Just Mercy

Seeing Stone Mountain in all of its controversial glory, I think of other things made of granite, like the legislators throughout this great land of ours. Now the question is, should I apply the granite analogy to their hearts, or their heads, being made of stone? I think I’ll go with both.

I’ve just finished reading a book, “Just Mercy” by Bryan Stevenson. The book is about the criminal justice system here in the Land of the Free.

“Just Mercy” details Mr. Stevenson’s work for the last few decades in trying to acquire justice for the disadvantaged, specifically folks on death row. Mr. Stevenson’s conclusion of what we should be doing as a people is right up front in the title. If we, and our elected representatives had a policy of applying just one of “The Beatitudes” in our justice system, we wouldn’t find our selves in this god-awful mess. “The Beatitude” that I’m speaking of is, “Blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy”. In the country that has the most people incarcerated of anywhere on Earth, if we can’t be merciful with everyone, can we at least be merciful with our children?

I don’t know where the cart got off the track with juvenile offenders in this country, but we seem to be unique in the world in declaring children as adults to receive punishment. It says a lot about us as a society when we deny children the privileges afforded those who have gained majority, but we punish them like they are adults. I’m talking about privileges like driving, drinking, marrying, voting, making a will, bringing suit, making a contract, keeping their medical history private. It seems like if we can sentence a child to life in prison, or worse yet, death, that they should at least be able to vote against the SOBs making the law.

It took a Supreme Court ruling in 2005 to prevent children who committed their crime while under the age of eighteen from being put to death. At the time of the decision there were 71 people convicted for crimes they committed as children sitting on death row awaiting execution. Prior to the Supreme Court’s decision in 2005, children who had committed crimes as young as 10, have been put to death. As proof of our collective bloodlust and need to extract vengeance, between 1976 and 2005, 22 people have been put to death for crimes that they committed while they were under the age of majority.

If the irony is lost on you that a child that lacks the necessary reasoning skills to be able to join our armed forces without their parents consent, can be judged as competent when the state wants to punish them, I just don’t know what to say. There are a multitude of factors that have played into our descent into this abyss, race being the dominant factor. It seems that “all white” juries have no problem writing off a black life in the interest of expediency. Since January of 2000, there have been nine executions of offenders who were children at the time of their crime. Six of the nine executed were black. It’s hard to explain a 66% execution rate for a group of people who comprise about 13% of the population.

I know that most people would like to conveniently say, “they wouldn’t have been there if they hadn’t done something”. I’m not advocating that those who commit crimes shouldn’t be punished. I’m saying that our punishment should be merciful. Particularly when we are punishing the most fragile members of our society, our children and our mentally challenged. I mean, good God, we already do it for Wall Street, seems like we could extend those practices a little further out into the mainstream.

“Just Mercy”, read it. It will break your heart, and enrage you.

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