This book arrived from the Heterotopia Book Club to which I belong – and which had sent out Michelle Alexander’s The New Jim Crow – Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness some months before. The two books do have the same general theme – how the justice system in this country systematically and consistently mistreats people of color, particularly poor people of color.
Just Mercy, however, focuses directly on the injustice of the death penalty, and on other imprisonment issues – sentencing children to life in prison, for one.
Author Stevenson is a good story teller, weaving the tale of Walter McMillian, sent to death row when he committed no crime whatsoever, in and out of many chapters of the book. I am a bit stumped by the subtitle, though – since Walter was released from prison, but never, in the narrative, got anywhere near redemption. As a matter of fact, there is almost no redemption to be found here at all.
And Stevenson admits at several points to being unsure, confused and exhausted. Which is perfectly natural in such a quixotic quest as to get American jurisprudence to pay attention to itself during the 1980s, 1990s with perhaps just a bit of improvement at these last few moments in time.
This is a very good book, Stevenson is a good writer. But there are only a few good moments here – the many young and smart lawyers who joined in the struggle, the happy ending to the chocolate milkshake story, older women as strong leaders and supporters. Our daily headlines provide the happy endings, where bail is now being reduced, where black students at Mizzou are seeing fairness, where the unjustified shooting of a black man by a UC police officer is leading to big changes in all of Cincinnati. Perhaps you can read this to feel that we are coming out the other side of this bleakness.