Just Mercy, Bryan Stevenson

JUST MERCY: A story of Justice and Redemption, Bryan Stevenson (2014)


If someone is interested in the justification for why criminal justice in the USA needs to be improved for minorities, this is the book to read. 

This non-fiction edition is written as a series of alternating chapters following the criminal case of Walter McMillian. McMillan’s memoir is intermixed with descriptions of other criminal cases.  Ironically, McMillan was arrested in Monroeville which is the setting of Harper Lee’s novel “To Kill a Mockingbird”.

The author, Bryan Stevenson is a Harvard graduated criminal defence lawyer who co-founded the Equal Justice Initiative in the 1980s.  This is a non-profit dedicated to ending mass incarceration and excessive punishment for racial minorities.  Several, of the clients and issues described in Just Mercy, have also appeared over the years on the television program “60 Minutes” (1992) (1918).  In addition, there is a movie version by the same title and an HBO documentary film about Bryan Stevenson’s 30-year career with the EJI called  “True Justice: Bryan Stevenson’s Fight for Equality”.  This documentary just won (2020) the Peabody award which recognizes excellence in storytelling with a focus on socially conscious stories.  It is interesting to note that Bryan Stevenson was also critical to the recent memorial for victims of lynching in Montgomery, Alabama. To date, some 4,300 lynchings have been recorded.

Although the book, Just Mercy gets a 4.5/5.0 rating on Good Reads, I found the alternating of the chapters from one client to another distracting.  Being a Canadian, I was also made aware of the differences between American and Canadian law and penal institutions.  For example, many American prisons are privately run, which is not the case in Canada. It was concerning to learn that private institutions make a profit from inmate labour. 

Certainly, this book emphasizes the extreme injustices perpetrated upon victims of racial prejudice.  It is an eye-opener and well worth the read. 

Heather S.

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