RR Book Group: Just Mercy Week 2


This week, we’re looking at Chapters 5-8, but please feel free to continue talking about last week’s questions if something catches your attention. You’re welcome to jump in on any angle of the discussion, no matter where you are in the reading.

As you can see, this book takes an unflinching look at some challenging subjects — justice, race, crime, capital punishment — so here’s a little side note to anyone who might be reading and struggling with the material for any reason. There are many places on the Internet for heated debates, but The Rabbit Room isn’t one of them. We hope you feel the freedom to dialogue without fear. We hope you’ll find this a place for civil and challenging conversations, and we want this to be a welcoming space for you, no matter where you’re coming from.

And now, on to this week’s reading…

“I feel like they done put me on death row, too. What do we tell these children about how to stay out of harm’s way when you can be at your own house, minding your own business, surrounded by your entire family, and they still put some murder on you that you ain’t do and send you to death row?”

Walter’s sister Armelia vocalizes the family’s pain and fears, and asks what they are supposed to tell their children. (p 93) How would you answer her? What narratives have you believed about police, crime, and the justice system?

I held him and told him as gently as I could, “It’s going to be okay. It’s going to be okay. ” I’d never held anyone who gripped me as tightly as that child or who cried as hard or as long… When I left the jail, I was more angry than sad. I kept asking myself, “Who is responsible for this? How could we ever allow this?”

Who is the “we” who caused Charlie’s abuse? (124) Where are we in the “we”?

Many poor and minority victims complained that they were not getting calls or support from local police and prosecutors. Many weren’t included in the conversations about whether a plea bargain was acceptable or what sentence was appropriate… The expansion of victim’s rights ultimately made formal what had always been true: Some victims are more protected and valued than others.

Why are some victims more protected and valued than others? (p 143) What needs to change in order for victims to get the support they need?

Most adults convicted of the kinds of crimes with which Trina, Ian, and Antonio were charged are not sentenced to life imprisonment without parole… Children who commit serious crimes long have been vulnerable to adult prosecution and punishment in many states, but the development of juvenile justice systems has meant the most child offenders were sent to juvenile detention facilities.

What are the laws in your state regarding juvenile offenders? Can you recall any local cases of children being tried in adult courts? Where are those kids now?

One more thing: In Chapter 5, Stevenson references W. E. B. Du Bois’ short story “Of the Coming of John.” You can find the text and audio of the story here, if you’d like to read it.

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Book Group Introduction and Reading Schedule
Week 1 Questions and Discussion

Jen Rose Yokel is a poet, freelance writer, and spiritual director. Her words have appeared at She Reads Truth, CCM Magazine, and other publications, and she released her first poetry collection Ruins & Kingdoms in 2015. Originally from Central Florida, she now makes her home in Fall River, Massachusetts with her husband Chris, where you can find her enjoying used bookstores and good coffee.


  1. Pete Peterson


    I think the issue Walter’s sister brings up is one of the most important issues of the book, and of our culture. From the perspective of a person who doesn’t regularly have to deal with unjust treatment, it can be FAR too easy to chalk cases like Walter’s up to extenuating circumstances or something merely unfortunate, when in fact there are large populations of our country who live everyday with these “unfortunate” circumstances and tolerate them so often that they become the common narratives of their lives. This is an incredibly difficult thing to perceive from the outside. You cannot really understand the powerlessness that people like Walter and his family feel until you’ve lived it yourself, day after day after day.  One of the reasons this book so important is that it pulls back the veil and let’s us get a much better view of the world many people have to live in all the time—a world I’m privileged to be shielded from in most cases.

    Things have got to change. But the scale and extent of the problems are overwhelming.

  2. Laure Hittle


    @pete, that one is bothering me too. Over in the forum thread we’ve been talking about how implicit bias affects us. One of the things that came up for me was the need to seek out books by non-white authors, just to counter my unconscious assumption that whiteness is normative. i have no idea what i would tell Armelia. My parents never had to have The Talk with me about what to do if i’m stopped by police. That was a shock, the first time i heard that this is a regular and needed practice among parents of black sons especially. It’s troubling to me to see the radically different ways we interpret police shootings. Privilege really is a kind of blindness. But that blindness tells me that it is vital that we seek out and listen to non-white voices. The challenge will be to listen non-defensively. And for me, in my pretty homogenous town, to find non-white voices to listen to.

    Did you ever read Black Like Me? That was an eye-opening experience. i read that in high school. It is so hard not to be defensive, but i think that has got to be one of the biggest factors. Just accepting the other person’s experience as valid, without trying to qualify or explain or justify or deflect.

  3. Jen Rose Yokel


    Privilege really is a kind of blindness. But that blindness tells me that it is vital that we seek out and listen to non-white voices. The challenge will be to listen non-defensively… Just accepting the other person’s experience as valid, without trying to qualify or explain or justify or deflect.

    “Listen non-defensively.” This is so important. (in just about every conversation like this)

  4. G


    Even talking to other white people is problematic and very touchy.  It’s well nigh impossible for me to explain the perspective I gleaned from this book to another person.  I  wouldn’t know where to begin to answer Armelia’s question.  There simply is no answer because justice demands the question not ever be asked in the first place.

    To the question about children tried as adults, in Tennessee last fall wildfires were set by teenagers carelessly throwing cigarette butts away.  Their charges were dropped, but there was a lot of talk of trying them as adults.  Now in Oregon in a similar situation in which teens were being careless with firecrackers, they were identified sooner with correspondingly harsher responses.   The Slate reported, “livid Oregon residents have suggested sterilizing, whipping, and even lynching him. (Police have not released his identity, including his ethnic identity, and have said they may not due to the threats he has received.) If an arrest is made and charges are brought, the possible punishment could include jail time (up to 7½ years) and thousands of dollars in fines (depending on the amount of damage).”  

    The difference in responses to what is essentially the same crime makes me have to wonder if this 15-yr old isn’t African-American.  And if so, may his name never be made public.

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