RR Book Group: Just Mercy Week 1

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Over the next few weeks, we’ll be reading and discussing Bryan Stevenson’s Just Mercy together. Every Tuesday, we’ll post a few questions inspired by the week’s reading. 

Even if you haven’t read all the chapters, please don’t hesitate to share your thoughts and responses either in the comments below or on this forum thread. Before we get started, a few housekeeping things…

Ready? Here are some questions from this week’s reading. We’re looking at the Introduction, and Chapters 1 through 4, highlighting the beginning of Stevenson’s career and the Morrison investigation and trial.

Henry gave me a smile and said, “It’s okay, Bryan. Don’t worry about this. Just come back and see me again, okay?” I could see him wince with each click of the chains being tightened around his waist.

Stevenson remarked that Henry looked like everyone he’d grown up with. Do prisoners look like people we know? Do they look like us?

But there was no evidence against McMillan — no evidence except that he was an African American man involved in an adulterous interracial affair, which meant he was reckless and possibly dangerous, even if he had no prior criminal history and a good reputation. Maybe that was evidence enough.

What is the most surprising part of the Morrison murder investigation so far? What doesn’t surprise you?

“Put your hands up!” The officer was a white man about my height. In the darkness I could only make out his black uniform and his pointed weapon.

I put my hands up and noticed that he seemed nervous. I don’t remember deciding to speak. I just remember the words coming out: “It’s all right. It’s okay.”

I’m sure I sounded afraid because I was terrified.

What do you anticipate or expect when a police officer approaches you? What would you have done in the situation Bryan faced with the SWAT officers?

“All this grievin’ is hard. We can’t cheer for that man you trying to help but don’t want to have to grieve for him, too. There shouldn’t be no more killing behind this.”

Think of Rena Mae’s aunt: “We don’t want to have to grieve for him, too.” How does this perspective challenge your perception of justice and of community?

Click here to join the conversation at the forum, and find the Book Group Introduction and Reading Schedule here.

Jen was born and raised in central Florida, but now lives in the strange land of southern New England. Her words have appeared in TS Poetry’s Every Day Poems, CCM Magazine, and other publications, and she recently released her first poetry collection Ruins & Kingdoms. Some of her favorite things include used bookstores, good coffee, messing about in the kitchen, and local adventures with her husband Chris.


4 Comments

  1. Connor Whitehouse

    @connor-whitehouse

    Completely agree, Pete. The fact that the whole community rallied around and embraced ‘To Kill a Mockingbird” when the book was published and the movie was released, and then to have this injustice happen and no one recognize the incredible irony is flabbergasting.

    I was shocked too that a judge would place not-yet convicted criminal suspects on death row as a pressure tactic. I wonder if that has happened elsewhere.

    Do prisoners look like people we know? Do they look like us? We can only answer this question by actually looking, or, as Stevenson says, “getting close”. I think as we make an effort to look and see (and it does require effort, at least for me), prisoners do resemble us and our communities. Acknowledging will obviously affect how we respond to those that are imprisoned.

  2. David Mitchel

    @dmitchel

    A hearty “huzzah” that a legal memoir has become the RR Book Group’s point of discussion. Just Mercy is an unflinching look at the many ways American criminal law is broken, and the book substantially agrees with my (much more limited) experience as defense lawyer and advocate for post-conviction relief for prisoners. Looking forward to the discussion in the upcoming weeks.

  3. Jen Rose Yokel

    @jroseyokel

    @dmitchel Yes, it’s so, so good. And really grateful you’re part of the discussion to give us a lawyer’s perspective. Do you have any other books to recommend along similar lines?

    @connor-whitehouse The irony is crazy, isn’t it? I was so struck the wildness of the trial and the whole process.

    So here’s a twist on question #1: it was painful how much the white community in this story looked like people I know. I have family in North Florida/Southern Alabama and have spent a little time there over the years. I want to be careful not to pass a blanket judgement or make it sound like something I’ve experienced a lot, but I have heard comments regarding race and prisoners that made me go “wait, did he just say that?” So… the attitude shown by some of the people in this story, unfortunately, doesn’t surprise me much. But the way those attitudes are wielded in the justice system are shocking and frightening.

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