Bryan Stevenson—campaigner against mass incarceration and author of a new report linking the ubiquity of lynching in the American South to violence against black men today—will make his case in Cleveland.
“We have a system of justice in this country that treats you much better if you’re rich and guilty than if you’re poor and innocent,” Stevenson told the audience at his TED Talk. “Wealth, not culpability, shapes outcomes.”
That 24-minute address, which received two standing ovations and more than two million views, represents the crux of Stevenson’s life work. As founder of the Equal Justice Initiative in Montgomery, Alabama, the attorney and New York University law professor devotes his life to challenging a culture of mass incarceration and advocating for the rights of juveniles in the justice system. In 2012, he won a case before the U.S. Supreme Court establishing the unconstitutionality of sentencing minors to life in prison for crimes that aren’t homicide.
Stevenson, 55, will present his latest research and insights in a free, community forum called “Let’s Talk About Injustice” March 19 at Cleveland State University. The Cleveland chapter of Facing History and Ourselves is hosting; the Anisfield-Wolf Book Awards is a community partner.
In “Just Mercy,” a memoir published last October, Stephenson focuses on his professional life battling judges and prosecutors on behalf of railroaded defendants, often poor people of color. He builds the book around the case of Walter McMillian, an Alabama man housed on death row for the murder of a young white woman even before the trial—despite mounds of evidence of innocence. Shortly after winning McMillian’s appeal in 1995, Stevenson won a MacArthur “genius” grant. He and the staff at EJI used the MacArthur money at EJI to build legal challenges that have rescued more than 100 defendants from death row.
Like Michelle Alexander, author of “The New Jim Crow,” Stevenson is a systemic thinker. “I don’t believe that the opposite of poverty is wealth,” he told Jon Stewart on the Daily Show during his October appearance. “I believe that in America, the opposite of poverty is justice.”
Tickets to the March 19 event are free but registration is required..