BLACK LIVES MATTER
Never before has the nation expressed such widespread agreement that racial discrimination plays a role in policing, and in society at large. One man who's no stranger to that topic is Bryan Stevenson, the widely acclaimed public interest lawyer and bestselling author.
Changing the way we police, prosecute, judge, and punish is the essence of criminal-justice reform. That's why this month we've chosen to highlight the organization he leads that provides legal representation to people who have been illegally convicted, unfairly sentenced, or abused in state jails and prisons.
Because "Injustice Anywhere Is A Threat To Justice Everywhere." ~ MLK
From the website:
Under his leadership, EJI has won major legal challenges eliminating excessive and unfair sentencing, exonerating innocent death row prisoners, confronting abuse of the incarcerated and the mentally ill, and aiding children prosecuted as adults.
For every nine people executed in this country, one innocent person has been exonerated. That's a shockingly high rate of error.
Mr. Stevenson has argued and won multiple cases at the United States Supreme Court, including a 2019 ruling protecting condemned prisoners who suffer from dementia and a landmark 2012 ruling that banned mandatory life-imprisonment-without-parole sentences for all children 17 or younger. Mr. Stevenson and his staff have won reversals, relief, or release from prison for over 135 wrongly condemned prisoners on death row and won relief for hundreds of others wrongly convicted or unfairly sentenced.
Mr. Stevenson has initiated major new anti-poverty and anti-discrimination efforts that challenge inequality in America. He led the creation of two highly acclaimed cultural sites which opened in 2018: the Legacy Museum and the National Memorial for Peace and Justice. These new national landmark institutions chronicle the legacy of slavery, lynching, and racial segregation, and the connection to mass incarceration and contemporary issues of racial bias. Mr. Stevenson is also a Professor of Law at the New York University School of Law.
“The opposite of poverty is justice” is one of Stevenson’s most memorable lines. You can listen to his TED talk here where he skillfully clarifies the problem we face. He points to the higher truth.
Poverty is the social condition of being disfavored. Since poverty tends to be geographically concentrated, it has less to do with who you are than where you live. Impoverished communities lack access, and even the hope of access, to proper education, sound and safe homes, decent jobs, reasonable healthcare. Most neighborhoods in America today can assume such access. But people in impoverished communities do without and that has enormous consequences for their opportunities in life."
"Just Mercy" the story of EJI, from the early days with a small staff facing the nation’s highest death sentencing and execution rates, through a successful campaign to challenge the cruel practice of sentencing children to die in prison, to revolutionary projects designed to confront Americans with our history of racial injustice.
One of EJI’s first clients was Walter McMillian, a young black man who was sentenced to die for the murder of a young white woman that he didn’t commit. The case exemplifies how the death penalty in America is a direct descendant of lynching — a system that treats the rich and guilty better than the poor and innocent.
The Movie "Just Mercy" based on the book is streaming free during the month of June on YouTube, Amazon Prime and Google Play. The American Bar Association announced last month that "Just Mercy" is the winner of the 2020 Silver Gavel Award for Drama & Literature.
We highly recommend it.
Justice is more than one successful court case. Justice is the ongoing effort to ensure that all citizens have good opportunities. It is a social commitment to equality, the very thing the Declaration of Independence suggests is the impetus of the American experiment.
Justice is the opposite of poverty because widespread poverty can only happen in the absence of justice. When we permit large swaths of American cities and urban areas to languish, year after year, decade after decade, without access to quality education, safe and sound homes, decent jobs, and so on, we are failing to do justice. We are failing to uphold our nation’s highest ideal.
The radical claim that all of us are created equal and have the right to pursue a good and full life is our country’s north star. Justice is the most important measurement of how well we are doing as a country.