p.p1 {white-space:pre} Just Mercy is the story

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Just Mercy is the story of Bryan Stevenson’s career as a lawyer who advocates for marginalized people who feel like they have either been falsely convicted or harshly sentenced. Throughout the narrative, Stevenson provides historical context, as well as his own reflections on the justice and prison systems. Stevenson also describes the racial history of the United States, from slavery, to Jim Crow, to the Civil Rights Movement. He argues that efforts to oppress and control black people have not ended, but rather evolved into new institutions and social practices. 
One day, Stevenson receives a phone call from Judge Robert. E Lee Key. Stevenson is both appalled and amused to hear that the Judge was purposefully named after the confederate general. This moment in his career emphasizes the history of racism in the South and the continued biases within the court system. Judge Key then warns Stevenson not to take on the case of Walter McMillian, claiming he is “one of the biggest drug dealers in all of South Alabama” (Stevenson 2014). Judge Key is trying to limit McMillian’s ability to obtain the best representation he can, illustrating how imbedded corruption is in the legal system. The most shocking concept comes from the Ted Talk that Stevenson gave where he tells the story of the time he went to Germany. Stevenson was giving a talk about the American justice  system in Germany and audience members where shocked that America could clearly give out death sentences to African Americans at a higher rate that white Americans with such a deep history of racism and slavery. Imagine if Germany was giving the death sentence to Jewish people at a higher rate than other German citizens with their history. In both cases, the increase in death penalty rates comes from biases that are clearly ingrained in their justice system and culture. 
In 2003, the University of Maryland released a study that concluded that race and geography are major factors in death penalty decisions (Amnesty International). For example, prosecutors are more likely to seek a death sentence when the race of the victim is white and are less likely to seek a death sentence when the victim is African-American (Amnesty International). In 2007, a study of death sentences conducted by Yale University School of Law revealed that African-American defendants receive the death penalty at three times the rate of white defendants in cases where the victims are white (Amnesty International). Not only are African Americans sentenced to death at a higher rate, but it seems like the criminal justice system really only seeks to distribute justice to white victims. Additionally, the disproportionality in seeking justice for white victims as opposed to African American victims has an obvious correlation to the higher sentencing rate. 
Even outside death row cases, African Americans are sentenced at far higher rates and it is not by mistake. Beginning in the Nixon era and running through to the Clinton era, Congress passed laws that were aimed at putting more African Americans behind bars and stripping them of their voting power, a.k.a. their voice. John Ehrlichman,  Assistant to the President for Domestic Affairs under President Richard Nixon, even admits to their scheme in:
We knew we couldn’t make it illegal to be either against the war or black, but by getting the public to associate the hippies with marijuana and blacks with heroin…we could arrest their leaders. raid their homes, break up their meetings, and vilify them night after night on the evening news. Did we know we were lying about the drugs? Of course we did.
Even today, people assume that those who created laws criminalizing drugs and increasing the level of punishment might have thought they were doing the right thing. However, African Americans were political enemies that could potentially help keep Nixon out of office so the administration decided to pervert the democratic process. And so, the United States government developed a major policy that declared two classes of people expendable for the convenience and pleasure of people in power. In essence, the justice system was warped into a private enforcer for the executive branch.
In addition to punishment being used to hold political power, Stevenson makes the point that “capital punishment means ‘them without the capital get punishment.'” (Stevenson 6). This quote is highlighting the economic implications associated with crime and punishment in saying that punishment is directly correlated with lower class citizens. Furthermore, “when these basic deficits that burden all children are combined with the environments that some poor children experience…can leave kids vulnerable to the sort of extremely poor decision making that results in tragic violence.” This quote describes how children who grow up in homes without actively involved parents or in abusive environment will lack the decision making skills that lead to good choices. For many children, gangs have several social, economic, and cultural factors that push them into joining. Protection from other gangs, excitement, the perception of friendship, as well as the opportunity to make some well meaning money are among those factors.  As Stevenson states “I’ve come to believe that the true measure of our commitment to justice… and equality cannot be measured by how we treat the rich… and the respected among us. The true measure of our character is how we treat the poor.” The world is watching, and moving forward. America needs to reconcile itself with its past by rethinking the laws that are in place which seek to hurt the poor and minorities. 
Later in the book, Stevenson starts taking on death row cases in Alabama and filing prison condition cases in several states. He mentions the 1970’s Attica Prison Riots, which created national awareness of Attica prison’s use of cruel physical punishments. Following the riots, the Supreme Court ruled in favor of due process protections for imprisoned people. Prior to the Supreme Court case, the lack of legal accountability allowed such abuses to occur since there was no punishment let alone the idea that treating them like animals was a crime. This conveys the idea that legal structures are necessary in order to define and protect the human rights of individuals, and that without access to legal resources, institutional and individual power has no clear limits. This also relates to the idea of how the law varies inversely with social control. Since there were no rules limiting the nature in which officers can treat inmates, this led to the creation of laws to control where social control failed.  
Today, Inmates are held indoors for 23 hours a day in a minimal 5-by-8 cell with a metal door. Down the hall is the electric chair, which was painted yellow by inmates in Just Mercy during the 1930s and nicknamed the “Yellow Mama.” Details of recent executions occupy the conversations of death row inmates. The dismal setting of the death row cells, the nearness of the electric chair, and the detailed knowledge of the deaths of other inmates serve to foster an atmosphere of fear and hopelessness for death row inmates. This truly depressing atmosphere illustrates how the mental health of death row inmates is completely ignored, as if they are no longer thought of as living beings. Stevenson also makes a beautiful point in “Proximity has taught me some basic and humbling truths, including this vital lesson: Each of us is more than the worst thing we’ve ever done” (Stevenson 2014). If we are worth more than our worst, maybe we shouldn’t be treated as less than human. Yes, many of those on death row likely committed horrible, gruesome acts, but are we no different than them if we treat them with no respect?
Throughout Stevenson’s life, book, and career, he has argued against mass incarceration, which disproportionately affects poor people and minorities, and has declared it the newest tool of systemic racial and economic violence. Stevenson’s accounts serve as arguments that society should choose empathy and mercy over condemnation and punishment.

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