Critical Reflection On The Book Just Mercy By Bryan Stevenson

Just Mercy by Bryan Stevenson shines a light on the themes focusing on resistance, oppression, dehumanization, media, and lastly public opinion. Stevenson’s main idea is that everyone is capable of making mistakes, at some point or another, everyone will need to be granted compassion. Just Mercy mainly focuses on the relationship between Walter McMillian, an African American pulpwood worker from Monroeville, Alabama, and Bryan Stevenson, the author, narrator, activist, and lawyer representing wrongfully accused inmates. Before I begin on their relationship let me begin on how Stevenson became so interested in the work he does now.

Stevenson was born in Delaware, to a poor black family. He grew up always questioning the inequality of race and economic standards he had seen in his community. Stevenson begins interning at the Southern Prisoners Defense Committee (SPDC) while beginning Harvard Law School. The director of the organization, Steve Bright and Stevenson becomes good friends along their journey to help the inmates. Stevenson didn’t know what major he was going to study at school until interning at the SPDC, and after meeting Henry, a death row inmate. Henry is the same age as Stevenson and has a wife and kids. Stevenson notices how warm and kind he is, and they become friends. When meeting Henry, Stevenson realizes his desire for prison justice and for fighting against the death penalty. When Stevenson finishes Harvard Law School he eventually goes back to Alabama to work for SPDC full time. While in Alabama, Stevenson eventually found the Equal Justice Initiative (EJI). He also happens to find Walter McMillian's case to be very interesting. Walter, a successful black man from a poor community with a wife and five children, lost his status after having an affair with a white woman named, Karen Kelly. During Walters affair, there was a murder that stunned the town, the murder of a white woman named Ronda Morrison. Morrison was local to the town, so this did not put people at ease. The murder of Ronda Morrison is the reason why Walter is in prison. He was wrongly accused by one of Karen Kelly’s friends named Ralph Myers. Myers is a mentally unstable white man. He and Kelly were involved in criminal activity together. Once the racist local sheriff heard about the accusation, he began to tell the District Attorney and some investigators to convict Walter. All together they tried to destroy the evidence, bribe the witnesses, and force Myers to testify even after he tried to withdraw his statement. Walter, sadly, is convicted of murder and sentenced to death. The reason why Stevenson became so interested in Walter’s case. It was because Walter had been connected with the EJI. Throughout the next few years, Stevenson and his associates carried out a retrial, a direct appeal and a post-conviction appeal on Walter’s behalf. His family and the black community, in Monroeville, begin to support Walter and feel the pain of his wrongful conviction, and death sentence. In the process, Stevenson also uncovers a lot of new evidence in the case and finds a track of racial discrimination, political corruption, and a history of suffering. Later on, Ralph Myers comes back recovered and also feeling guilty that he gives a new testimony. Discovering more evidence, and more bribes. Officials and the white community are starting to become angrier and angrier. EJI offices are threatened with bombs but are persistent and continue their work. After all the hard work Walter is finally released after six years on death row.

Just Mercy draws attention to the significance of resistance to unfair situations. For example, the cruelty of American Court Systems had against marginalized communities. The American Court Systems in this period weren’t fair, at all. So the American Court System would look at these marginalized communities and think that they aren’t worthy of their time. Regardless, Stevenson was dedicated to the power of resistance and lead to a change for those marginalized communities, overall. The Southern Prisoners Defense Fund (SPDC) and the Equal Justice Initiative (EJI) have created change in the American legal perspective on behalf of those who have been wrongly accused or sentenced. This shows that Stevenson was very dedicated to these types of cases, and people. He does everything he can to bring justice to all marginalized communities. Even though Stevenson and his colleagues have won a lot of cases, they’ve also experienced a ton of setbacks, frustration, and grief in the process of their work.

Another theme is media and public opinion. This book shows how media influences the knowledge and opinions of its consumers. The media at times would tell a story, completely different from what is happening, to convince their viewers to see the situation in either a good way or in a bad way. And once that is done the public’s opinion of anything concerning serious issues are transformed, especially when it comes to criminal justice. The public, in general, has to remember that the media is just putting out the best and/or worst news stories out there that excites people or gets them interested. It’s not fair that the media shapes who these inmates are. For example, in the book, the media states that Walter is guilty of the murder of Ronda Morrison, even before his trial. This coverage influences the Jury to convict Walter of the crime and sentence him to the death penalty.

All Americans should be treated fairly, whether you are African American, a woman, the poor or the disabled. Favoring one group over there marginalized group creates a system that is aimed for disaster. By vouching for people and groups who have a lot of power, the criminal justice system maintains a cycle of vulnerability, poverty, and racial inequality in the United States. We all have rights as humans to be equally treated by one another. In the book, Stevenson talks about most of his clients but focuses on Walter McMillian. McMillian's case was in the book to help demonstrate the various ways in which the legal system can intentionally fail those who are convicted.

In conclusion, Just Mercy by Bryan Stevenson showed an audience that to have justice you have to have mercy. Stevenson delivers in this book written, and narrated by him, a touching performance that focuses on oppression, dehumanization, media, public’s opinion, and lastly, resistance. I am glad I’ve been able to read it. 

16 December 2021
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