Today (November 26th) Minnesota Public Radio will broadcast at Noon (CST) and 9:00 p.m. (CST) Bryan Peterson’s presentation yesterday at the Westminster Town Hall Forum, “Just Mercy: Reforming the Criminal Justice System.” It is great! Listen!
I was at the Forum yesterday and heard one of the most inspiring and articulate presentations I have ever heard on any subject. I was expecting to hear a detailed agenda for making legal changes in our criminal justice system. Instead, Stevenson delivered this powerful message to every citizen in this country:
- Everyone needs to get closer to the poor people and the incarcerated.
- Everyone needs to reflect on the history of racial injustice in our country and change the narrative on race. We need truth and reconciliation on race.
- Everyone has to find a way to stay hopeful about changing this injustice. It is not easy. It requires a reorientation of the spirit.
- Everyone needs to choose to do uncomfortable things. Go inside prisons, for example. The opposite of poverty is justice, not wealth. The quality of a society is judged by how it treats the poor.
Bryan Stevenson is a public-interest lawyer and founder of the Equal Justice Initiative, which is committed to eliminating bias against the poor and people of color in the criminal justice system. A professor at New York University Law School and a graduate of Harvard Law School, he argued for and won the historic ruling in the U.S. Supreme Court that mandatory life-without-parole sentences for children 17 or younger are unconstitutional. His new book, Just Mercy, profiles the lives of men, women, and children who are at the mercy of a broken criminal justice system.
Stevenson grew up in Alabama. He started school in a “colored school” and only after desegregation of his town’s schools was he able to obtain a high school education. His great-grandparents were slaves, and his parents daily were subjected to humiliation because of their race.
Thank you, Bryan Stevenson for inspiring and challenging us.
 An oral recording of the Town Hall presentation is available on the web.
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Bryan Stevenson’s Update on Racial Injustice
In the July 13, 2017, issue of the New York Review of Books Bryan Stevenson provides an update on his award-winning book, “Just Mercy: A Story of Justice and Redemption.”
He previews his article with the following statement: “People of color in the United States, particularly young black men, are often assumed to be guilty and dangerous. In too many situations, black men are considered offenders incapable of being victims themselves. As a consequence of this country’s failure to address effectively its legacy of racial inequality, this presumption of guilt and the history that created it have significantly shaped every institution in American society, especially our criminal justice system.”
The article concludes with the following: “What threatened to kill me on the streets of Atlanta when I was a young attorney [that Stevenson describes in the article’s introduction and in “Just Mercy”] wasn’t just a misguided police officer with a gun, it was the force of America’s history of racial injustice and the presumption of guilt it created. In America, no child should be born with a presumption of guilt, burdened with expectations of failure and dangerousness because of the color of her or his skin or a parent’s poverty. Black people in this nation should be afforded the same protection, safety, and opportunity to thrive as anyone else. But that won’t happen until we look squarely at our history and commit to engaging the past that continues to haunt us.”
As always, Stevenson challenges all of us to confront the continuing historical impact of racial discrimination on many aspects of American life today.
Stevenson, A Presumption of Guilt, N.Y. Rev. Books (July 13, 2017), http://www.nybooks.com/articles/2017/07/13/presumption-of-guilt.