Now more than ever, with the news that the Grand Jury has declined to vote an indictment against the cop who applied the deadly choke hold to Eric Garner during an attempted arrest for selling loose cigarettes; I urge everyone to purchase Professor Bryan Stevenson’s book “Just Mercy”. Read it. Read the section where Professor Stevenson, a Harvard Law graduate, talks about being stopped and having his car illegally searched in Atlanta when he was a young attorney fighting death penalty sentences and harmful prison conditions in the deep south.
To the officer who ordered him out of his car with gun drawn he was just another black man; someone to be suspected, violated and threatened. It didn’t matter that he was parked down the street from the apartment where he lived, that he was merely listening to the final strains of a favorite Sly and the Family Stone song in his car, or that he didn’t make any aggressive actions towards the police. If he didn’t have the wherewithal to assure the officer who was threatening to, “…blow his head off,” that it was okay over and over with his hands visibly raised above his head, we might not have the opportunity to read this moving and important story.
We all owe it to ourselves and our communities to hear Professor Stevenson’s words; to learn from his years of work as a death penalty lawyer and by doing so to cultivate empathy and understanding so that we may more powerfully address the issues of injustice within the criminal justice system which threatens all of our humanity.
Buy one copy for yourself (from a local/independent bookseller please! See link below.) and purchase another as a holiday gift for a friend, family member or loved one. Give it to those who are already ‘on our side’ and give it to those who scoff skeptically at cases like Garner’s and Michael Brown’s in Ferguson. If you are a lawyer doing defense work; give it to your favorite family member who asks of your chosen profession at holiday gatherings, “…so, how can you defend those people?” Give it to those who think if only black Americans would follow the law they wouldn’t be at such risk of death by the police. Let’s open some eyes and some hearts this holiday season. Let’s “beat the drum for justice”.