Just Mercy: An exposé of the American criminal justice system

I came to realize that capital punishment isn’t justice. In fact, it is the opposite of justice.

Ana Dorta

This month, people of all races, ethnicities and backgrounds come together to celebrate Black history. This country was born on the backs of the Black Americans. Black thinkers, creators and leaders are integral to our nation’s progress — and always have been. The history of Black Americans, lined with success and innovation, is worthy of celebration. 

We must also educate ourselves on America’s history of racial injustice — and advocate for progress. Racial injustice is a systemic issue that continues to plague American society today. It permeates even the most venerated of American institutions, specifically the criminal justice system. 

The events of this past year have done nothing but further cement and validate this claim.

In the interest of education, I encourage everyone to take the time to watch the film Just Mercy. This film touches upon our very flawed and prejudiced criminal justice system and points to the death penalty as our country’s most fatal flaw.

The film is based off a novel bearing the same name, written by Criminal Defense Attorney Bryan Stevenson about his mission to exonerate wrongly-convicted Black Americans who are facing capital punishment. Stevenson has now established himself as one of the most renowned criminal defense lawyers in the country, and leads an organization called the Equal Justice Initiative. To learn more about their work, visit eji.org.

Just Mercy begins as Stevenson arrives in Alabama with hopes of creating a legal practice to provide counsel to prisoners on death row. Stevenson chooses to represent Walter McMillian, a man he believes is wrongly convicted on the charge of killing a white woman. 

The film follows Stevenson on his mission to exonerate McMillan, as well as several other Black men on death row. The viewer becomes fully immersed in the story, immediately feeling remorse and guilt regarding the purposeless suffering that the men on death row are forced to endure. 

Through narrative and anecdotes about the men Stevenson defends, the viewer is exposed to the real life ramifications of the capital punishment system — including the assasination of several innocent Black Americans.

Lead Actor Michael B. Jordan brings Stevenson’s character to life in his compelling and inspiring performance. Jamie Foxx, who plays McMillian, effectively portrays him as a misunderstood family man. 

Viewers are forced to reconsider their perspective on capital punishment as the film sheds light on the individuals, families and communities that the system disproportionately persecutes.

Prior to watching Just Mercy, I supported the death penalty. I believed that if someone took a life, it was just to take theirs in return. Because of this film, I was led to reconsider every notion I once had about the capital punishment system. It became evident to me very quickly that this system is unjust, flawed and outright racist. 

I came to realize that capital punishment isn’t justice. In fact, it is the opposite of justice.

Black Americans are disproportionately placed on death row due to the institutional failures of our criminal justice system. They receive inadequate counsel, biased jurors, and their trials are tainted by evidence tampering and false testimony. This is not to say that this is the case for every Black American placed on death row. However, statistics suggest that this injustice occurs all too often.

Just Mercy forever altered the way in which I perceive our criminal justice system. The film forced me to pay closer attention and further question my own beliefs.

As citizens, it is our duty to question and challenge faulty systems in place. It is the very essence of democracy to constantly push our institutions to progress in the interest of equality and justice. In order to question and challenge these institutions, we must be educated in these inquiries. Watching the film Just Mercy is a great way to start.