Sunday, November 22, 2015

Book #47: Just Mercy

This week's book club selection was actually not at my recommendation, but I seconded the motion because I had a copy already on my nightstand.

If we don't look too closely, we can easily go through life assuming that our criminal justice system is working well, administering punishment objectively and fairly.

In too many cases, though, it's not.

Bryan Stevenson, the attorney who founded the Equal Justice Initiative, recounts, among others, the case of Walter McMillian, an innocent black man who was sentenced to die for the murder of a white woman. Ironically, the crime occurred in Monroeville, Alabama, hometown of Harper Lee, author of To Kill a Mockingbird.

I think we are waking up as a nation to at least the worst of the injustice--people on death row being found innocent, our disproportionate and unsustainable incarceration rates, heavy handed law enforcement in certain towns and cities, the destructiveness of solitary confinement, etc.

I think we are starting to respond, if tentatively.

I think we've got a long way to go.

While I have not been privy to gross injustice here in Utah, I have definitely witnessed uneven justice, and that uneven justice is typically connected to financial resources and legal representation.

A bit of evidence for this from the recent October 2015 report on the right to counsel prepared by the Sixth Amendment Center: "more people accused of misdemeanors are processed through Utah's justice courts without a lawyer than are represented by counsel - upwards of 62 percent of defendants statewide, according to the state Administrative Office of Courts' data."

I know many people, including myself, are big fans of our Constitution.

We've got work to do.

Watching this TED talk by author Bryan Stevenson can be a good place to start galvanizing ourselves to get to it.

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