Just Mercy by Stevenson Bryan
Just Mercy by Stevenson Bryan
Just Mercy by Stevenson Bryan is a story of justice and redemption that explains the hardship that the minority faces in the America justice system. The book gives narrations of some of the encounters that the author has experienced as a lawyer in the past years as he attempt to make positive impacts to those injustices. What draws my attention to this book is that it is based on real life situations that are happening not only in the 20th but also in the 21st century. The author has arranged the book in a chronological order and thus it was easy for me to connect with each and every part of the book while I was reading it. However, by the time I finished it, I had a feeling of disbelief and empathy due to the level of injustice for which I was too blind to perceive it. This paper focuses on the book Just Mercy and my understanding of how race, class and the criminal justice in the United States have helped to reinforce inequality.
Just mercy is an inspirational book based on real life situations in the current justice system in the United States of America. I found the book quite narrative in nature, but it is those narrations that made me perceive the real situation of what justice is to the minorities living in the United States. The book first addresses how the justice system is constructed on the presumption of guilt. Previously, I used to believe that law enforcers use objective methods for identifying who is guilty and who is not (Stevenson 2014). However, this book gave me a new point of view on how the police use discrimination as a factor in determining who is guilty. What I found more amazing is that it is not the police only who use exercise prejudice in determining guilt, but also the magistrates and judges of the American courts.
A good example of the presumptions of guilt is that of Walter McMillan, a black man who was convicted and sentenced to a capital punishment for an alleged murder of a white woman (Stevenson 2014). What I found disturbing is that he had a witness who could testify that he was innocent, but the justice system did not pay any attention to it. Based on my understanding, the victim was sentenced to death penalty, not because he was proven guilty beyond reasonable doubt, but because of his racial minority status. I agree with the author that this is an evidence of racial profiling and class positioning in the American system of justice.
The author writes, “I spent years working to get McMillan a new trial, which at last was granted by Alabama Court of Appeal” (Stevenson 2014:128). It was an unbelievable act of the judicial system. Based on my understanding of exercising justice, I would expect the court to consider all the outstanding factors before making a final judgement. By accepting a new trial, it shows that the system of justice had admitted that it has made a mistake and was not objective when sentencing McMillan to a death penalty. Another case of injustice system is the new case proceeding. On the second day of the trial the court was fully packed with white people who opposed victims innocence (Stevenson 2014). It was a move of intimidation by the judicial system to the minority. As I read through the entire event that occurred on the new trial, I observed that there was no wellness even among the judges in exercising proper justice to the accused.
I also found it very unfair that the American judicial system could incriminate and prosecute all those who were poor and have a minority status in the US (Stevenson 2014). Sometimes, what racial background does a person have does not play a role, but the American justice system seems to pay attention to the socioeconomic status of an individual. Those who are rich receive a fair treatment and are even sometimes favoured by the justice system. However, those who are poor are often discriminated by the system. The worst case for an individual standing before the justice system is when a person is poor and has a minority status.. Even the laws of the states are often violated in order to ensure that those individual suffer the consequences.
An example of law violation in which the poor minority people suffer the consequence was the case of Charlies. “Charlies was just aged 14 years when he was sentenced to a death penalty” (Stevenson 2014:116). What is so moving in this case is that this young boy was tried in adult courts, yet he was only a juvenile. “By the time I visited Charlie, he was in shock; the young boy had been placed in adult jail and had been sexually abused by several inmates” (Stevenson 2014:119). This situation was completely unjust from my point of view. The boy initially acted to protect his mother, but this desperate act resulted in him standing before the unfair justice system that he could not even understand.
The book is a clear reflection of the American system of justice because even some of my personal experiences have been in line with the narrations found in Just Mercy. One of the incidences that I can remember vividly occurred some years back in my neighbourhood. It was on a local basketball pitch where a violent situation has happened during a game. Several people were injured, and even one person was hospitalised, as he had been stabbed in that incident. When the police began the investigation to find those who were responsible for the conflict and the injuries, they came to our area and arrested several African American, Latino and poor whites, who were regarded as notorious. These individuals were vulnerable as the police relied on prejudicial views and class statutes to determine their guiltiness.
The above case proved the existence of biases in the justice system; some of those who were convicted were not even present in the discussed event. Despite the fact that they were charged for a minor claim and later realised on fines and other less severe punishments, it was unjust that they had to even encounter all of the accusations. In connection to the Stevensons book, I believe that the police acted in a discriminatory manner as they did not want to spend much time investigation and because they knew that the judicial system was also racially biased and thus there were no consequences for their actions.
I agree with Bryan Stevenson that “the American justice system is made up of racial bias, class positioning, political dynamics, presumptions of guilt and other social stratification that discriminates many innocents American citizens” (Stevenson 2014: 3). Some statistics demonstrate that 60% of all the prisoners in the United States are people of colour, yet they make up only 30% of the countrys population. Statistics on American justice system also illustrate that people of color receive more severe punishments than whites. Also, prisons are made up of mostly poor people, with a rare presence of rich individuals. If the justice system in the America was fair to everyone, then why would there be a strong discrepancy in the share of inmates in prisons and their share in the country?
In conclusion, the above reflection, based on the book Just Mercy, analyses how race, class position and criminal justice in the United States has helped to reinforce inequality. The presumptions of guilt, breaking the law, racial profiling and poverty have been some of the phenomena that I have identified as key factors of unjust judicial system. My personal experience with a case of neighbourhood violence reinforces the arguments about how prejudice is exercise across the American justice system, both by law enforcers the judiciary. The conclusion of the paper is that there are inequalities in the American justice system as there is a very unequal distribution of inmates in American correctional facilities.