Amid all the George Floyd protests, Warner Bros, the publisher of the movie Just Mercy, has made it free (you can easily watch it for free in 4K on YouTube). Just Mercy is an all too familiar and relevant story. It tells of the injustices that plague the black community from the police and the judicial system, which work hand in hand. Aside from this movie, Netflix’s “The Innocence Files” and “When They See Us” (Central Park Five) also resonate with the evil that has happened and still goes on to this day.
Plot: *WARNING: Spoilers (duh)*
Based on a true story, it details on George McMillan and his lawyer, Bryan Stevenson. George McMillan had been wrongfully arrested, convicted of murder, and sentenced to death. Worse yet, the jury was hand picked to not contain any black jurors, and decided on life imprisonment, not a death penalty. The Alabama Court of Criminal Appeals turned down four of his appeals, and it wasn’t until 6 years later in 1993 that they finally reversed the ruling made by the lower court that had convicted McMillan, thanks to Stevenson and Eva Ansley’s Equal Justice Initiative (which back then was conceptually the Innocence Project)
The trial itself is all too familiar as well. There was no evidence, and the conviction was entirely based on perjury and coercion by the police. Their only “witness” was a convicted felon who had been threatened with death row. Insult to injury, the people who could provide solid alibis for McMillan were never considered into the trial, and much evidence/factors that would’ve been in McMillan’s favor were disregarded in full. The trial lasted less than two days. It makes my skin crawl knowing that there are at least 100,000 innocent people in prison, some of which who have already died or given up.
The most sad event in the movie was the death of Herbert Richardson. He was a Vietnam war veteran with mental health issues and PTSD. He made a bomb that mistakenly killed a girl. He gets executed 11 years later via the electric chair. Richardson would’ve been fine had he received timely and proper legal assistance, especially during his trial (in which his mental health is not even talked about; nor his service to the country). Other than that, it’s disgusting to know that if he was white, he would have not been misinterpreted in court and would’ve got proper care; lest not get a death penalty.
The movie gets a 10/10 for me. It manages to have side plot elements (like seeing one of the police officers grow a conscience, and Richardson) that don’t draw attention away from the primary plot involving McMillan and his lawyer. They also start it with a surprising bang. McMillan is just doing his everyday routine, when he randomly gets stopped by a squadron of police, all of whom already decided McMillan was guilty before a trial even started. Though McMillan ultimately becomes a free man at the end of a movie, it is a very bittersweet ending. He and his family get no compensation whatsoever, and all the guilty parties are never held accountable. Thomas Tate, the sheriff in the movie, has “peacefully” retired just several years ago. Just Mercy is sure to bring awareness to the lack of accountability that police and the justice system have when they make egregious mistakes, even decades later.