“Each one of us is more than the worst thing we’ve ever done,” Bryan Stevenson claims in his book Just Mercy. He makes this claim while talking about the prisoners who are on death row or spending life in prison for committing one bad crime. This quote holds true as Stevenson works with many people on death row and discovers their life. His experience also revealed to him the pervasiveness of violence. The violence that takes place in our legal system is at an unbearable level. Though Stevenson’s personal account with prisoners he reveals the different types inevitable violence that takes place within our legal system.
Stevenson describes a personal encounter in his book. Early in his career, Stevenson had an interaction with police (Stevenson, 2014: 40-42). As he was gathering his things in his car, two officers had left their vehicle and began to approach Stevenson. He had just gotten out of his car to walk to his apartment when one of officer drew his gun onto Stevenson. The officers demanded him to remain still or else they would shoot. Stevenson was terrified.
His first instinct in this moment was to run. Stevenson instant fear triggered this thought. Running would mean likely death and he recognized the poor logic in that potential decision. This raised some concern with Stevenson. This made him think of what other people may do in this moment. This can be related to the number of shooting of unarmed men in America. How many of these men had run merely because they are scared, even if they are perfectly innocent? Stevenson was psychologically violated in this encounter. He was a victim of direct violence.
The officers began to question Stevenson. They asked questions revolving what he was doing in the neighborhood and why he was in the street. Stevenson fearfully would respond that he lived here as was just listening to music in his car. The officers then searched his vehicle and scavenged through his different papers and compartments. More and more neighbors began watching this encounter with the police.
Some of his neighbors even began encouraging the police. They were telling the officers to ask Stevenson about their missing items. This exposes the cultural violence in this encounter. All of the neighbors were so quick to accept the violence that was taking place. It shows the amount of pre-determined bias the neighbors had to just accept whoever the police thought was guilty. This cultural violence is also revealed when one of officers is disappointed that they did not “have anything” on Stevenson. They had an expectancy of finding some guilt on Stevenson. He was then released by the police and told that he should be grateful.
After this encounter, he made his story public but was still very irritated. Stevenson was the victim of both direct and cultural violence in a single encounter. This was the direct law causing this violence. Stevenson was frustrated that law enforcement would be reason for this. Direct violence can also be revealed in the case of Trina Garnett.
Trina Garnett was just fourteen when she was arrested, tried, and sentenced to a death in prison (Stevenson 2014: 148-154). She was the youngest of twelve children who had a very abusive father. It was not unusual for her to be stripped naked and beaten in front of the rest of the kids. Through all of these events Trina became very mentally disfigured. Trina eventually ran away.
She found herself moving from home to home. She was sexually abused in multiple settings and was living a very dangerous childhood. Trina met a couple brothers who’s mother prohibited them from seeing her.
One night, Trina snuck into their house. She used matches to sneak her way through the dark of the house. In a terrible accident, the house burned down killing the two boys. Following the tragedy, Trina was placed into an adult female prison.
The legal system failed Trina, when her lawyer made no attempt to show her mental disability. This forced her to be tried as an adult. The judge was depressed because he believed that Trina had no intent of killing her friends. Trina then became of a victim of both direct and structural in prison. In prison, Trina was raped and impregnated by a guard. Trina had become victimized of direct violence.
Much structural violence takes place in everyday life. Ian Manuel can be seen as a victim of structural violence with Just Mercy.
At age thirteen, Ian was abandoned by his family and left to be homeless. One day, after being influenced by two older boys he took part in a robbery. During the robbery, one of the victims fought back. Ian then shot her and injured her jaw. After being misinformed by a lawyer, Ian please guilty for second degree homicide and was given a life sentence in an adult prison.
The prison officials placed Ian into solitary confinement because of potential risk to sexual violence. Solitary confinement is structural violence and Ian’s story shows it very well. In solitary confinement Ian had minimal exercise, little human contact, poor eating habits.