162015Aug

“Just Mercy” by Bryan Stevenson

“Just Mercy” by Bryan Stevenson.

Bryan Stevenson is the executive director of the Equal Justice Initiative in Montgomery, Alabama, and a professor of law at New York University Law School. His book is a deeply moving, powerful read about the death penalty that asks “ Do we deserve to kill?

Stevenson works on social justice issues and in his work with people condemned to death, has sought to fight with courage and conviction to guarantee justice for all. Just Mercy makes us think of what might happen when revenge and retribution replace justice and mercy. It is as gripping to read as any legal thriller and will make you think and shows us how one man can make a difference. This activist lawyer, who won a MacArthur Award for his work as the founder of the Equal Justice Initiative,  has an unwavering commitment to his profession and his desire to get justice for his clients.

“Just Mercy” focuses mainly on his work at the EJI and the clients it serves. The narrative of Walter McMillian forms the backbone of this book and whom Stevenson began representing in the late 1980s when he was on death row for killing a young white woman in Monroe­ville, Ala., the hometown of Harper Lee.  McMillian’s ordeal is a good subject for Stevenson because it was so outrageous. The reader quickly comes to root for McMillian as authorities manufacture a case against him, ignore the eyewitnesses who were with him when the murder took place, and send him — before trial — to death row. When the almost entirely white jury returns a sentence of life in prison, the judge converts it to the death penalty.

In a TED talk Stevenson says, “We will ultimately not be judged by our technology, we won’t be judged by our design, we won’t be judged by our intellect and reason. Ultimately, you judge the character of a society . . . by how they treat the poor, the condemned, the incarcerated.” This reads like a call to action for all that remains to be done and the book leaves you hopeful that there are people like Bryan Stevenson working to make sure justice is equally served.

Luba Sawczyn is the Branch Manager of the Graham Public Library.  She can be reached at lsawczyn@alamancelibraries.org or (336) 570-6730