
Unfairness in the Justice System is still happening to this day, just the other day Rodney Reed an African American convicted murderer who was sentenced to death for the abduction, rape and strangulation of Stacey Stites a white women on April 23, 1996, he was on Texas death row since 1998. The only evidence presented was the sperm collected from inside her, and the DNA was tested against Reed. Reed and Stites had an affair and the two had sex just days before Stites was found dead, which explains the DNA found inside her. Thanks to massive pressure, the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals ordered an indefinite stay of execution of Rodney. With this being said, just like the situation with my uncle, and McMillian, he was being accused for actions being done to white women without enough incriminating evidence.
Some of the legal topics in the book reminded me of a legal concept we discussed in class. One in particular was the Intentional Torts that can be described as the defamation of character which is what Ralph did to Walter when he was innocent. Also after Ralph accused Walter of the murder of a town racist sheriff persued Walters conviction and even suppressed evidence and bribed witnesses into false testimony. To sum it all up, it is obvious that “Just Mercy” presented a lot of the issues that are currently happening in this generation, racism is something that we are still fighting even though some people think that it ended decades ago.
Racial Police Brutality in Just Mercy by Bryan Stevenson
In his book Just Mercy, Bryan Stevenson tells the reader short stories about the cruelties he has witnessed as well as the cruelties his clients have encountered. Stevenson discusses many troubling stories about police brutality as well as inmates on death row that he has helped. In his book, Stevenson talks about the first inmate that he meets on death row and his encounter with him, and by introducing this story he gives a part of his personal experience and ends the story by telling the reader how the guard put the handcuffs extra tight on the inmate. Bryan Stevenson seems like a person that is dedicated to his job and looks forward to his work because he genuinely likes helping people.
Becoming an Attorney
In his book, Stevenson explains to the reader that he didn’t have much of a plan when he was in college and explains that he was a philosophy major, but wasn’t sure what his life would be like except that it would have to do with the lives of the poor. Post-graduation Stevenson realized that most advanced degrees require certain prerequisites while law school didn’t have any, so he decided to attend law school at Harvard. He later took an internship in Georgia dealing with a man on death row and decided that becoming an attorney was the way to go. All this information is in Stevenson’s book Just Mercy, but why did Stevenson decide to write this book? Stevenson wrote Just Mercy in a bibliography format, but he wrote his book with the intent to raise awareness of racial police brutality and to look for an end to it.
Throughout his book, Stevenson tells several stories about his encounters with inmates and police officers as well as some of the cases he took on during his career, but they all tend to have the same object. He wants to raise the emotion of the reader and depending on where he is heading next in his book he will determine what type of emotion he wants the reader to experience. In chapter 1 Stevenson talks about Walter McMillian one of his clients who against all odds was working for himself and was respected by many white people in his town which at the time was very uncommon. However, Walter made the mistake of adultery and that ruined his reputation around town and eventually implicated him in a crime he didn’t commit. The end of chapter one is summed up by saying, “But there was no evidence against McMillan-no evidence except that he was an African American man involved in an adulterous interracial affair, which meant he was reckless and possibly dangerous.” (Stevenson 34)
What Stevenson is saying is that because McMillan was involved in an adulterous interracial affair that was enough to convict him of a murder. The townspeople were pressuring the police to find the murder of the Morrison case and with that, the police found McMillan guilty of murder. Although, the man providing the information had sent them on a wild chase that resulted in nothing, and had proven that he didn’t even know what McMillan looked like. Furthermore, there was no evidence to prove the ridiculous theory that the police were looking in to. Stevenson told this story to set the mood for the book as the reader I felt an emotion of anger because I don’t think that just because you were involved in an act of adulterous interracial affair you should be condemned on murder. Stevenson decides to continue to enrage the reader as he proceeds on to chapter 2 by talking about another one of his clients.
As Stevenson is talking about his life he brings up this recent case he has just received, “The parents of a black teenager who had been shot and killed by police.” (Stevenson 38) When he writes about this he is attempting to appeal to the emotions of the reader because he wants the reader to be mad about what is going on with police brutality towards African Americans. Stevenson explains that the teenage boy had just gotten his license and ran a red light, so he was pulled over by a police officer. The teenage boy very nervously reached into his bag for his license but was shot by the police officer because he thought he was reaching for a weapon. The way Stevenson writes this is very effective because when I read this part it really upset me and infuriated me at the same time. As I read the book I found it clear that Stevenson wanted to bring out these types of emotions in the reader, so that the reader would fully understand why racial police brutality is an issue.
