By Stacey Ramirez
Web Content Contributor
Every year, Texas State University announces a new theme for its Common Experience initiative, and with it a book that embodies that theme. For the 2017- 2018 year the theme was “The Search for Justice: Our Response to Crime in the 21st Century” and the book chosen was Just Mercy: A Story of Justice and Redemption by Bryan Stevenson. Right now, I think there is no better time to read this book.
The Black Lives Matter movement is becoming a bigger focus for many after the series of police brutality cases and attacks on Black civilians, most notably the murder of George Floyd at the knee of a police officer captured on video that was shared all over the world. Now more than ever it is important to understand the movement and its cause.
There are many ways to be involved: petitions have been swirling around social media, protests have taken place in all 50 states and donations are being accepted by organizations to help with legal assistance. But another way to be involved is to educate yourself on the subject and its history.
I first read this book fall 2017 because it was a required reading, but I realized this book was more than just an assignment I had to read for a class. This book was a lesson about the injustice the Black community faces still to this day.
The first thing to keep in mind when reading this book is that it’s not a work of fiction. It’s a memoir written from the point of view of the author Bryan Stevenson and his real accounts about court cases he represented during his career as a lawyer. Stevenson uses his own reflection growing up and what he witnesses while working these cases to narrate his memoir.
The book takes place in Alabama during the 1980s. It tells the story of African American lawyer Bryan Stevenson who found the Equal Justice Initiative, a nonprofit representing those who had trouble affording legal help.
The book covers different cases, but the main forces is one individual, Walter McMillian, an African American man wrongly accused of murdering Ronda Morrison, a white woman, and as a result is sentenced to death penalty.
Stevenson goes on a mission to prove McMillian’s innocence and investigates the evidence, testimonies and witnesses which all point to McMillian innocence. Stevenson also reveals the corruption within authorities who were responsible. Stevenson uncovers that the authorities involved in Walter’s conviction bribed, corrupted evidence and gave false testimonies, all to frame McMillian for the crime he didn’t commit, and all because of racial discrimination.
As a result, Stevenson tries to appeal to the local court but again, because of corruption and racism, he is denied a retrial. But, with enough media attention and support, he was able to present the case to the Supreme Court.
Along the way Stevenson also works on other cases involving other African Americans. These individuals include women and minors who are innocent and were forced into difficult life situations because of systemic racism, which often causes a lack of health and safety resources.
But even with all evidence and justifications many of them still face harsh punishments and death row because of the unjust treatment of minorities in the legal system.
This book provided a better understanding of the corruption and racism that still takes place today. It will make readers realize how many Black lives have been lost and ruined because of racism.
For me, this book made me consider changing my major to law my freshman year. But even if we don’t all become lawyers someday, this book and many others, along with the efforts of the Black Lives Matter movement, have shown us there are other ways to be an ally, and it can begin with educating yourself.
Just Mercy was adapted to a movie and released in 2019. The film stars actor Michael B. Jordan. It’s currently available to stream on Redbox until June 29, 2020. Although I have not seen the film yet, I cannot recommend this book enough.
Featured image by Stacey Ramirez.