Book notes | Just Mercy

Just Mercy is a book by Bryan Stevenson about his work creating and directing the Equal Justice Initiative (EJI) after graduating from Harvard Law School. Most of the time, I read a book before seeing the movie version. But I was unaware of EJI until I saw the movie, which so moved me that I then read the book.

Stevenson went to law school after completing an undergraduate degree in philosophy and realizing his job prospects were limited. Law school didn’t require lots of prerequisite coursework, and Stevenson had no clear vision of what he wanted to do with his life. While taking a one-month course on race and poverty litigation, he interned with the Southern Prisoners’ Defense Committee (now the Southern Center for Human Rights) in Atlanta where he found his calling. Just Mercy describes his career and the amazing work of the EJI.

The book discusses many of the problems with our legal system: allowing children to be tried as adults, inadequate legal representation in felony cases, isolation of prisoners, and how prosecutors and judges are rewarded professionally based on number of wins and not whether justice is carried out.

An important book
The UMRA Book Club felt it was an important book that was often emotionally hard to get through. We agreed that Bryan Stevenson is a very special person to take on such important, demoralizing work, even at risk to his personal safety.

There was a discussion about how some members of the legal system could so strongly support the miscarriage of justice in the face of overwhelming evidence indicating the innocence of the person being convicted and then, would double down on legal challenges.

While the group felt these problems were more prevalent in the South, we recognized that Minnesota also has issues, especially around police brutality against Black men. WNBA superstar Maya Moore’s work to get her now husband released from prison and his conviction overturned was also discussed.

Several members of the book club expressed an interest in volunteering based on the issues raised in Just Mercy.

—Laura Ericksen, UMRA Book Club I member

Publication date: 
July 22, 2021
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