"American Injustice": A Public Lecture with Bryan Stevenson


In partnership with the University of Missouri Honors College and numerous other departments and organizations on campus, the Kinder Institute co-sponsored a March 20, 2016, public lecture delivered by Equal Justice Initiative executive director and Just Mercy author Bryan Stevenson. Weaving together analysis and first hand accounts of the injustices that currently plague the United States justice system—and American society in general—Stevenson focused in his talk on mapping out certain action points that might put us on a path toward achieving a more just and equitable society.

He began by underscoring the importance of meaningful engagement in areas where the problems of societal abuse and neglect are most manifest. Proximity, Stevenson argued, not only grants us the power to see more clearly the consequences of these problems but also provides us with a working knowledge of the precedents underlying their perpetuation as well as the complex processes—constitutional and otherwise—that go into solving them. Where would we be, Stevenson asked, if lawyers had not become proximate to abuse during the Civil Rights era?

Still, he noted, proximity alone is not enough. Successfully solving the problems we face requires identifying and changing the narrative that underlies the nation’s history of injustice and that has allowed it to fester and grow. Because of a collective failure to realize that we live in a post-genocidal society, we have become numb to the fact that a narrative of racial difference continues to perpetuate the same ideology of white supremacy that supported slavery. And the result, he argued, is that the legacy of slavery haunts us to this day, whether it be in the form of a politics of fear and anger that has led us to incarcerate more and more African-American males at younger and younger ages or in how domestic terror shaped and still shapes the demography of American cities in a way that sustains generational poverty. Also integral to the solution, he concluded, are hopefulness and discomfort. We must remain aware, he noted in closing his talk, that the goal of establishing more powerful and effective frameworks for justice—the goal of putting procedures into place that value fairness over finality—is difficult but possible to attain and requires that we commit ourselves to doing and witnessing uncomfortable and saddening things.

Stevenson Bio PicOne of the most acclaimed and respected lawyers in the nation, Bryan Stevenson is the founder and executive director of the Equal Justice Initiative (EJI) in Montgomery, AL, and Professor of Clinical Law at New York University School of Law. He is the recipient of numerous awards, including the MacArthur Foundation’s “Genius” Grant and the NAACP Image Award for Best Non-Fiction, and, in 2015, he was named one of Time magazine’s 100 most influential people. He received a Masters in Public Policy from Harvard University’s Kennedy School of Government and a J.D. from the Harvard School of Law, and he joined the faculty at NYU in 1998. In addition, Stevenson served as a staff attorney with the Southern Center for Human Rights in Atlanta before founding the EJI. Just Mercy, which was published by Spiegel & Grau in 2014, was a finalist for the Los Angeles Book Prize and won the Carnegie Medal for Nonfiction, and it was named as one of the best books of the year by The New York Times, The Washington Post, The Boston Globe, and Esquire, among many other places.