Book Review: Just Mercy by Bryan Stevenson


Through reading Just Mercy, I have come to learn just how much the past contributes to the way justice is executed today, and how it has made the criminal justice system more biased towards minorities. Including, the ways that the same system contributes to the marginalization of minorities. 

Stevenson's retelling of the past, reveals how the criminal justice system contributes to the systemic oppression of marginalized groups. He explains that the reasoning behind this is rooted in four institutions in American history that, consequently, shape our approach to race and justice. These being slavery, the reign of terror, Jim Crow laws, and mass incarceration. He elaborates just how these institutions have come to shape race and justice by saying that “It seems to me that we’ve been quick to celebrate the achievements… and slow to recognize the damage done… We have been unwilling to commit to a process of truth and reconciliation in which people are allowed to give voice to the difficulties created by racial segregation, racial subordination, and marginalization”. As a result, it seems to me that it has become common for people to refer to unjust acts in history as “in the past”, arguing that the actions of the past no longer happen in today’s day in age. 

However, these arguments erase the consequences that those actions had on society at the time, which in turn has impacted our society today. For example, the four institutions have caused an “extreme over-representation of people of color, the disproportionate sentencing of racial minorities, the targeted prosecution of drug crimes in poor communities, the criminalization of new immigrants and undocumented people, the collateral consequences of voter disfranchisement, and the barriers to re-entry”. Which, “can only be fully understood through the lens of our racial history”, but have nevertheless shaped our approach to race and justice.

The criminal justice system feeds into the dehumanization of minorities, because of the past and because people don’t realize just how much it has affected the present. Unless minorities are allowed to voice their experiences and unless people actually attempt to understand them, the system will forever stay broken.

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