What I’m Reading: Just Mercy by Bryan Stevenson
While studying as an undergraduate, I interned with the Delaware Center of Justice and became interested in law and public policy. Most of the work focused on the criminal justice system and those most affected by incarceration—disproportionately, African Americans. I put together briefs that detailed the Fair Sentencing Act and how it interacted with mandatory minimum sentencing. It opened my eyes to a justice system wrought with unfairness and suggestions of systemic racial bias.
Just Mercy serves as a narrative portrait of Bryan Stevenson’s time spent representing Walter McMillian in his capital punishment case: one that ended with exoneration for a crime he did not commit after a fifth appeal attempt brought light to police coercion, witness perjury, lack of evidence, and a controversial usage of the Alabama practice of “judge override.”
What does this have to do with schooling? The book raises questions of intervention and the strain of racial injustice in America.
When children come from a broken home or violent neighborhood—or one impacted by incarceration—there is a greater likelihood for trauma to persist, especially when untreated. The role of a school is critical in supporting these students and in responding constructively to crises that affect vulnerable communities. Unfortunately, when a school is unequipped to manage these scenarios, they can end up aggravating the issue further. It’s not uncommon for administrators and educators to actually cause distress when they do not meet a student at their level.
This book broadens the conversation of preventative measures, resources, training and the impact of legal remedy. However, its most distinct service is as a mirror. Why do we accept a justice system that harms our most at-risk citizens—the people it was designed to help?
For more information about Stevenson’s work, visit Equal Justice Initiative.