“I wanted you to see what real courage is, instead of getting the idea that courage is a man with a gun in his hand. It's when you know you're licked before you begin, but you begin anyway and see it through no matter what.”
- Atticus Finch To Kill A Mockingbird
Just Mercy follows the story of Walter McMillian’s wrongfully conviction for the murder of Ronda Morrison, at a dry cleaners, in Monroeville, Alabama. Walter possesses seemingly overwhelming evidence to prove his innocence, including being able to provide multiple witnesses to his whereabouts when the murder took place. In fact the only real evidence connecting him to the case is the consistently contradicting testimony of a career criminal named Ralph Myers. The trial last only a day and a half and Walter is found guilty. He spends the next 6 years of his life on Alabama’s death row. Attorney Bryan Stevenson, founder of the Equal Justice Initiative, take Walters case and spends the next 3 years navigating the Alabama court of apeal before Walters convention was overturned. But its not that simple. Mr. Stevenson fights an uphill battle encountering road block after road block, and it is these road blocks in the judicial system that is the bed rock of Just Mercy. This book isn’t just about one man and his wrongful conviction. The book brings to life those who make up the population on death row. This includes the mentally ill, adolescent children, the poor, minorities, and the innocent. In Just Mercy, Mr, Stevenson takes a topic and puts a face to it.
I think it would be a mistake to allow this book to be boiled down to just an argument over capital punishment. Don’t get me wrong, the book is certainly about capital punishment and raises many issues concerning this topic. But that is not the only thing the book is about. I found the book to be compelling in addressing the human condition. On one hand the book was about a person fighting a seemingly unwinnable battle. It is about moving forward with what you believe is right despite the high probability of loosing, But you move forward anyway. The parallels to Atticus Finch in To Kill A Mockingbird are striking. The book is also about human compassion, forgiveness, hatred, indifference, patience, perseverance, and love. Through the various characters we encounter people who embody all aspects of the human experience. It is in the connection with these different experiences, that brings value to this book. What I don't think the book is about is letting people "off the hook" or "turning a blind eye" to a situation. I don’t believe a single person who might be a supporter of this book would state that justices should not be served for crimes committed. Of course proper justice should be executed for crimes committed. Hopefully that is the foundation of our judicial system. What I think Mr. Stevenson is trying to point out is that injustice committed in the pursuit of justice is just as big of a tradgedy as justice never being served for a crime in the first place. If a crime is committed and justice is not served to the one who committed it, that’s a tragedy. But it is just as tragic for an injustice to be committed in the name of justice. It’s one of the lessons we teach our youngest kids: two wrongs don’t make a right. Not all situations are easy and clear cut. Every situation will be different as to how proper justice is to be served. But we must put every effort into making sure proper justice is served. And this is hard, its tricky, it takes effort and sacrifice. That’s what Atticus Finch was talking about. It’s not courageous to tackle the easy things. It’s courageous to tackle the hard things, the things that are seemingly impossible. If we care about justice, true justice, then we take on the hard situations.
I would strongly recommend Just Mercy not as a means to convince you of anything, or to change your mind on a particular topic. But as a book that might challenge you, stretch you, cause you to examine, and maybe feel a bit uncomfortable. It may possibly build some of that courage Atticus Finch is talking about.
I love everything about books. The feel of the page between your fingers, the sound of a book spine cracking, even the smell of an old dust jacket. Looking to share that passion with others.