Knowing Bryan Stevenson’s Work

by Tom Petty, Furman Student Intern

Bryan Stevenson, the keynote speaker at United Ministries’ UFC Luncheon this year, founded EJI (Equal Justice Initiative) with several goals. The organization is “committed to ending mass incarceration and excessive punishment in the United States, to challenging racial and economic injustice, and to protecting basic human rights for the most vulnerable people in American society.” In his New York Times bestseller, titled Just Mercy, he details for us one such time in which he helped overturn the wrongful death sentence of Walter McMillian, a man accused and convicted by a broken criminal justice system. Unfortunately, many years after the events detailed in his book, the same cracks and fissures in the justice system are still present.  Incarceration rates among African Americans, and people of color in general, remain higher than national averages. Even as Stevenson and others like him fight mass incarceration across the nation, the issue seems to be getting worse as more and more people are finding themselves thrown behind bars. Not only are people of color being imprisoned at higher rates, but the poor and underprivileged of the nation are being locked up behind bars as well. Many people being held are not violent criminals, but simply downtrodden Americans who need help rather than imprisonment.

I think that those who are addicted to substances would benefit more from rehab than restraint. Those who are unhoused would benefit more from shelter than cells.

Bryan Stevenson and his organization, the Equal Justice Initiative, have been fighting these issues throughout the criminal justice system. These people and these communities don’t need more incarceration, but what they really need is more opportunity. Investment in communities that consist of people of color is essential. Supporting our homeless and underprivileged countrymen is needed. Working to reform and rebuild our criminal justice system so that it works well for all people is mandatory. I understand now why Bryan Stevenson’s book is titled Just Mercy. Because in a country that fails to offer equal opportunities, reform, equal justice, and a plethora of other human rights, Bryan Stevenson and EJI are simply asking for Mercy.