Just Mercy is directed by Destin Cretton and written by Bryan Stevenson. Stevenson is a lawyer and human rights activist who devotes his efforts towards assisting the impoverished, the incarcerated, and the condemned.
This movie is technically an autobiography as it is about the origins of Stevenson’s career and the Equal Justice Initiative. The film follows his struggles and achievements from 1988 to 1993, with a focus on the Walter McMillan case.
This film portrays Stevenson’s career and the African American community in Monroeville, Alabama, in great detail. It depicts the distress and despair that is prevalent amongst African American communities and the struggles that Stevenson and his team endured achieving the exoneration of wrongly convicted prisoners.
The movie begins with Stevenson making claims and promises of exonerating the inmates. But they had heard attorneys over and over again making empty promises. Meanwhile, the whole system was created with the objective of black oppression. Walter McMillan was one inmate who’d been sentenced to death for the murder of a young white female. McMillan was one of many prisoners who severely lacked hope. Now don’t be mistaken; the disheartened attitude of McMillan and the other inmates was not unique because of their imminent deaths. But because of a reoccurring theme throughout their lives. African Americans lost hope in the government long, long ago.
The disappointment in the criminal justice system has become routine for African Americans. In the south, after the 13th Amendment, black people were like the little sibling who you’re forced to play video games with, they aren’t wanted, but you have no choice.
The lack of faith in the criminal justice system results from the gross abuse of power by policemen. The forgery of evidence by prosecutors. And the disproportionate number of fatal condemnations by the justice system. Each of these were, and still are, present throughout the United States. How could you ever live your life without despair if, one day, you could be arrested and sentenced to death for a crime you didn’t commit, with no hope of being free.
This isn’t the only time, and it wasn’t the last time that an incident like this occurred. The only reason that we know about this case is because Stevenson took the time to review McMillan’s situation. Think about all the people that Stevenson couldn’t reach or wasn’t aware of.
The Central Park Five case, depicted in the miniseries What They See in Us, is another example. It is the story of the wrongful condemnation of five innocent black boys. Boys, not men. Hardly even teenagers. Punished for crimes they didn’t commit with evidence that didn’t exist. And once again, this is just one that we know of, leaving many stories left untold.
It is the realization of these forgotten stories that instill despair within African Americans.
It’s the forgotten stories that Stevenson is focused on. He began his career to prevent people’s stories from going untold. Which led Stevenson to start the Equal Justice Initiative, or the E.J.I., while he was down in Alabama. The goal of the E.J.I. is to provide support and legal aid to those who have been wronged. So far, the Equal Justice Initiative has won relief, reversals, or release from prison for more than 135 wrongly condemned prisoners on death row.
This is just the beginning, and there are hundreds more that need to be avenged. And this is why I want to follow in Bryan Stevenson’s footsteps in becoming a civil rights attorney. I want to focus on destroying the oppression of African Americans. The hundreds of wrongfully condemned that sit in prison, hopeless, need to be free. Every time a wrongfully convicted prisoner is put to death, their story goes into the ground with them. This is not acceptable. We need to take action now.
Their stories must be told. Will you help?
Go to Stevenson’s Equal Justice Initiative and see how you can help.
More information on Just Mercy can be found here.
The Central Park Five story, What They See In Us, can be found here.