“Just Mercy” reflects on racial injustice

Korri Palmer

Senior Staff Writer

Warning: Spoilers ahead

On most Tuesdays, I attempt to either do homework like every other Wooster student, hopefully, or I challenge myself to participate in self-care. Last Tuesday, thanks to the Allen Scholar Committee, I was able to attend the movies with four other students to watch the new film “Just Mercy.” The film encapsulates the journey of Bryan Stevenson, a defense attorney with a passion for appealing convictions of prisoners on death row. This film was riveting, and motivating, yet heartbreaking. You should really believe that coming from me because I never cry during movies, but last Tuesday, I was bawling my eyes out.

Why am I, a heartless Capricorn, crying in the theater? Well, let me provide context. With Michael B. Jordan — Hollywood’s go-to black protagonist — as the lead, we, as an audience, are taken into the deep south of Alabama to be immediately placed in the environment where black men faced death row at an alarmingly high rate. At first, I thought the movie would spare me the gut feeling of pain that most mov- ies related to civil rights do. But the most life-changing scene, in my opinion, was in combination with an immense amount of pain. Through Stevenson’s fight to establish himself as a respectable defense attorney, he picks up Herbert Richardson and Walter McMillan as his first clients. At the time, both black men are prisoners on death row.

As the film takes us through the process of appealing a case, we are exposed to the PTSD that Richardson faces after serving in the Vietnam War. This mental illness led him to murder a young woman, and as he was opposed to getting the medical help he needed, he was sentenced to death. The climax of the film occurs when Herbert is executed via electric chair. While the scene is horrifying because the electric chair seems like a torture tactic, it also feeds into the de- humanization many prisoners, especially people of color, face within the American prison industrial complex.

Anyways, back to the film. At this point I am shaking with rage, the tears are welling but not falling as we witness the pain Stevenson and McMillan face after Herbert’s execution. To simply fast forward, Mc- Millan’s case is reopened due to the fact that he is clearly innocent of the Ronda Morrison murder and the charges against him are dropped lead- ing to his freedom (this is not a spoiler since it’s history folks, so don’t get mad at me). Even though McMillan is free and the loud orchestra in the background is signifying the moment as one that is rejoiceful, I could not help but finally let my tears fall. For all the pain that falsely accused prisoners have to face and the death and punishment they must endure, they deserve so much more than one overturned conviction.

I am honestly unsure that the lives lost due to the racial injustices brought to light through this film can be made up for. I feel those mistakes simply have to lay on our consciousness as a reminder that playing God has consequences — especially when we are wrong. So, in the end, it is simply better to just have mercy.