Bryan Stevenson has dedicated his legal career to the pursuit of justice for all people, but in particular the legal needs of the poor, and those who suffer injustice due to racial bias. He is the founder and executive director of the Equal Justice Initiative (EJI), a private, non-profit law organization based in Montgomery, Ala. EJI is an advocacy group that focuses on social justice and human rights in the context of criminal justice reform in the United States. Bryan also is a member of the New York University School of Law faculty as a Professor of Clinical Law.
Recently, Bryan addressed issues of racial injustice in the wake of the mass shooting in Charleston, S.C., on June 15, which left nine people dead. As has been widely reported, the shooter, a young white man, targeted African Americans worshipping at historic Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church. The incident was clearly a racially motivated hate crime.
In an interview with The Marshall Project, Bryan said the shooting cannot be understood outside of the context of America’s history of violence and terror directed at black people. He says the killings are a confirmation of his fears about where the nation stands as a result of a longtime failure to honestly deal with our history of racial injustice.
Even before the Charleston shootings, appearing on The Daily Show in October 2014, Bryan talked with host Jon Stewart about what he calls a “disconnect” in the justice system for blacks, based on the history of slavery. Bryan had this to say:
There is this narrative out there corrupted by the politics of fear and anger. … We have never, ever committed ourselves to a process of truth and reconciliation of our history. We didn’t talk about the consequences of a myth that created slavery, and, because of that, slavery didn’t end, it evolved. And we didn’t think about what it meant to terrorize people between the end of Reconstruction and World War II, and then we had Jim Crow and segregation, and we dominated and humiliated people for decades, without appreciating the harm done by that. And now we’re in an era where our failure to talk honestly about race, and the legacy of racial inequality continues to haunt us. There are these presumptions of dangerousness and guilt that are assigned to people of color.
Bryan says the tragedy in Charleston puts these points into stark relief. It is this “narrative of racial difference” created during slavery and maintained throughout most of the 20th century that he says continues to lead to people of color being “wrongly accused, convicted and condemned.”
Bryan has been representing capital defendants and death row prisoners in the Deep South since 1985, when he was a staff attorney with the Southern Center for Human Rights in Atlanta, Ga. He founded the Equal Justice Initiative in 1989. Bryan joined the clinical faculty at New York University School of Law in 1998. In 2014 he published “Just Mercy,” which explores the struggle against injustice. The book explores the story of Walter McMillan, who was convicted of murdering a white woman and placed on death row despite eyewitnesses that provided him with an alibi, and numerous other instances of prosecutorial misconduct. The book became a New York Times bestseller.
Bryan was awarded the MacArthur Fellowship Award Prize in 1995. He is a 1989 recipient of the Reebok Human Rights Award, the 1991 ACLU national Medal of Liberty, and was selected the Public Interest Lawyer of the Year by the National Association of Public Interest Lawyers in 1996. In 2000, Bryan received the Olaf Palme Prize in Stockholm, Sweden, for international human rights and in 2004 he received the Award for Courageous Advocacy from the American College of Trial Lawyers and the Lawyer for the People Award from the National Lawyers Guild. In 2006, NYU presented Bryan with its Distinguished Teaching Award.
Bryan is a 1985 graduate of Harvard University with both a Masters in Public Policy from the Kennedy School of Government and a J.D. from the School of Law. He has honorary degrees from several universities, including Yale University, the University of Pennsylvania, and Georgetown University School of Law. This man could have gone to work with any law firm in the country, and without a doubt, he still can. Instead, Bryan chose a different path and has accomplished a tremendous amount of good for folks who badly needed a champion for their causes. Bryan Stevenson has been, and continues to be, a real American hero.
For more information about the Equal Justice Initiative, or how you can support its work, visit them online at www.eji.org.
Sources: The Marshall Project, The Daily Show, The New York Times, Equal Justice Initiative
Contact us today for a free legal consultation with an experienced attorney.
Fields marked *may be required for submission.
If you would like to subscribe to the Jere Beasley Report digital edition, simply visit our Subscriptions page and provide the necessary information or call us at 800-898-2034.
Attorney Advertising - Prior results do not guarantee a similar outcome.