BRYAN STEVENSON is the founder and Executive Director of the Equal Justice Initiative in Montgomery, Alabama. Mr. Stevenson is a widely acclaimed public interest lawyer who has dedicated his career to helping the poor, the incarcerated and the condemned. Under his leadership, EJI has won major legal challenges eliminating excessive and unfair sentencing, exonerating innocent death row prisoners, confronting abuse of the incarcerated and the mentally ill and aiding children prosecuted as adults. Mr. Stevenson has successfully argued several cases in the United States Supreme Court and recently won an historic ruling that mandatory life-without-parole sentences for all children 17 or younger are unconstitutional. Mr. Stevenson and his staff have won reversals, relief or release for over 115 wrongly condemned prisoners on death row. Mr. Stevenson has initiated major new anti-poverty and anti-discrimination efforts that challenge the legacy of racial inequality in America, including major projects to educate communities about slavery, lynching and racial segregation. Mr. Stevenson is also a Professor of Law at the New York University School of Law.
Bryan Stevenson’s book Just Mercy, now available in paperback from Random House, is a New York Times Bestseller. Just Mercy presents the story of EJI, the people we represent, and the importance of confronting injustice. The book “is as gripping as it is disturbing,” wrote Nobel Peace Prize Laureate Desmond Tutu, “as if America’s soul has been put on trial.”
The Equal Justice Initiative is committed to ending mass incarceration and excessive punishment in the United States, to challenging racial and economic injustice, and to protecting basic human rights for the most vulnerable people in American society.
EJI works with communities that have been marginalized by poverty and discouraged by unequal treatment. EJI produces groundbreaking reports, an award-winning wall calendar, and short films that explore our nation’s history of racial injustice, and we recently launched an ambitious national effort to create new spaces, markers, and memorials that address the legacy of slavery, lynching, and racial segregation, which shapes many issues today. They also provide research and recommendations to assist advocates and policymakers in the critically important work of criminal justice reform. We publish reports, discussion guides, and other educational materials, and our staff conduct educational tours and presentations for thousands of students, teachers, faith leaders, professional associations, community groups, and international visitors every year.
In state appellate courts across the country, EJI is arguing that recent United States Supreme Court decisions require real reform in sentencing children who were tried and convicted in adult court. See More Info on this
The United States has done very little to acknowledge the legacy of genocide, slavery, lynching, and racial segregation. As a result, people of color are marginalized, disadvantaged, and disproportionately impoverished; the criminal justice system is infected with racial bias; and a presumption of guilt and dangerousness has led to unjustified police violence against black and brown people. EJI believes that this has created continuing challenges for all Americans and more must be done to advance our collective goal of equal justice for all.
EJI narrates that to justify the the brutal and dehumanizing institution of Slavery in America, its advocates created a myth of racial difference that claimed white people were intellectually and morally superior to African Americans. They suggest that under this narrative, black people’s lifelong and nearly inescapable enslavement was defended as necessary for the well being of the negro instead of a crime against humanity. Therefore, slavery was justified as an act of kindness and the formal abolition of slavery did nothing to overcome the harmful ideas created to defend it, therefore slavery did not end with emancipation.
Eji releases a 2017 calendar, A History of Racial Injustice, which contains hundreds of facts and images about our history that are not well known but are critically important to understanding the history of America.
It is a full-color wall calendar that includes hundreds of historical entries and twelve short essays highlighting historical events and issued in our nation’s racial history.
The first calendar was published in 2013 as a part of a series of reports and educational materials that explore the legacy of racial bias in the United States and its continuing impact on contemporary policies and practices.
Each year, more content and new essays are added to make the calendar a helpful tool for learning more about racial history. Expanded content from A History of Racial Injustice is available in their EJI’s Online Timeline.
The United States incarcerates more of it’s citizens than any other nation in the world. The U.S. has 5% of the world’s population but nearly 25% of its prisoners. In the 1990s, as lawmakers campaigned to “get tough on crime,” America built a new prison every two weeks and still could not meet the demand for prison beds. Private prisons operated by for-profit corporations multiplied from five in 1998 to a hundred in 2008, and profits have increased more than 500 percent in the last 20 years, creating perverse incentives and hindering efforts to reform sentencing laws, emphasize rehabilitation goals, and reduce the prison population.
On October 14, 2014, the Equal Justice Initiative filed a class action lawsuit in federal court on behalf of men incarcerated at St. Clair Correctional Facility in Springville, Alabama. EJI filed the suit following the failure of the Alabama Department of Corrections to respond to dangerous conditions and an extraordinarily high rate of violence at St. Clair, including six homicides in the preceding 36 months. EJI asserts in the complaint that violence at the severely overcrowded facility can be traced to poor management, noncompliance with protocols and procedures, and corruption.
