A Fight For Justice

What? According to the Oxford Bibliographies, mass incarceration is defined as “extreme rates of imprisonment and by the concentration of imprisonment among young, African American men living in neighborhoods of concentrated disadvantage,” (Wildeman, April 2012). The United States is incarcerating a large amount of their minorities and people of color, judging people by their privilege, rather than their character. In Bryan Stevenson’s book called Just Mercy, he is making a call to fix our broken system of justice. He says, “African Americans lived in racially segregated ghettos isolated by railroad tracks within small towns or in ‘colored sections’ in the country… the black people around me were strong and determined but marginalized and excluded,” (p. 13). Stevenson is a black male lawyer who is dedicated to defending the poor and the wrongly condemned. When he was only a law student, he met a young African-American man named Henry who was sentenced to the death row. Before meeting this condemned man, Stevenson was nervous to be meeting someone on death row because of the discourse about the accused people. To his surprise, Henry connected with him through the stories they shared with one another, and Stevenson realized that he was compassionate and generous. Stevenson states, “I didn’t expect anything from a condemned man on death row. Yet he gave me an astonishing measure of his humanity. In that moment, Henry altered something in my understanding of human potential, redemption, and hopefulness,” (p. 12). He came to realize that our judicial system judge some of the people in prison unfairly, as he did at first before getting to know Henry.

Stevenson has different social identities. He is an African-American, whose great-grandparents were slaves Virginia, and he is also lawyer. Apparently, the fact that the author is a black male is the only identity that others see when the he was harassed by the police and was searched for no apparent reason in front of his own house. He was assumed to be responsible for the burglaries in the neighborhood for the fact that he is black.

So What? The author experienced racism and injustice himself. He is showing his readers that even though he has a degree and is educated, others will always generalize and assume that because of the color of his skin, he must then be a criminal. It clearly does not matter if someone of color or who is poor is innocent because our justice system will always favor the more privileged group. Being in that similar position, it must be hard defending one’s self. One of Stevenson’s first and most significant cases was that of Walter McMillian. McMillian was also an African-American man who was blamed for the murder of a woman he had no relation to because of the gossip about him having an affair with different white woman. Stevenson says, “But there was no evidence against McMillian–no evidence except that he was an African American man involved in an adulterous interracial affair, which meant he was reckless and possibly dangerous, even if he had no prior criminal history and a good reputation,” (p. 34). Because his involvement generated that much attention towards him and the murder case was not moving forward, he was sentenced to die for this.

Now What? Stevenson was able to connect to the people he represents on a deeper level since he experienced injustice firsthand. Although their situations were different, he, too, was discriminated and blamed for something that was not true. The people that Stevenson represents are seen as dangerous criminals, and what he is trying to do is erase those labels because everyone has a different story of how they got to where they are. Furthermore, my community partner, Kids Club, helps kids with their reading and homework to try to close the achievement gap between them and the more privilege kids. Other than living in a less fortunate environment where many of them share an apartment with other families, the inequity these kids face is that they do not get help from their parents at home when it comes to their school work because many of their parents are undocumented and are not fluent in English. It is harder for them to reach their full potential because of the constraints and challenges they face, and each one has a different story as to how they and their families are in the situation they are today. They should not be generalized and labeled one thing because each of the kids have their own social identities that define them individually.