Letting into His Personal Life
From the very beginning, in Stevenson’s introduction, he lets you into his personal life as he talks to you about the time he was in school. He lets the reader into his life by telling us exactly what he was thinking, “Not long after I started classes at Harvard I began to worry I’d made the wrong choice.” (Stevenson 4) Lawyers are very confident people, so I don’t think any lawyer would tell you that they doubted themselves while in law school.
After this Stevenson goes on to reveal more information about his personal life to gain the trust of the reader so that he can later ask them to be a good ethical person. Stevenson continues to talk about his early years of law school and then he asks the reader to be a good ethical person. He says, “He looked immediately familiar to me, like everyone I’d grown up with, friends from school, people I played sport or music with, someone I’d talk to on the streets about the weather.” (Stevenson 9)
Although, Stevenson doesn’t ask you in written to trust this man because you should be a good person or an ethical one he does ask you. He describes this man as a regular person who you could know in your life because he seems like a friend or a very approachable person. This being despite that he is on the death row for a crime he was convicted of. Now for Stevenson to be able to do this he had to earn your trust which is why at the beginning of the introduction he opened himself up to the reader and shared personal information. Stevenson lets the reader into his life very early on, so that in later chapters he can ask the reader to trust him and persuade the reader to make an ethical decision.
Throughout his book, Stevenson talks about his cases and tends to through in facts so that he can assure the reader that what they are reading is the truth and to strengthen his argument. For example, Stevenson is talking about the McMillian, “The legislator shall never pass any law to authorize or legalize any marriage between any white person and a Negro or descendant of a Negro.” (Stevenson 29) Since the McMillian case was basically breaking that law he thought it would be important to include this fact to show that although this seems like a ridiculous law it was in fact real. Stevenson also includes that Alabama didn’t remove this ban until 2000 when it received enough votes to have it placed on a ballet and have it removed.
I myself did not know about that ban so when he wrote about it I was a bit skeptical but as I continued reading and he provided facts about it I realized it to be true and that it was something very serious. As Stevenson begins to build up his argument about how police officers tend to respond differently to a typical call depending on the race of the suspect he includes facts to strengthen his argument. Stevenson writes, “I found that Bureau of Justice statistics reporting that black men were eight times more likely to be killed by the police than whites.” (Stevenson 43) This shows that the argument that Stevenson was beginning to formulate was very accurate, so by adding this fact it strengthened his overall argument. Also, he tells the reader that he got it from the Bureau of Justice and not just some website that he found online. By showing the reader that he got this fact from a credible source show that Stevenson did his research before throwing around claims that might not be true.
Overall, I strongly feel that Bryan Stevenson wrote his book Just Mercy because he wanted to raise awareness of racial police brutality and in hopes that people would learn to take this seriously and find a way to stop it. In a recent interview, Stevenson is asked, “Do we need to more actively address the full truth about racial inequality in the justice system? How can we begin to do this?” to which he responded with, “I do believe we have a history of racial injustice in this country that we have failed to address or to discuss adequately.” (Seaman 9) This shows us that Stevenson does feel that racial police brutality is an issue in the United States and it needs to be resolved. Which suggest that Stevenson may have written Just Mercy to talk about police brutality towards African Americans.
However, I am not the only one to think that this could be the purpose of this book, “More than a memoir, Stevenson’s book provides a vivid picture of the systemic injustice that often persists in the administration of criminal justice, particularly in the South.” (Berry III 331) William W. Berry III wrote a book review about Stevenson’s book Just Mercy talks about the corruption throughout the justice system. Berry is saying that the book outlines a lot of the problems with the justice system and how it is unfair towards African Americans. I fully agree with his claims because I also feel that Just Mercy was written to bring attention to racial police brutality.