EJI’s investigation into conditions at St. Clair revealed mismanagement, poor leadership, and frequent verbal and physical abuse by some officers, including several high ranking supervisors. EJI has documented serious and chronic lapses in security, including broken and non-functioning locks on the majority of cell doors. Prison leadership and staff tolerate a culture of violence at St. Clair, where weekly stabbings and violent assaults are too often deadly.
Eji states that “Because of poor leadership, drugs and other contraband — often brought into the facility and sold to prisoners by officers or staff — are prevalent, creating instability and increasing violence. The potential for violence is exacerbated by new policies that have eliminated or severely cut back mental health and drug treatment services and rehabilitative programming, limited recreation, and removed books and other constructive activities from housing units.”
In April 2014, EJI shared its troubling findings with Alabama Department of Corrections Commissioner (ADOC) Kim Thomas and asked him to investigate the escalating violence at St. Clair under the leadership of Warden Carter Davenport. In June 2014, after another murder, EJI renewed its formal request for the immediate removal of Warden Davenport and the appointment of correctional staff who can address the dramatic increase in serious violence at the prison.
Yet another homicide occurred when Timothy Duncan was killed at St. Clair in September 2014. The department’s inaction forced EJI to initiate court action to address the increasingly perilous situation at St. Clair. “We believe we’ve been very patient with prison authorities, but they have taken no action to address these urgent problems,” said EJI Director Bryan Stevenson, who filed the lawsuit. “ADOC’s failure to manage its prisons safely is not about a lack of money, but a lack of will to act responsibly. The situation at St. Clair is getting worse and immediate action is required.”
More than eight in ten American lynchings between 1889 and 1918 occurred in the South, and more than eight in ten of the more than 1400 executions carried out in this country since 1976 have been in the South. EJI believes that the death penalty in America is a failed, expensive policy defined by bias and error. They report that modern death sentences are disproportionately meted out to African Americans accused of crimes against white victims although African Americans make up less than 13% of the nation’s population, but 42% of the 2905 currently on death row are black and 35% of those executed since 1976 have been black. The proclaimed victims were white in over 75% of the cases resulting in execution since 1976, although only 50% of murder victims nationwide are white. Mounting evidence shows that innocent people have been sentenced to death and that serious legal errors infect the administration of capital punishment. 156 people have been exonerated and released from death row. For every nine people executed in this country, one innocent person on death row has been identified and exonerated.
The Equal Justice Community Remembrance Project or EJI is more popularly known for it’s campaign to recognize the victims of lynching by collecting soil from lynching sites and building a lasting and more visible memory of the horrors of racial injustice.
Jars of collected soil will be a part of an exhibit that will reflect the history of lynching and express our generation’s resolve to confront the continuing challenges that racial inequality creates.
Between the Civil War and World War II, thousands of African Americans were lynched in the United States. Lynchings were violent and public acts of torture that traumatized black people throughout the country and were largely tolerated by state and federal officials. EJI has documented more than 4000 racial terror lynchings in 12 Southern states between the end of Reconstruction in 1877 and 1950 — several hundred of these victims were lynched in Alabama.
Lynching profoundly impacted race relations in this country and shaped the geographic, political, social, and economic conditions of African Americans in ways that are still evident today. Terror lynchings fueled the mass migration of millions of black people from the South into urban ghettos in the North and West in the first half of the 20th century. Lynching created a fearful environment in which racial subordination and segregation were maintained with limited resistance for decades. Most critically, lynching reinforced a legacy of racial inequality that has never been adequately addressed in America.
Public acknowledgment of mass violence is essential not only for victims and survivors, but also for perpetrators and bystanders who suffer from trauma and damage related to their participation in systematic violence and dehumanization. Yet most lynchings, and their victims, have never been publicly recognized. To create greater awareness and understanding about racial terror lynchings, and to begin a necessary conversation that advances truth and reconciliation, EJI is working with communities to commemorate and recognize the traumatic era of lynching by collecting soil from lynching sites across Alabama.
(The two people in this picture are collecting soil from the location of Mr. Berney’s death as part of EJI’s Community Remembrance Project.)
(In 1893, a white mob stormed the jail in Carrollton, Alabama, and lynched Paul Hill, Paul Archer, Will Archer, Emma Fair, and Ed Guyton, four black men and a black woman who had been accused of setting a fire that destroyed a mill and gin house. They did not resist arrest and insisted that they were innocent. As the great anti-lynching crusader Ida B. Wells wrote in her investigation of the lynching, the unarmed black people “in their bolted prison cells could do nothing but suffer and die.”)
(Between 1870 and 1940, several hundred African Americans were lynched in the State of Alabama – victims of racial terror that was largely sanctioned by state and local officials. )
Bryan Stevenson, whose organization has helped spare the lives of more than 115 wrongfully-condemned death row prisoners, joins “CBS This Morning” to discuss his latest project.
The Museum and Memorial in Montgomery, Alabama is expected to open in 2017.