Wednesday, November 26, 2014
Just Mercy by Bryan Stevenson
Just Mercy is an account of how the justice system in America is broken. It's grounded through the story of Walter McMillian, a man who spent 6 years on the death row for a murder he didn't commit. Interspersed are the different cases that Bryan Stevenson was also taking at that time, from young children locked up in jail with adults to adults with mental disabilities being ignored and untreated.
Since Walter McMillian's case is what anchors the book (I think it's one of the first cases the author undertook), I want to talk about a bit more. In Alabama in the 1980s, a young woman was killed. That's terrible, but what's worse is that the law enforcement officials ignored evidence and pressured people to lie in order to put Walter McMillian in jail. Why? Because they wanted him as a suspect. He already had a bad rap from having an affair with a white woman (Walter McMillian is African American), and he was the easiest target. So instead of doing police work, they framed an innocent guy, then spent a lot of time and money making sure he stayed in jail. If only they spent that much effort on actually finding the murderer.
Adding to the irony is that Alabama was trying to use To Kill a Mockingbird to drum up some tourism money. I think everyone is aware, but To Kill a Mockingbird very specifically address the issue of racial bias. And yet, while they were promoting themselves using the book, no one realised that they were doing as much to keep an innocent guy in jail because they didn't like the fact he had an inter-racial relationship.
The other cases in this book, from a 13 year old who was sentenced to life in prison, to a mother who was convicted of murdering a stillborn child will break your heart as well. In fact, if you don't get angry while reading this book, I'd suspect that something is very wrong with you.
Everyone should read this book. Even if you're not an American, I think it works as a cautionary tale. Look at your own country, is there any group being discriminated in the justice system? Are rehabilitation efforts working? And what can be done.
Disclaimer: I received a free copy of this book from the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for a free and honest review. I got emotional on my own accord.