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Failings Of The Justice System

After watching Destin Cretton’s film, Just Mercy, many Americans will say that even though this case was from the late 80s, our country still faces many of the same issues. As a viewer, it was hard to swallow many times throughout the movie. From irresponsible policing to coerced confessions, Walter McMillian’s case had it all. It is utterly tragic that a person such as Mr. McMillian had to endure what he did, but there are cases out there, as we find out, that have it just as bad.

One theme of the film is justifying right from wrong. This involves many characters involving Darnell Houston, Ralph Myers, and Tommy Chapman. All three of these men were in difficult positions in their lives, especially for Ralph Myers who was on the brink of reaching death row. Beginning with Ralph Myers, he ended up as the state’s key witness in the prosecution of Mr. McMillian and the 1986 murder of Ronda Morrison. Already serving a life sentence, the county sheriff had threatened to put Ralph Myers on death row should he not falsly testify against Mr. McMillian. As the viewers find out, the two had never even previously met prior to the case hearing. Unfortunately for many inmates, even today, police coercion is an occurrence. Now don’t get me wrong, not every officer or member of law enforcement is involved in this, but there have been situations where this has been the case (Central Park Five, Richard Jewell). After meeting with Mr. McMillian’s lawyer, Bryan Stevenson, Myers decides to reappear in court and recant his previous testimony. Moving on to Tommy Chapman, the District Attorney, the initial prosecution of Walter McMillian was before his time in office. It was for Mr. Chapman though to work on the case after Mr. Stevenson was able to get a retrial. As a viewer, you can see that initially, Mr. Chapman had no interest in looking over Mr. McMillian’s case given the “amount of hurt” he had caused Monroe County. It is not until later on when Mr. Chapman agrees to team up with Mr. Stevenson and join in on the motion to drop all the charges against Walter McMillan. This is indeed a lot to take in and with that let’s take a step back. Mr. Chapman, District Attorney in a deep south state is left to deal with the murder of a young white woman who’s case had been already closed via a jury, is now faced with a bright, young Harvard lawyer presenting him facts he simply can not overlook. As he states various times throughout the film, it is his job to do what is best in the interest of the people in his county. Unfortunately, there are those in the community who do not care to even listen to the evidence and just look at the fact that Mr. McMillian is an African-American male who “looks like he could commit the crime.”On the other hand, Mr. Chapman has the prospect of doing the correct thing. As the film moves on, you see that Mr. Chapman begins to comprehend that Mr. McMillian is no criminal after all. Luckily for Mr. Stevenson, Mr. McMillian, and his family, Chapman comes to his sense and agrees to drop all charges. So while Mr. McMillian ends up with the justice he deserves, many other out there in the system do not. Just look at Anthony Ray Hinton who was wrongly convicted and was on Alabama death row for over 30 years. Again, thank to Mr. Stevenson.

This case can be tied To Kill A Mockingbird. Not only are both based out of Monroe County, Alabama, but both are dealing with similar instances of injustice. On both accounts, the failings of the justice system are depicted, and the ways in which these failings disproportionately affect the lives of African-American men are detailed. Despite the decades of time difference in the stories’ settings, a similar theme prevails: institutionalized racism across the criminal justice system. The immense effort necessary to clear Mr.McMillian’s name is evidence of the residual racial prejudices that continue to exist, even in the decades following the Jim-Crow era. This prejudice is experienced not only by the African-American community, but also by those attempting to clear the names of those wrongly accused of crimes, such as Atticus Finch and Bryan Stevenson. The parallels between the film and the movie are depictive of the inherently racist institutions that still exist in our nation today. In cities across the nation, African-American communities are gentrified into neighborhoods where poverty, and inequitable access to resources run rampant. These communities are the same as those in the movie and novel, which are criminalized simply for the color of their skin, and grossly underrepresented in the judicial and legal system. It is a vicious cycle, in which gentrification leads those without access to legal resources unable to represent themselves, and thus, subject to further inequitable treatment by law enforcement, and the justice system as whole.

2 thoughts on “Failings Of The Justice System”

  1. Alec,

    I recently viewed a series called ‘When They See Us’ on Netflix that follows the lives of the men labeled the Central Park Five. It sounds like this series was similar for you in many ways that ‘When They See Us’ was for me. I was taken aback by much of the police coercion and mistreatment shown in that series. Also, it does a great job of establishing a clear divide between the police and urban community, outlining some of the struggles that exist there. I think you did well in outlining what you were able to take from the series and comparing it to TKAM. Certainly, I see many of the similarities that you discussed, and I would be interested to look into that even further. If you were interested in some of the prejudices that exist within the justice system, even today, I would recommend watching ‘Unbelievable’ , as well. This displays a little bit of different side of the equation, one that involves gender predominately rather than race. I enjoyed reading your post!

    Tradd Stover

    Liked by 1 person

  2. It’s really interesting to think about what the film was doing with the character of Mr. Chapman, who is, as I think you’re suggesting, in some sense a foil to Stevenson – the other lawyer whose motives are granted a modicum of respect, even as we’re aware of the limitations of his perspective. The book’s treatment of Chapman is similar but not identical; you might enjoy reading it and thinking about what does and doesn’t translate across the two media.


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