Racial Inequality and Police Brutality in “Just Mercy” and “All American Boys”
Pervasive Police Injustice:
After reading Just Mercy and All American Boys, I was astonished by the controversial topics I had read in each book. They discussed topics such as racial injustice and police brutality, which have been argued about for years. At first, I thought I understood these topics and how they affect people, but reading about them gave me a larger perspective on them. Just Mercy follows a young attorney named Bryan Stevenson, who shoulders the weight of many difficult cases. His cases have ranged from life imprisonment of children to an innocent colored man on death row.
This historical nonfiction gave me a new perspective on an old, broken law system that was used less than 50 years ago by the U.S. Next. All American Boys is a fiction trailing an African American teen named Rashad, who was wrongly accused of stealing and brutally beaten by a police officer. Reading this book showed me how upsetting police brutality is. Both books showed me how police and racial injustice can affect people on a large scale. These two books have shared valuable information with me. They have shown me what is alike and different about them, and they have opened my eyes to how our world is today.
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Racial Injustice: A Lingering Scar:
Throughout these books, I have noticed that they both share a lot about police injustice. In Just Mercy, a woman named Ronda Morrison was murdered at a store. Nobody, including the police, knew who murdered Ronda. Soon, people started to get angry and blame the police for not catching the criminal. To please the angered public, the police arrested an innocent African American man named Walter and claimed he murdered Ronda. Though in reality, Walter was at a fish fry during the time and day of the murder. Later, Walter was sent to Alabama’s death row, awaiting execution.
The police bribed and threatened many people to lie in court, making a false story about what happened the day of the murder to keep Walter on death row. As well as in Just Mercy, All American Boys also had their fair share of police injustice. At the beginning of the book, a white police officer named Paul beats an African American teenager named Rashad brutally on the sidewalk outside of a store named Jerry’s. Rashad was sent to the hospital immediately, which caused conflict between people. Paul later claimed that Rashad had been caught stealing and resisted arrest. He said he was just doing his job, and that caused controversy for many people. Both books shared examples of police injustice and how it affected people. Following police injustice was something that is still upsetting today.
Apart from police injustice, both books shared a lot about racial injustice and how colored people were often mistreated based on their looks. In All American Boys, after Rashad was beaten and sent to the hospital, his brother Spoony arrived the next day to see if his younger brother was all right. After hearing Rashad’s side of the story, Spoony was outraged, saying that this happens all the time and nobody bothers to stop it.
Later, Rashad explains to the readers why Spoony was so angry, saying, “He was always a suspect. And I knew, without him saying a word, that the one thing he never wanted, but was sure to eventually happen, was for his little brother-the ROTC art kid-to become one too”. Both Spoony and Rashad are people of color, and for Spoony’s whole life, the way he looked affected the way that people viewed him. Spoony had always been a suspect to everyone, and he didn’t want his brother to become one too.
Similar to All American Boys, Just Mercy showed how racist thoughts clouded the minds of many people. At the beginning of the book, when Stevenson first reviewed Walter’s case, he does not agree with why Walter was put on death row, and he shares his thoughts about his case with the readers stating, “But there was no evidence against McMillian-no evidence except that he was an African American man involved in an adulterous interracial affair, which meant he was reckless and possibly dangerous, even if he had no prior criminal history and a good reputation.
Maybe that was evidence enough”. The only evidence that the public used to condemn Walter was from an “affair” he had with a white woman named Karen Kelly. What also added to that corrupt mage was the lies that the police had told people about Walter. They claimed he was in a gang and was also a Drug kingpin, which scared many people. Both books seemed to have much to talk about concerning police injustice and how it can affect people in the long run. Now, we start to see more about how books are different from each other.
Differing Focuses in Both Narratives:
Apart from both books sharing similarities, they also have many differences, such as which the book focuses more on. In Just Mercy, apart from Walters’s case, there were also many cases that mentioned children being prosecuted as adults either for mistakes, petty crimes, or being framed. Many of these cases Stevenson explained to the readers really put into perspective how broken the U.S. law system was not that long ago.
Stevenson explains how many kids have been sentenced to life imprisonment without parole, saying that “Our litigation strategy was complicated by the fact that more than 2,500 children in the United States had been sentenced to life imprisonment without parole”. That many kids sentenced to life imprisonment without parole is a ridiculously high number of kids prosecuted in the U.S. It is sad to hear that so many children had their lives thrown away by having to spend the rest of their lives in an adult prison, feeling utterly scared and alone.
In All American Boys, instead of focusing on imprisoned children, the book focuses more on colored people who had their lives taken away by police brutality. Nearing the end of the book, Rashad, accompanied by friends and family, formed a protest against police brutality. They started a march at Jerry’s and ended the march with a die-in at the front doors of the police department. During the die-in, Spoony’s girlfriend Berry starts a roll call, calling the names of the unarmed colored people who had been killed by police.
After each name was called, the crowd responded by saying, “Absent again today.” When Berry did her roll call, the names on her list were names of people who had died of a gunshot fired by a police officer. Each of those names mentioned in the roll call scene were actual people who had lives of their own. They had lived lives similar to you and me, but theirs ended with a gunshot fired by a police officer who didn’t understand that they weren’t doing anything wrong.
Relevance in Today’s World:
As well as in All American Boys and Just Mercy, our world today shares many controversies regarding race and police brutality similar to the books. An example of both police brutality and racial discrimination shown in both books is an incident that happened near the beginning of 2018. NBA African American player Sterling Brown was tased and arrested on an early morning errand at a drugstore on January 26. He walked out of the drugstore to an awaiting white police officer standing outside of his car.
The officer then started to question him and called back up to the scene. Soon, Brown was surrounded and pushed to the ground, only to be tasered and handcuffed for a mere parking violation. This shows how the police can be to people of color and how they can act poorly in a situation that does not require any sense of brutality. This incident is similar to both books regarding the fact that in each book, the police acted poorly in a tight situation, and they took drastic measures because the victim was a person of color. This goes to show just how sad people’s judgment can be.
After reading both books, my eyes have been opened to many conflicts and struggles that people face today. Comparing both books, they have many similarities and differences, but they are more similar than different. They both share police injustice, racial injustice, and the struggles of being someone of color. They also have differences in what the book is focused on as well. Just Mercy focused on life-imprisoned children, whereas All American Boys focused on how people of color were perceived. These books have shown me many valuable truths about what is wrong with our world today, and I learned many things from both of them.
- Bell, K. (2018, May 25). Sterling Brown arrest: Milwaukee Police release body-cam video. CNN. https://www.cnn.com/2018/05/24/us/milwaukee-police-sterling-brown-video/index.html
- Reynolds, J., & Kiely, B. (2015). All American Boys. Atheneum/Caitlyn Dlouhy Books.
- Stevenson, B. (2014). Just Mercy. Spiegel & Grau.