Widely acclaimed lawyer and humanitarian Bryan Stevenson addressed several ways to combat injustice during the LBJ Distinguished Lecture, Feb. 5.
The event was held at 7 p.m. in the Evans Auditorium after selling out of tickets days before. Stevenson is the author of “Just Mercy,” the 2017-18 Common Experience reading required for all freshmen students at Texas State. The memoir addresses topics that correlate to this year’s theme, The Search for Justice: Our Response to Crime in the 21st Century.
Stevenson tackled the many manners in which he said society can fight injustice as well as the roots of these issues.
“We have to push back on the politics of anger and fear because they are the essential ingredients of injustice,” Stevenson said.
The lawyer emphasized the idea of proximity as a solution to poverty and justice overall, claiming that in order to offer more opportunities to the poor, the U.S. must not be isolated from them but rather get closer. Stevenson encouraged the audience to get to know and work with people outside of their socioeconomic class to improve the accuracy of their worldview and ultimately to bridge gaps within society.
During the event, Stevenson was asked about recent issues regarding Student Body President Connor Clegg’s past social media posts. He claimed to have no knowledge of the incident but nonetheless, leaders should be held accountable for their actions.
“We frequently have, on college campuses, a comfort level with bigotry, racism and sexism, and that has to be confronted,” Stevenson said. “We have to disrupt that comfort. People should be held accountable for normalizing things that should never be normalized.”
Stevenson also discussed issues such as racial and economic discrimination, calling out the American justice system as one that treats those who are white and wealthy better than those who are poor or of color.
“I believe we live in a post-genocide society,” Stevenson said. “We use narratives of racial differences to justify our evil acts. The ideal of white supremacy is the true evil of slavery. I don’t think slavery ended in 1865 but that it just evolved.”
Stevenson also recalled several stories of death row inmates he met throughout his life, from his early days as an intern in law school to more recent encounters.
“It was in that moment that I knew that I wanted to help condemned people,” Stevenson said as he told the audience about his first meeting with a death row prisoner.
University President Denise Trauth, who introduced Stevenson at the beginning of the lecture, called his life work truly miraculous and said that the university was lucky to have him visit.
Stevenson ended his speech by reminding his audience to stay hopeful for hopelessness is the enemy of justice.
Stevenson is the founder and executive director of The Equal Justice Initiative, a law firm dedicated to ending mass incarceration and excessive punishment in the U.S. while protecting the rights of the most vulnerable people in the country.
Stevenson’s firm recently won a historical ruling in the U.S Supreme Court, which ruled mandatory life without parole sentences for children 17 and under are unconstitutional.