Bryan Stevenson is a graduate of Harvard Law School who, after graduating, went down South to work to establish the Equal Justice Initiative, which began as a legal nonprofit defending those who found themselves unjustifiably on death row, but expanded to defending others who were also victims of our imbalanced justice system here in the U.S. The primary thread that runs through the book is the story of Walter McMillan, an African American framed for the murder of a white woman in a laundromat in Alabama. And while Walter’s story is compelling and tragic in and of itself, the many others that Stevenson shares with us along the way similarly intrigue and horrify in their revelation of the truth of how racially biased our criminal justice system is and has been for decades.
I honestly feel like this book should be required reading for every American. Whatever we think we know about racism and bias – it’s just not enough. Racism is ugly, and painful and insidious and pervasive and it infects our law enforcement, our criminal justice system, and our politics and even our day-to-day interactions with others. This book reveals the magnitude of the problem. Thousands of individuals have had outrageous sentences for smaller crimes and so many children – 13 and 14 years old! — have been given extremely harsh, long sentences really just because they were of color. Most of these “criminals” were victims themselves, whether of their circumstances, of trauma they’d experienced, or of their poverty that prevented them from obtaining suitable defense.
I think that Bryan Stevenson is one of the true heroes of our time. He has stood up for the impoverished and for those who have had no voice and given them a voice. He has bravely fought for those who would have been killed because of inhumane death penalty laws (one could argue – as I have, that all death penalty laws are inhumane).
I have not seen the movie, but I believe the movie could not possibly have all the details that this book provides and I always believe the details are crucial. Especially in an important book such as this one.
This is absolutely a MUST READ!
P.S. It’s been awhile since a book has made me cry the way this one has. There is one particular vignette that really threw me, for its beauty and its power. If you read this book and come upon a story about a chocolate milkshake, you’ll know when it was that I cried the hardest…!