Sitting in a warm minivan, with my sleeping toddler, in driveway of the house I own makes death row seem world’s away. Instead of just minutes…
Two years after my life began Walter McMillan’s life was sentenced to end.
As a black man in rural Alabama he received the short end of an ugly stick. One sunny afternoon while Walter hosted a fish fry in his front yard, someone murdered a woman miles away in town. Six months later a career criminal fingered Walter for the crime. Poverty restricted Walter to state appointed attorneys who quickly lost the case. In one and a half days a white jury convicted Walter McMillan and condemned him to life in prison. For a crime he didn’t commit…
From life to death
Immediately on the jury’s conviction, the judge chose to change Walter’s life sentence to death row. (Alabama remained a rare state which allowed this change by a judge.) While this change spelled death for Walter it also brought him to the attention to Bryan Stevenson, a lawyer who defended death cases.
“We were with him all day that woman died!” Minnie McMillan said shaking her head.
Bryan Stevenson and his organization the Equal Justice Initiative spent years building the case for Walter’s innocence. Despite conclusive, clear proof it took years before any judge would reconsider the case. Finally in 1989 a judge ruled that Walter deserved a new trial. Four years later Walter received a declaration of innocence.
If Walter had more money, he could have hired better defense for his clear case in the first place.
If Walter had white skin he would have fared better treatment from local police and the all-white jury.
If that Judge hadn’t sentenced Walter to die, he wouldn’t have won his freedom. Bryan Stevenson and other lawyers wouldn’t have seen his case.
Through 6 years of litigation Bryan Stevenson shares (In his book Just Mercy) the difficulty of changing a court. Despite possessing glaringly obvious evidence he simply couldn’t get judges or prosecutors to care enough to act.
Bryan Stevenson spends a lifetime looking out for those on death row and fighting against racial bias.
Many of his clients suffer because those in power didn’t care enough to think mercifully about justice.
Others of his clients suffer due to active racism perpetrated against them by those in power.
Injustice happens when those in power act wrongly with their power.
Injustice happens when those with power chose to ignore suffering.
Injustice happens when we live for ourselves rather than others.
What you need
You don’t need a law degree to pursue justice. You just need to care.
You don’t need wealth to cause injustice. You just need more power than someone else.
Jesus on justice
Jesus raged against leaders making religion keep others from God.
Jesus defended the week from those who wanted to flaunt their power.
Jesus paid the ultimate price to effect the greatest declaration ever of non-guilt.
Jesus advocated extraordinary responses to personal injustice.
I hope I have the bravery to look for injustice around me. Solving injustice means simply caring enough to care and act. Following Jesus means caring about others and caring means advocating for justice.