By Bryan Stevenson
Spiegel & Grau, 2014
Just Mercy is one of my favorite books so far this year. Part-memoir, part-social commentary, Stevenson tells the story of his law career, founding the Equal Justice Initiative (EJI) in Montgomery, AL, while also recounting the many hard cases he has worked on with the EJI since 1989.
I’m possibly hard wired for this book. My late father, David Baldus, was a death penalty researcher, working in the same community as Stevenson. I was brought up hearing about men on death row, mainly black men, who were sentenced to death for killing white people, men whose sentences were harsher than those given to black men who killed other blacks. My ear is open to Stevenson’s story, but I believe this book has universal appeal. Stevenson is a fluid writer and he tells such a powerful story—of all the injustices poor, mainly black, people face in our legal system. He takes on death cases proving the innocence of wrongly convicted men and mitigating the sentences of others. At the center of the book is the story of Walter McMillian a man who claimed he was wrongly convicted for a murder he didn’t commit. Stevenson also writes about his work to reduce excessive juvenile sentences—kids who are given life in prison for rape or robbery at 12 or 14. Winner of a MacArthur Award for his work, he is a champion of the under-represented.
I was given a copy of this book by a friend and before I read it my sister and husband had also devoured it, each of us reading the book in less than a week. For anyone interested in legal justice, Just Mercy is a must read.
Stevenson is the Executive Director of the Equal Justice Initiative and a law professor at NYU.