Bryan Stevenson was a young, black lawyer who founded the Equal Justice Institute while defending death row inmates in Alabama. If you think life stinks here, try being a young black man in Alabama, the butthole of US states. The large story revolves around Walter McMillian, another black man who made two mistakes: He was self-reliant and he boinked a white woman. In Alabama, blacks not on the dole were assumed to be drug dealers or some such. A woman was murdered, and the local sheriff was up for re-election and deeded a conviction. And Walter was it. The sheriff, an asshole and a half, is still in power. Walter was moved to death row by the sheriff before he was even tried!
It will come as no surprise the southern States are a cesspool of bigotry, prejudice and a complete lack of respect for the law when it came to the poor and black.
As I read this, I recalled a 60 Minutes piece that brought up many of the issues that the book did. Much to my surprise, the 60 Minutes piece I had seen many years before was about the McMillan case and help to speed up the process dramatically! Walter was released after many, many years on death row. Ultimately his story did not end well.
Not too long ago, the US Supreme Court ruled that sentencing children to death or (later) life without parole was unconstitutional. One douchebag judge responded by commuting a life sentence to a mere 175 years. In another example, the USSC ruled that excluding jurors of color, leading to generally all-white jurors, was unconstitutional. Texas responded by passing a law saying that no more than one black person may serve on a jury. Morons all!
A really surprising ruling from the USSC was that you could not sue a DA or a judge for throwing you in jail, even if they did so illegally and with malice… such as withholding exculpatory evidence! When McMillian finally left death row and wasdeclared innocent, he was still not eligible for aid because he was a convicted felon.
The author summarized the plight of the black man as four fold. First slavery. Then indentured servitude; followed by Jim Crow laws; and then the massive US incarceration rate upturn that heavily impacted the poor and black.
While the system for selecting judges in Canada has its problems, they are a mere bagatelle when compared to the BS that results when a pig-ignorant, bigoted white population elects bigots and assholes, and then cheers when they do bigoted and assholy things. The white population is completely blind to that fact that the "black problem" was entirely of their own creation. A level playing field only counts if you are allowed to play in the game.
The US, the self-proclaimed greatest country on Earth and the land of freedom, is, in fact, a nation of bigots and hypocrites. Or at least, large parts of it are. In Canada, criminal law is country wide. Not so in the US of A, where states can enact laws they know are unconstitutional and get away with it for years simply by denying funding to those that might change it.
I fear the cops in Canada for a large number of reasons (many are shoot-first, poorly trained bullies, IMHO) but they walk on water compared to the cops in the deep south.
This is worth reading for everyone who cares about justice. After a while, the heart-wrenching stories do wear you down. But on the flip side, Bryon Stevenson is still at it and good on him and his mates. A fast and engaging read.
The book made the 2014 "100 Notable Reads" list of the NYT. Thanks to Darlene Henry for bringing to my attention.
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Lee Moller is a life-long skeptic and atheist and the author of The God Con.