Problems Presented in “Just Mercy”
In the first case presented in Just Mercy, we can already see how difficult it is for trials to be reevaluated even if they are flagrant examples of injustice. Many of the people also held extreme bias toward convicted prisoners. Before reading Just Mercy I probably would have agreed that convicted prisoners did not deserve an appeal or another trial. I did not really think about how easy it would be for an easy or vulnerable target to have an unjust ruling. The people who hold the bias not only are like me and are just ignorant toward the plight of the prisoners, but some could care less. They think that whether or not they deserve their punishment is irrelevant and to keep the system running smoothly that there needs to be as many executions as quickly as possible. This is especially since many of the unfairly convicted are some type of minority whether by race, gender, or social status. You can also see that many of the officials were aggravated by Stevenson’s attempts to rectify any of the unjust cases. This causing an interruption in what they think should be a smooth, simple process. In addition to reduce the likelihood of someone like Stevenson trying to retry a case by prompting witnesses to give a false testimony and give the defense an even more narrow ledge to stand on. Another way that trials are falsified is by allowing biased juries to serve. In many of the cases mentioned the juries have the potential to have a racial bias. This is because many lawyers would strike any of the black jurors from serving so that they would have an all or mostly white jury trying a black person. Or in Marsha’s case “numerous jurors announced they could not be impartial toward Mrs. Colby” (just mercy, 235). This shows the lack of regard for fairness in a trial. The fact that prosecution lawyers could get rid of most or all the black jurors and allow biased juries to serve was very surprising to me. Especially since they could this unchecked or stopped by anyone. Because I have never had any experience with criminal court I had the preconceived notion that trials were held fairly and there were checks in place to make sure that both sides were fair. Another thing that was surprising was the ability of false experts to testify without having to prove their qualifications. In a case like George’s case where he was reviewed by a false expert. The supposed expert had lied about his qualifications and had deemed people of sound mental state even when they clearly were not. “There are likely hundreds of other people after an evaluation by ‘Dr. Seger’ whose convictions have never been reviewed.” (191). This is just another flagrant example of a flawed justice system, it hurts some of the people who need help the most. Furthermore, even if a case is reviewed and the person deemed not guilty there is very limited support and money as reparations. In Just Mercy Stevenson explicitly states, “Most people released from prison after being proved innocent receive no money, no assistance, no counseling- nothing from the state that wrongly imprisoned them.” (244). Even after going through such an ordeal they are still denied help and any sort of reparations. These different ways that the justice system itself and the officials who help run it show that their needs to be change. There needs to be more regulations of what happens in the court room and how trials are run.
In Just Mercy nearly all the juvenile cases mentioned shocked me. The juvenile system seemed to harm the children that had to go before it, giving them harsher sentences than an adult would have to endure. The juvenile system allowed children to be tried as adults and put in adult prisons. In cases like Trina’s where she had a long and troubling history of being raped, abused, homeless, and having frequent stints in a hospital due to mental problems. She was extremely lonely and she and a friend decided to go see some boys that their mother had forbidden them from seeing her. She broke into the house and accidentally started a fire. The two boys died from suffocation from smoke. Trina was tried as an adult and put in an adult prison. Once she was there as an already damaged and traumatized child she was raped by a prison guard. She got pregnant and had her child taken from her. I felt horribly for her because she had a life full of struggle and because of her poor mental health and loneliness she made a poor choice. And in lieu of that decision the one system in place to try and protect her just destroyed her further. This is not the only case of the juvenile justice system harming the children that come into it. Another case where a little boy was put into an adult prison and raped as well. I did feel less sympathetic toward his case since he made the decision to murder his mother’s abusive boyfriend. I did however feel sympathy for the situation he was in, he had to live with someone who abused his mother frequently and there was nothing he could do. So, by the juvenile justice system allowing another broken child to be put in a situation where they would be completely vulnerable is a huge problem. The system is supposed to protect minors and even when it tries to do so it still causes harm in another way. In Ian’s case he was sentenced to life in prison for a non-fatal crime. At the beginning of this case I felt little sympathy for Ian in the fact that he made a choice to commit an armed robbery and ended up shooting her in the face. But at the end after learning he was sentenced to life in prison and put in solitary I became extremely sympathetic. He was placed in solitary because they did not want to put him into a situation where he would be around other prisoners. The idea had the right intent but ended up causing him to harm himself and have intense depression. This is because he would go days deprived of talking to another human being. He had meals given to him through a flap. This just goes to show how unjust a sentenced for life in prison without parole is for a minor. This is a problem as well as the fact that children can be sentenced to death. In Just Mercy Stevenson brings up the case of a little boy named George. He was arrested for the murder and rape of two little white girls. There was no evidence that he was the murderer. He was only convicted because he was the last person to see the girls alive. He was sentenced to death. In Just Mercy Stevenson describes him as “small even for his age five foot two, ninety-two-pound Stinney walked up to the chair with a bible in his hand. He had to sit on the book when prison staff couldn’t find the electrodes to fit his small frame.” (158). This makes George even more of a pitiable kid, not only was he terrified with no family present and falsely accused, but he was sentenced to death at fourteen years old. Therefore, I agree with Stevenson and his support for the supreme court decisions to allow parole for minors and to have the death sentence be deemed cruel and unusual punishment.
