Just Mercy by Bryan Stevenson evokes important social issues connected to the notion of justice that remain topical in the contemporary US community. This book is a non-fiction written in a form of the first person narration that describes professional experience and interpersonal relations of the author. In particular, Stevenson reveals and scrutinizes the ambivalence of justice and the diverse approaches towards interpreting and deploying this ethical category with the purpose to govern social relations at various levels.
Just Mercy introduces to readers such objectives as racial discrimination of the African-Americans in the judicial and political realms, which are closely related. In addition, the writer attracts public attention the shortcomings of the US penal system that cause much harm to innocent citizens by making direct and mediated impact on the incarcerated individuals and people who care of them. In this regard, Stevenson devotes much efforts for enlightening the ambivalent and, sometimes, really unfair approaches in the system of death penalty.
Specifically, this writer constructs an explicit assumption that the American history comprises many examples of neglected human rights. These cases are stipulated by racial discrimination of minorities. To make matters worse, Stevenson believes that the reflections of the social isolation of minorities remains a significant problem in the modern world. In these terms, unfair judgment is revealed in a form of stereotypic thinking, disrupted presumption of innocence, and physical and emotional pain caused to unfairly incarcerated inmates.
Another explicit assumption of the author is that people deserve to be given the second chance. Without a doubt, this premise goes above the importance of presumption of innocence; it suggests that the individuals who are convicted to be guilty also deserve the second chance for reviewing their cases. According to Stevenson this approach is extremely difficult to be realized even in the todays American society that is considered to be the keeper of humans liberties and tolerance towards diversity.
The author makes an implicit assumption that the latter is the prime reason of all unfair judgments either in a court or in interpersonal relations. In particular, the fear of diversity begets the lack of tolerance. As a result, a nation strives to lessen the power of minorities at both state and community levels. The next section is aimed to discuss particular examples of social injustice connected to racial discrimination and segregation and malevolent regulation of imprisonment and death sentence.
Jim Crow Laws and the Modern American Society
In overall, all examples that are discussed below can be attributed to Jim Crow laws. Jim Crow is a set of anti-black regulations that were deployed to govern social relations between minorities and the majority during 19-20th centuries. Therefore, it is not surprising that Stevenson refers to this legislative regulation while explaining that fears of interracial sex and marriage have deep roots in the United States (p. 27). These laws were aimed to keep racial segregation by reducing the possibilities for interracial communication. To be more precise, Jim Crow discourages black individuals from starting official and non-official social relations with the white population. The former was especially reproached because the government wanted to prevent the emergence of the blended race that would dismiss racial inequality and erase the border of the corresponding isolation. In addition, Jim Crow was aimed to maintain unequal relations (mastery and subordination) between the African-Americans and the European-Americans.
Bryan Stevenson refers to Jim Crow laws to explain the unfairness that he used to face in the court system as well as in the plane of social relations. For instance, Stevenson depicts how an innocent black man bravely defended by a white lawyer in the 1930s fascinated millions of readers, despite its uncomfortable exploration of false accusations of rape involving a white woman (p. 24). Apart from the fact the interracial relations were forbidden and greatly reproaches, the interracial crimes (those that were committed by black perpetrators) were treated with extremely negative attitude.
In other words, the same kind of crime committed by white person would be seen in less dull light. Consider an example, it is explained that the evil tendency of the crime [of adultery or fornication] is greater when committed between persons of the two races. Observing this premise from the viewpoint of biological heritage, one can rightfully deduce that this claim is greatly unfair. The rationale is the following: the color of ones skin does not make this person any different in terms of legal liabilities. Consequently, being equal the representatives of diverse races should be treated equally; if it does not happen then it is possible to state that these persons face unjust attitude.
Nevertheless, the racial discrimination is explained by an approach to preserve authenticity. Specifically, unequal treatment is justified by the following scrutiny. Interracial communion may lead to
the amalgamation of the two races, producing a mongrel population and a degraded civilization, the prevention of which is dictated by a sound policy affecting the highest interests of society and government.
The author reveals to readers this explanation with the purpose to introduce the reasons that can partially justify racial segregation.
Continuing to discuss the representation of Jim Crow laws in Just Mercy, one should point to another example of malevolent social relations, –disrupted presumption of innocence when it comes to judging the behavior of black individuals. In other words, apart from being judged severer for the same type of crimes, black individuals are often considered to be guilty before their guilt is proven. The example of neglected presumption of innocence is displayed by Stevenson through a narration about a black teenager, who was murdered y police after violating the rules of driving. The police officer explained that the nervous adolescent was perceived to possess menace; his actions were agitated. As a result, a police officer shot a boy when he decided that the teenager was going to take a gun. In fact, there was no gun found anywhere in the car and the black young man was trying to take and show to a police officer his driving license.
