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‘Just Mercy’ explores racial bias, inequality in U.S. criminal justice system

‘Just Mercy’ explores racial bias, inequality in U.S. criminal justice system

June 28, 2020 at 11:03am

Systemic racism is engrained in many parts of society. The justice system is no exception.

But what happens when racism affects the presumption of guilt? The movie Just Mercy provides insight to that question.

A virtual discussion and think-tank about the film and what steps need to be taken to address these issues in the American criminal justice system is being hosted by FIU Law and the Florida Center for Capital Representation at 5:30 p.m. Wednesday, July 22 via Zoom video conference. And until June 30, the film is streaming free on various digital platforms.

Just Mercy follows the story of civil rights attorney Brian Stevenson and his fight for justice for Black men not afforded proper legal representation and wrongfully convicted and incarcerated. The film shows the history of racial bias and inequality in the country’s criminal justice system and the countless injustices that have led to the unrest in America today.

One of Stevenson’s first cases is that of Walter McMillian. In 1987, McMillian was sentenced to death for the murder of a young white woman in Monroeville, Ala., despite mounting evidence proving his innocence.

Just Mercy also introduces other clients represented by Stevenson, including Herbert Richardson. A Vietnam War veteran, Richardson was executed in 1989 despite strong evidence that he suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder and mental illness. Another client, Anthony Ray Hinton, was exonerated in 2015 after spending 30 years on Alabama’s death row for crimes he did not commit.

Through their stories, the film covers racial bias, the toll of mass incarcerations, mental illness and the death penalty, as well as the lack of accountability for prosecutors and law enforcement. 

Data from the Bureau of Justice Statistics shows Black men are nearly six times more likely to be incarcerated than white men.

As of October 15, 2016, the National Registry of Exonerations listed 1,900 defendants who were convicted of crimes and later exonerated because they were innocent — 47 percent of them were Black, three times their rate in the population.

To register for the virtual event, visit justmercyfiupanel.eventbrite.com.