Just Mercy: A Story of Justice and Redemption by Bryan Stevenson
If you have not had a chance to read this book, I highly recommend it (it’s also a movie called “Just Mercy” starring Jamie Foxx and Michael B. Jordan). I have not seen the movie, but the book was truly riveting!
It depicts the true story of Walter McMillian who was wrongly accused of capital murder in 1988 and sentenced to death. Bryan Stevenson, a young Harvard law school graduate who started the Equal Justice Initiative, relentlessly fights to expose the injustices of the system and to exonerate McMillian. It took place in the deep South in Alabama where segregation, marginalization, and racial injustice still flourished. As Stevenson put it, “constantly being suspected, accused, watched, doubted, distrusted, presumed guilty, and even feared is a burden borne by people of color that can’t be understood or confronted without a deeper conversation about our history of racial injustice.” It is such a poignant account of the disparities and injustices existing in a justice system that purports fairness; a heartbreaking story of many who have suffered under an unjust system that enacts excessive punishment, wrongly convicts innocent people, is overrun by abuse of power, does not assist those who are most vulnerable, and limits effective legal counsel for the indigent population.
Sadly, nearly 32 years later, we are seeing some of these same issues resurfacing in our society. Out of fear, self-righteousness, indignation, and vengeance, disruptive racial presumptions arise as does injustice against those who are most vulnerable to these biases. If we truly embraced our own brokenness, perhaps we would then understand the desire for mercy from others and the reciprocal need to show mercy towards those who may be just as broken. The power of mercy is that it is freely given even to the most undeserving. In the book, Stevenson states, “it’s when mercy is least expected that it’s the most potent - strong enough to break the cycle of victimization and victimhood, retribution, and suffering. It has the power to heal the psychic harm and injuries that lead to aggression and violence, abuse of power.” What a wonderful reminder that is! Who are we to condemn others when, we ourselves, are convicted by our own sins and weaknesses? Understanding our brokenness, our shortcomings, our fears, our insecurities, and our weaknesses should remind us to not cast the first stone and to hold back our biases, to become “stone catchers” rather than stone throwers.
This is a beautiful, albeit heartbreaking, story of mercy, redemption, forgiveness, service, grace, kindness, and unconditional love. If you have read it, I would love to hear your perspectives. For those of you who plan on reading it, this entry is not a spoiler alert by any means - there is so much more to the story! :)
***If you have an interest in working with or supporting volunteer programs that seek criminal justice reform or provide assistance to the formerly incarcerated (among other services), please visit Bryan Stevenson's website (the Equal Justice Initiative) at www.eji.org