There has probably never been a more appropriate title for a book than “Just Mercy,” by Bryan Stevenson. This book is about striving for justice against unsurmountable odds. This book is about sweet mercy that some need and deserve more than others … and then some. It is a non-fiction/memoire book that reads like informative, inspiring short stories of legal defense cases by the author. The book begins with the author’s explanation of how he got into law in general, then specifically into defending mostly poor, black men unfairly convicted in the South, and on death row. Downer topic you think? In fact, it’s anything but. It’s engaging, alarming and inspiring. In the late 80s, while at Harvard on scholarship, Stevenson, who grew up poor in Deleware, took an internship at the Southern Center for Human Rights, which represents death-row inmates. Before long, he decided to make a career of helping the poor and defenseless, including moving to Montgomery, AL. Steveson has dedicated his life to the under represented through legal defense and public speaking on the topic to raise money for the organization he started called the Equal Justice Initiative.
The book largely, but not exclusively, focuses on the case of Walter McMillian, a black man wrongfully accused, and eventually convicted, of the death of a young white woman. Stevenson gives a blow by blow of McMillian’s entire legal process, including a mockery of a trial, his long wait on death row, and his ultimate exoneration. Through it, you get to know McMillian as a man, a human, a victim. You also become personally attached and admiring of his counsel, Mr. Stevson, who works tireously on Walter’s, and many others like him, behalf. Through it, Stevenson is usually emotionally drained, financially broke, and working on his own. In between Walther’s arrest, conviction and exoneration, “Just Mercy,” weaves in other stories about those basically abandoned by the legal system.
The reader is educated by Stevenson of the short comings of the American legal system – past and present. He unabashedly reveals the corruption and misconduct among usually white figures of authority, such as sheriffs, prosecutors and judges in which poor blacks are most frequently the victim. He also discusses and demonstrates, by way of one particular alarming story, how nonwhite youth are all too often beat down by an unfair and uncompassionate judiciary system.
By the book’s end, you are restraining tears on Walter’s behalf, have adopted Stevenson as your unsung hero, and ready to take up the charge. You are also not putting this book on your shelf for you realize it is much better served being passed along to enlighten and inspire.