In an engaging and personal talk — with cameo appearances from his grandmother and Rosa Parks — human rights lawyer Bryan Stevenson shares some hard truths about America’s justice system, starting with a massive imbalance along racial lines: a third of the country’s black male population has been incarcerated at some point in their lives. These issues, which are wrapped up in America’s unexamined history, are rarely talked about with this level of candor, insight and persuasiveness.
“I was giving some lectures in Germany about the death penalty. It was fascinating because one of the scholars stood up after the presentation and said, ‘Well you know it’s deeply troubling to hear what you’re talking about.’ He said, ‘We don’t have the death penalty in Germany. And of course, we can never have the death penalty in Germany.’ And the room got very quiet, and this woman said, ‘There’s no way, with our history, we could ever engage in the systematic killing of human beings. It would be unconscionable for us to, in an intentional and deliberate way, set about executing people.’ And I thought about that. What would it feel like to be living in a world where the nation state of Germany was executing people, especially if they were disproportionately Jewish? I couldn’t bear it. It would be unconscionable. And yet, in this country, in the states of the Old South, we execute people — where you’re 11 times more likely to get the death penalty if the victim is white than if the victim is black, 22 times more likely to get it if the defendant is black and the victim is white — in the very states where there are buried in the ground the bodies of people who were lynched. And yet, there is this disconnect.” –Bryan A. Stevenson
Bryan Stevenson’s 20 minute TEDx speech is, without a doubt, one of the most profound, urgent and inspiring talks ever!
Bryan A. Stevenson is a Professor of Clinical Law at New York University and a public-interest lawyer who has dedicated his career to helping the poor, the incarcerated and the condemned. He’s the founder and executive director of the Equal Justice Initiative, an Alabama-based group that has won major legal challenges eliminating excessive and unfair sentencing, exonerating innocent prisoners on death row, confronting abuse of the incarcerated and the mentally ill, and aiding children prosecuted as adults. One recent victory: A ban on life imprisonment without parole sentences imposed on children convicted of most crimes in the United States.