A common theme in many unjust cases is that they are poorly represented by state appointed lawyers. The lawyers generally do not prepare or research their client’s past. This is because the lawyers can generally only earn $1,000. Thus, causing most of the lawyers to nit represent their clients well. One outstanding example of poor representation is Daniel’s case where his lawyers not only did not look at his history, but they filed a civil suit against each other. His mother offered the lawyers his most recent paycheck to use as evidence of his mental illness and they cashed it. They ended up providing no defense for George Daniel and he ended up being sentenced to death. Furthermore, when state appointed lawyers fail to represent their client they leave an already disenfranchised person in an even more difficult situation. This is because the people who need the state representation are ones who cannot afford another lawyer, and that could be for a multitude of reasons. This is another situation where Trina was failed, her lawyer presented no evidence of her troubled past. She had been abused, raped, and homeless for her entire childhood. The lawyer representing her did not bring this up in court and she was given life in prison. Lastly Avery’s case was very similar to Trina’s, he had been abused and abandoned by foster home parents, his really parents had died by the time he was one. He began to abuse drugs at a young age. This was on top of the fact that he already had severe mental handicaps and brain tissue damage. Just like Trina he was convicted without having any defense that spoke to his motives. Neither Trina nor Avery meant any harm by their crime but were both convicted to the highest stature possible. Once in prison both Trina and Avery suffered from seizures and other sorts of problems and were shown no leniency even though it was clear they were both ill. By having virtually no defense it makes it so that these people are unfairly prosecuted. All in all, by lawyers not feeling that they are being paid fairly for the work and amount of preparation they needed to do causes already vulnerable people to be even more so. The lawyers spend more time fighting for the money or just do not do anything and take the money anyway. By not giving any testament to the reasoning behind their actions the lawyers are just condemning their clients to an unfavorable outcome. There needs to be either a higher wage for government hired defense lawyers or more checks on if they are doing their job in representing their clients accurately and giving them the best chance for a good outcome.
Just Mercy changed my opinion on how women are treated in the criminal and prison systems. I did not realize exactly how vulnerable women in these systems are. Stevenson explicitly says, “most women on death row are awaiting execution for a family crime involving an allegation of child abuse or domestic violence involving a male partner.” (231). This shows how women are being harshly prosecuted for more minor offenses. Another example is a woman who was sentenced to ten years in prison for overdrawing her bank account so she could buy toys for her children. Another phenomenon that causes problems for many women is the “bad moms” (233). Many people were trying to find and prosecute what they deemed to be “bad moms”. This made it so women who had stillborn babies had their neighbors poking around in their private life and causing women to be at risk of being arrested. This is because even when women would have stillborn babies there was a chance that a false expert would claim that they were not stillborn. This would cause these women to be prosecuted on murder charges because their child is under 14. I think that this trend is awful. The idea is that they are helping children in bad situations but instead what they are doing is taking a mother away from any other children she has and prosecuting her, many times falsely. By removing a mother from her children, the children are left further unprotected. If there is no father to take care of them the children could end up in more dangerous situations or foster care. This is also in addition to the fact that women could be sent to prison for using drugs or drinking during a pregnancy. This is because it created a dangerous situation for the unborn child. Even so once convicted women are placed in an extremely dangerous situation, in Just Mercy Stevenson discuses, “The male warden allowed the male guards into the showers during prison counts. Officers leered at naked women and made crude comments and suggestive threats.” (238). This opens women up to sexual assault and further harassments. It is also mentioned that the guards are allowed into the bathrooms and there would many occurrences of a woman being raped. These stories are horrifying, these women being arrested for such minor offenses and being forced to leave their children alone. In the book it did not appear to be one of Stevenson’s main focuses and I feel that these women need to be given more help. The justice system is supposed to help protect citizens not to open them up to further harm. This is another instance where there is damage being done. Stevenson does mention that there is a reform and male guards are no longer allowed in the bathroom area, but I feel that more needs to be done to protect the women that fall under that jurisdiction.
Many of the people put in prison are those who suffer from mental impairments. In Just Mercy, Stevenson includes “Today, over 50% of prison and jail inmates in the United States have a diagnosed mental illness”. (188). This shows you how prisons are being treated as a place to throw those who do not blend well in society. Of those people with mental illnesses there is a large population of them who committed horrific crimes without being aware they were. For example, in Avery’s case he was convicted of murder after he, in a state of hallucination, stabbed a man to death. Another case is George’s case, he wandered around into people’s houses until the police were called. Once called George got into a fight with the police and ended up denotating a police gun. In both Avery’s and George’s case they were convicted and given the death penalty. This is because many of the people with mental disabilities did not have adequate representation and ended up at the mercy of the court. Prison life once convicted as well is extremely difficult. There are many rules and regulations put forth that made it exceptionally difficult for these people to survive. One such rule is that prisoners must have their hands cuffed before having anyone enter their cell. For prisoners who have seizures or any type of psychotic episode they cannot get the help need because they cannot put out their arms to have them handcuffed. I feel that there needs to be more protection for people in the system with mental illnesses. Stevenson says that there are more and more laws being enacted to protect them. There was a ruling that deemed it cruel and unusual to give the death sentence to people with mental illnesses. Though there should be further help for those in prison.