The Rationalization of Racial Injustice
Bryan Stevenson, Sojourners
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Sojourners Editor's note: The following is the foreword from Jim Wallis' new book America's Original Sin: Racism, White Privilege, and the Bridge to a New America.
01-20-2016 | Late one night several years ago, I was getting out of my car on an empty midtown Atlanta street when a man standing fifteen feet away pointed a gun at me and threatened to "blow my head off." I had just moved to the neighborhood, which I didn't consider to be a high-crime area. Panicked thoughts raced through my mind as the threat was repeated. I quickly realized that my first instinct to run was misguided and dangerous, so I fearfully raised my hands in helpless, terrifying submission to the barrel of a handgun. I tried to stay calm and begged the man not to shoot me, repeating over and over again, "It's alright, it's okay."
As a young attorney working on criminal cases, I knew that my survival required careful, strategic thinking. I had to stay calm. I'd just returned home from my office with a car filled with legal papers, but I knew the man holding the gun wasn't targeting me because he thought I was a young professional. A young, bearded black man dressed casually in jeans, I didn't look like a lawyer with a Harvard Law School degree to most people; I just looked like a black man in America. I had spent much of my life in the church. I graduated from a Christian college and was steeped in Dr. King's teachings of nonviolence, but none of that mattered to the Atlanta police officer threatening to kill me. To that officer, I looked like a criminal, dangerous and guilty.
Bryan Stevenson is the executive director of the Equal Justice Initiative in Montgomery, Ala., author of Just Mercy: A Story of Justice and Redemption, and a professor of law at New York University School of Law. He has won relief for dozens of condemned prisoners, argued five times before the Supreme Court, and won national acclaim for his work challenging bias against the poor and people of color. He has received numerous awards, including the MacArthur Foundation “Genius” Grant.
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