You ultimately judge the civility of a society not by how it treats the rich, the powerful, the protected and the highly esteemed, but by how it treats the poor, the disfavored and the disadvantaged.— Bryan Stevenson
The most fulfilling Bryan Stevenson quotes that are easy to memorize and remember
The true measure of our character is how we treat the poor, the disfavored, the accused, the incarcerated, and the condemned.
The greatest evil of American slavery was not involuntary servitude but rather the narrative of racial differences we created to legitimate slavery. Because we never dealt with that evil, I don't think slavery ended in 1865, it just evolved.
Each of us is more than the worst thing we've ever done.
We live in a country that talks about being the home of the brave and the land of the free, and we have the highest incarceration rate in the world.
The Bureau of Justice reports that one in three black male babies born this century will go to jail or prison - that is an absolutely astonishing statistic. And it ought to be terrorizing to not just to people of color, but to all of us.
We are all broken by something. We have all hurt someone and have been hurt. We all share the condition of brokenness even if our brokenness is not equivalent.
We've all been acculturated into accepting the inevitability of wrongful convictions, unfair sentences, racial bias, and racial disparities and discrimination against the poor.
Whenever society begins to create policies and laws rooted in fear and anger, there will be abuse and injustice.
We don't need police officers who see themselves as warriors.
We need police officers who see themselves as guardians and parts of the community. You can't police a community that you're not a part of.
But simply punishing the broken--walking away from them or hiding them from sight--only ensures that they remain broken and we do, too. There is no wholeness outside of our reciprocal humanity.
You can't demand truth and reconciliation.
You have to demand truth - people have to hear it, and then they have to want to reconcile themselves to that truth.
It's that mind-heart connection that I believe compels us to not just be attentive to all the bright and dazzling things but also the dark and difficult things.
Embracing a certain quotient of racial bias and discrimination against the poor is an inexorable aspect of supporting capital punishment. This is an immoral condition that makes rejecting the death penalty on moral grounds not only defensible but necessary for those who refuse to accept unequal or unjust administration of punishment.
In most places, when people hear about or see something that is a symbol or representation or evidence of slavery or the slave trade or lynching, the instinct is to cover it up, to get rid of it, to destroy it.
The reality is that capital punishment in America is a lottery.
It is a punishment that is shaped by the constraints of poverty, race, geography and local politics.
Sometimes the facts of the crime are so distracting - there's been some tragic murder or horrific incident, and people aren't required to think as carefully and thoughtfully, and directly, about this legacy of racial inequality and structural poverty. And what it's contributing to these wrongful convictions.
When you come to Montgomery, you see fifty-nine monuments and memorials, all about the Civil War, all about Confederate leaders and generals. We have lionized these people, and we have romanticized their courage and their commitment and their tenacity, and we have completely eliminated the reality that created the Civil War.
Intuitively we all like to seek the things that are comfortable rather than uncomfortable. But I do think there is a way of saying that if I believe in justice and I believe that justice is a constant struggle, and if I want to create justice, then I have to get comfortable with struggle.
The death penalty symbolizes whom we fear and don't fear, whom we care about and whose lives are not valid.
Many states can no longer afford to support public education, public benefits, public services without doing something about the exorbitant costs that mass incarceration have created.
My parents, who grew up in terror and dealt with segregation and humiliation, nonetheless taught us to be hopeful and open and loving and not hateful toward anyone.
You can be a career professional as a judge, a prosecutor, sometimes as a defense attorney, and never insist on fairness and justice. That's tragic and that's what we have to change.
I think there is a contempt for the human dignity of people who were enslaved.
You couldn't see them as fully human and so you didn't respect their desire to be connected to a family and a place. That was the only way you could tolerate and make sense of lynching and the terror that lynching represented.
Because my great-grandparents were enslaved people, the legacy of slavery was something that didn't seem impersonal or disconnected. That's what motivated me to get into law.
That's what's provocative to me - that we can victimize people, we can torture and traumatize people with no consciousness that it is a shameful thing to do.
It can be a challenge, but my legacy, at least for the people who came before me, is you don't run from challenges because that's more comfortable and convenient.
My parents lived in a poor rural community on the Eastern Shore, and schools were still segregated. And I remember when lawyers came into our community to open up the public schools to black kids.
Part of the reason why we're only now reaching a point in American society where we can talk about the need for truth and reconciliation and the legacy of slavery is that it was such a dominant part of our history.
When I stepped into this world, I saw that we were all burdened by a certain kind of indifference to the plight of poor people. We were burdened by an insensitivity to a legacy of racial bias. We were tolerating unfairness and unreliability in a way that burdened me and provoked me.
Once we had a rail station in Montgomery that connected to Columbus and went all the way up to Virginia, slave traders could transport thousands of slaves at a fraction of the cost than they could transport by boat, and certainly by foot. And that's how Montgomery became such an active slave-trading space.
We have a system of justice in [the US] that treats you much better if you're rich and guilty than if you're poor and innocent. Wealth, not culpability, shapes outcomes.
The opposite of poverty is not wealth. ... In too many places, the opposite of poverty is justice.
Lynching is an important aspect of racial history and racial inequality in America, because it was visible, it was so public, it was so dramatic, and it was so violent.
In many ways, we've been taught to think that the real question is, do people deserve to die for the crimes they've committed? And that's a very sensible question. But there's another way of thinking about where we are in our identity. The other way of thinking about it is not, do people deserve to die for the crimes they commit, but do we deserve to kill?
I have to get comfortable with resistance, and even sometimes with hostility.
In a landscape littered with all of this imagery about the nobility of the Civil War and the Confederate effort and struggle, the absence of markers says something really powerful.
Knowing what I know about the people who have come before me, and the people who came before them, and what they had to do, it changes my capacity to stay engaged, to stay productive.
I say this thing about how I've never had to say my head is bloodied but not bowed, like everybody who came before me had to say. And that tells me that I can do a lot more than I think I can.
I've come to understand and to believe that each of us is more than the worst thing we've ever done. I believe that for every person on the planet. I think if somebody tells a lie, they're not just a liar. I think if somebody takes something that doesn't belong to them, they're not just a thief. I think even if you kill someone, you're not just a killer. And because of that, there's this basic human dignity that must be respected by law.
Somebody has to stand when other people are sitting.
Somebody has to speak when other people are quiet.
Always do the right thing even when the right thing is the hard thing
If you're just the person with power, exercising that power fearfully and angrily, you're going to be an operative of injustice and inequality.
I think hopelessness is the enemy of justice.
If you love your country, then you need to be thinking a lot more critically about what justice.
I don't think there's been a time in American history with more innocent people in prison.
Why do we want to kill all the broken people?
All of our survival is tied to the survival of everyone.
I do talk and think a lot about the legacy before me.
I feel like if I didn't know that people had been in Montgomery sixty years ago trying to do similar things that I'm trying to do, with a lot less, with fewer resources, with less security, with less encouragement, with less opportunity - if I didn't know that, then I think doing what I do would be much, much harder.
There were people in the South who were ardently opposed to slavery.
And maybe, if we get into truth and reconciliation, those will be the people we want to name schools and streets after.