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This incident has gained publicity and evoked the great reproach of the community since it was suggested that if the killed adolescent was a representative of the Caucasian nation, he would have been treated in accordance with the presumption of innocence. In contrast, the idea that black individuals are more prone to commit crimes remains prominent in the contemporary American society. The discussed example illustrates that deeply rooted implications of Jim Crow regulations are quite tangible in the modern world.
The third example that reflects racial discrimination is the reluctance of the state to give the second chance to inmates who were sentenced to death. In this regard, Stevenson (2014) describes the challenges that he faced while launching the agency, which was supposed to provide different kinds of assistance in the death row setting. The author informs that it was extremely difficult to obtain the support of state faculties. Specifically, an attempt to provide condemned inmates with the legal assistance was treated with mere bewilderment, misunderstanding, and poor cooperativeness.
What makes the things even worse is that people who work in judicial department are not interested reviewing and, especially, in releasing the prisoners that were sentenced to death. Consider en example, some state officials expressed happiness and excitement that an execution had taken place, but I knew that none of them had actually dealt with the details (Stevenson, 2014, p. 81). This explanation strongly resonates with the rationale of using Jim Crow: it is in compliance with the national interests. Of course, the reluctance to review death penalty occurs not only in the cases with black inmates, white prisoners also struggle from the lack of mercy. Nevertheless, the former category is more likely to become a victim of such attitude.
Understanding Human Agency through the Lens of Just Mercy
Observing the main ideas of Stevenson from a broader perspective, it is appropriate to stress that racial segregation is the other side of an attempt to preserve national authenticity. Without a doubt, the above-described examples should not be justified and carried into the future of the American Nation. Hence, estimating the rationale for utilizing Jim Crow, it becomes clear that this explanation is valid in terms of actually trying to protect the best interests of the entire nation in both social and state settings. The approach to conserve national identity requires certain amount of alienation and, respectfully, isolation from other ethnicities and communities. To an extent, this desire is well-predicted and inevitable. Comprehending this idea, people should strive to respect their own cultural elements and, simultaneously, develop tolerance to cultural diversity around and, what is even more important, among them. In a word, it is necessary to avoid extreme approaches to preserving national authenticity, which presumes making other people suffering.
Another idea that should be derived from this book is that punishment serves to maintain several functions that are quite different. In particular, there are forward-looking or to backward-looking considerations towards interpreting the merits of punishment. The former means that punishment is utilized to discipline community and eliminate reemergence of deviations. In these terms, excessive punishment of the black people maintain forward-looking goal (to anticipate erasing border between the nations with the aim to conserve biological and cultural parameters of a nation). At the same time, punishment serves to actually punish those who are convicted to be guilty, this is backward-looking consideration. This approach is less ethical, but it exists because it is considered to be fair (individuals are treated as they deserve). In this regard, Stevenson is correct in addressing attention to the need to ensure that inmates get what they really deserve. Another important idea is that it is more functional for a society to concentrate on the first approach.
Revealing inner feelings and ideas that are evoked by Just Mercy, it is natural to state that this book discusses greatly important, but at the same time, quite ambivalent matters. In most cases, all kinds of discrimination are negative. Nonetheless, despite strong reluctance to admit this fact, unequal attitude to the natives and foreign nations/ethnicities can be partially justified by the need to preserve the authenticity of the nation. This approach is not in compliance with the todays world that is characterized by cultural globalization. Hence, simultaneously, under such circumstances the necessity to conserve culture, traditions, and way of life becomes even more significant.
Undoubtedly, the echoes of Jim Crow laws in the modern American community should be eliminated. People deserve to be treated equally and fair. In this regard, the main message retrieved from the present Stevensons book is youve got to keep beating the drum for justice. This should be the credo of every citizen and human.
To align the two ambivalent ideas that are evoked by Just Mercy, one may suggest that the African-Americans constitute indivisible part of the US nation. Thus, they should not be deprived of the presumption of innocence, and must be treated without negative biases and stereotypes. Observing this situation from a broader viewpoint (the struggle of minority), it is natural to assume that the freedoms of individuals who are alien to certain nation should be restricted and regulated at a state level. Indeed, this approach is supposed to help preserving the national authenticity and ensure better opportunities for the natives.