On Sunday, October 12, New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof wrote about EJI’s effort “to challenge bias and represent the voiceless.” EJI is needed, he wrote, because many Americans who believe in racial equality nonetheless remain “quietly oblivious to injustice around them” and “[t]oo many whites unquestioningly accept a system that disproportionately punishes Blacks.”
Last night, EJI Director Bryan Stevenson appeared on The Daily Show with Jon Stewart to discuss his new book, Just Mercy, which presents the story of EJI, the people we represent, and the importance of confronting injustice.
Bryan noted the disconnect between America’s self-image as an icon of freedom and liberty and the reality that the United States has the highest incarceration rate in the world. “Tough on crime” policies driven by the politics of fear and anger have increased the jail and prison population from 300,000 to 2.3 million in the past 40 years, he told Jon Stewart.
In the extended interview, Bryan talked about EJI’s work to deepen and broaden the national conversation about racial history and its legacy. EJI believes a deeper understanding of this history is necessary for us to achieve the truth and reconciliation that overcoming historic injustice requires.
And today, TIME Magazine featured EJI’s work in its latest issue. In an interview, Bryan Stevenson explains the presumption of guilt “that follows young kids of color so that even when they haven’t done anything, they get stopped, and if they don’t manage those confrontations, they get arrested.”
Children still are being housed in adult jails and prisons, where they get targeted for abuse, rape, and assault, even though juvenile facilities are available. “No one defends it, and yet we still have 10,000 children in an adult jail or prison,” Bryan explained. “It really provokes me; it’s our indifference that allows it to continue.”
EJI argued in the United States Supreme Court that sentencing children to die in prison is unconstitutional, and the Court has now banned life-imprisonment-without-parole sentences for children convicted of non-homicide crimes and mandatory death-in-prison sentences for all children. EJI is now working to end the housing of children in adult jails and prisons and to ban the prosecution of young kids under age 14 as adults.
When asked how he felt about being compared to Atticus Finch, a fictional Alabama lawyer whose African American client is wrongly convicted of raping a white woman and is later shot to death by prison guards, Bryan told TIME, “I’m really looking for more than Atticus Finch achieved. I want the innocent released. I want people unfairly sentenced to be resentenced. I want kids out of adult prisons. I want more justice than Tom Robinson gets in To Kill a Mockingbird.”