“Just Mercy” book.
The essence of Just Mercy can be boiled down to three sentences.
- The true measure of our character is how we treat the poor, the disfavored, the accused, the incarcerated, and the condemned.
- Simply punishing the broken only ensures that they remain broken and we do, too.
- Each of us is more than the worst thing we’ve ever done.
“Just Mercy” movie.
The plot is set in 1987. It revolves around young lawyer Stevenson and his history-making battle for justice.
He defends Walter McMillian, who had been wrongly convicted and sentenced to death for murdering an 18-year-old girl.
Stevenson is known, esp because of a TED talk, as a compelling storyteller in public addresses and in the courtroom.
Story about adjudicating a Poor 14 year old like a Privileged 75 y.o.
This is a summary by Marina Bolotnikova of one of the most powerful moments of a recent Stevenson address, similar to his TED talk. It came when he told the story of a client he was representing, a 14-year-old boy who was being tried as an adult.
“We put young children in adult jails and prisons.” [Stevenson says.] And it bothers me because when I go see my clients in jail, and they’re 14 years of age, they are a child.
And I don’t understand this law that has allowed judges to turn young children into adults. I don’t think that’s justice. And sometimes I get frustrated.
And there was a night some years back when I was just overwhelmed by this.
And I started thinking about the power we’ve given to some of our judges, to turn children into adults. And to me, it didn’t make any sense. It almost seemed like we were giving the judge the power to do magic.
“I was up too late, a little sleepy, wasn’t thinking clearly,” he continued. “And I just started thinking, well, you know, if you’re an advocate, you should advocate that the judge use that magic to help your client rather than hurt your client.
I started thinking about that and I got carried away and I wrote this motion—a motion you should never write”:
“Motion to Try My Poor 14-Year-Old Black Male Client Like a Rich 75-Year-Old Privileged Corporate Executive.”
Months later, when [Stevenson] arrived at the court to argue the motion he’d so regretted submitting, an older black man, a janitor for the courthouse, greeted him outside and gave him a hug.
“I’m so proud of you,” the man said.
In the courtroom, the judge demanded of Stevenson, “Did you write this crazy motion?”
As [Stevenson] argued for the motion, “The court was filling up with people angry that I was talking about race and poverty and abuse of power. Before I knew it, the courtroom was filled with people, prosecutors and clerk workers and others in the courthouse who were angry that I was having this argument.”
The janitor paced outside the [court]room and looked in through the window.
Eventually he came in and sat down behind Stevenson.
“During a break, the deputy sheriff saw the older black man, the janitor, in the courtroom, and he got offended. This deputy jumped up and he ran over to this old black man. And he said, ‘Jimmy, what are you doing in this courtroom?’
And that’s when this older man stood up, and he looked at me, and he looked at that deputy, and he said: ‘I came into this courtroom to tell this young man, you keep your eyes on the prize and hold on.’”
The lesson from Stevenson’s story and Just Mercy is that we can tell stories that appeal to our better natures when, like Stevenson, we are willing to take risks, like filing a “crazy courtroom motion.”
Just as I ended my prior blog with an invitation to be introspective, I will end here with a continuation of that invitation below.
This slightly shortened statement about white privilege has reappeared in social media posts since the George Floyd incident.
While I can’t vouch* for the simplifications of every assertion below, it’s clear that privilege is alive and well in the U.S.
I have privilege as a White person because I can do all of these things without thinking twice about it…
I can walk home with Skittles (#TrayvonMartin).
I can party on New Years (#OscarGrant).
I can take out my wallet (#AmadouDiallo).
I can breathe (#EricGarner).
I can ask for help after being in a car crash (#JonathanFerrell and #RenishaMcBride).
I can leave a party to get home safely (#JordanEdwards).
I can play loud music (#JordanDavis).
I can get a normal traffic ticket (#SandraBland).
I can ask a cop a question (#RandyEvans).
I CAN BE ARRESTED WITHOUT THE FEAR OF BEING MURDERED (#GeorgeFloyd).
White privilege is real. Take a minute to consider a Black person’s experience today.
**I can vouch for the illustrations of privilege in the crim justice system that I offer in my forthcoming book, Privileged Killers and Psychopaths among Us.