Just Mercy

by Bryan Stevenson

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In Just Mercy, were the police right to illegally search Stevenson's car? Should Stevenson have been more assertive?

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One night, Bryan Stevenson's sitting in his car in front of an apartment complex in a run-down neighborhood of Atlanta. He's not doing anyone any harm or breaking any laws, he's just minding his own business, listening to music. All of a sudden, he's surrounded by several police officers, one of whom points a gun at him. The officers then proceed to conduct an illegal search of Stevenson's car, which makes him feel embarrassed, hurt, and angry.

I would argue that the police officers in this case did not act appropriately. The police are supposed to uphold the law, not violate it. And yet violating the law is precisely what they did by conducting an illegal search of Bryan's car. It's more than likely that they were motivated by racial prejudice, treating Bryan the same way as they've treated countless other young African American men just like him.

As for Bryan's reaction, well he could've been more assertive, perhaps, but we can only really say that with the benefit of hindsight. And besides, the cops who searched his car had guns, and Bryan was most probably worried that he'd end up being shot if he'd been more assertive. As Bryan knows all too well, a disturbingly high number of unarmed African American men are shot by the police each year, and for obvious reasons, he didn't want to become another statistic. So instead of being more assertive at the time of his ordeal, he went through a formal complaints procedure later.

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