Amnesty International Group 22 Pasadena/Caltech News
Volume XXIV Number 8, August 2016


 UPCOMING EVENTS
  Tuesday, September 13, 7:30 PM. Letter 
writing meeting at Caltech Athenaeum, corner 
of Hill and California in Pasadena. In the 
summer we meet outdoors at the "Rath al 
Fresco," on the lawn behind the building. This 
informal gathering is a great way for 
newcomers to get acquainted with Amnesty.
  Sunday, September 18, 6:30 PM,.  Rights 
Readers Human Rights Book Discussion group. 
This month we read "Just Mercy" by Bryan 
Stevenson.
  Thursday, September 22, 7:30 PM. Monthly 
Meeting. We meet at the Caltech Y, Tyson 
House, 505 S. Wilson Ave., Pasadena. (This is 
just south of the corner with San Pasqual. 
Signs will be posted.) We will be planning our 
activities for the coming months. Please join 
us! Refreshments provided. 

COORDINATOR'S CORNER

Hi everyone

Hope everyone has had a good summer 
(although it's not over yet!).  We're back from 
the "Grand Tour" and back to the workday 
grind! I have a new position working with the 
Visually Impaired program at a site in 
Silverlake.   

Please note we start our monthly meetings again 
in September after taking a summer hiatus.  
Come ready to work on actions for our POC 
Narges and others!
 
Con Carino, Kathy



Next Rights Readers meeting: 
Sunday, Sept. 18 
 6:30 PM
Vroman's Bookstore
(upstairs)
695 E. Colorado Blvd
Pasadena

Just Mercy

by Bryan Stevenson


REVIEW
The New York Times Sunday Book Review
By TED CONOVER OCT. 17, 2014
"Just Mercy" by Bryan Stevenson

 
The electric chair at Sing Sing prison in Ossining, N.Y., in 
1953. Credit Associated Press

Unfairness in the Justice system is a major theme 
of our age. DNA analysis exposes false 
convictions, it seems, on a weekly basis. The 
predominance of racial minorities in jails and 
prisons suggests systemic bias. Sentencing 
guidelines born of the war on drugs look 
increasingly draconian. Studies cast doubt on 
the accuracy of eyewitness testimony. Even the 
states that still kill people appear to have 
forgotten how; lately executions have been 
botched to horrific effect.

This news reaches citizens in articles and 
television spots about mistreated individuals. 
But "Just Mercy," a memoir, aggregates and 
personalizes the struggle against injustice in the 
story of one activist lawyer.

Bryan Stevenson grew up poor in Delaware. His 
great-grandparents had been slaves in Virginia. 
His grandfather was murdered in a Philadelphia 
housing project when Stevenson was a teenager. 
Stevenson attended Eastern College (now 
Eastern University), a Christian institution 
outside Philadelphia, and then Harvard Law 
School. Afterward he began representing poor 
clients in the South, first in Georgia and then in 
Alabama, where he was a co-founder of the 
Equal Justice Initiative.

 "Just Mercy" focuses mainly on that work, and 
those clients. Its narrative backbone is the story 
of Walter McMillian, whom Stevenson began 
representing in the late 1980s when he was on 
death row for killing a young white woman in 
Monroeville, Ala., the hometown of Harper Lee. 
Monroeville has long promoted its connection to 
"To Kill a Mockingbird," which is about a black 
man falsely accused of the rape of a white 
woman. As Stevenson writes, "Sentimentality 
about Lee's story grew even as the harder truths 
of the book took no root." Walter McMillian had 
never heard of the book, and had scarcely been 
in trouble with the law. He had, however, been 
having an affair with a white woman, and 
Stevenson makes a persuasive case that it made 
McMillian, who cut timber for a living, 
vulnerable to prosecution.

McMillian's ordeal is a good subject for 
Stevenson, first of all because it was so 
outrageous. The reader quickly comes to root for 
McMillian as authorities gin up a case against 
him, ignore the many eyewitnesses who were 
with him at a church fund-raiser at his home 
when the murder took place, and send him - 
before trial - to death row in the state pen. 
When the almost entirely white jury returns a 
sentence of life in prison, the judge, named 
Robert E. Lee Key, takes it upon himself to 
convert it to the death penalty.

Stevenson's is not the first telling of this 
miscarriage of justice: "60 Minutes" did a 
segment on it, and the journalist Pete Earley 
wrote a book about the case, "Circumstantial 
Evidence" (1995). McMillian's release in 1993 
made the front page of The New York Times. 
But this book brings new life to the story by 
placing it in two affecting contexts: Stevenson's 
life's work and the deep strain of racial injustice 
in American life. McMillian's was a 
foundational case for the author, both 
professionally and personally; the exoneration 
burnished his reputation. A strength of this 
account is that instead of the Hollywood 
moment of people cheering and champagne 
popping when the court finally frees McMillian, 
Stevenson admits he was "confused by my 
suddenly simmering anger." He found himself 
thinking of how much pain had been visited on 
McMillian and his family and community, and 
about others wrongly convicted who hadn't 
received the death penalty and thus were less 
likely to attract the attention of activist lawyers.

Stevenson uses McMillian's case to illustrate his 
commitment both to individual defendants - 
he remained closely in touch until McMillian's 
death last year - and to endemic problems in 
American jurisprudence. The more success 
Stevenson has fighting his hopeless causes, the 
more support he attracts. Soon he has won a 
MacArthur "genius" grant, Sweden's Olof 
Palme prize and other awards and distinctions, 
and is attracting enough federal and foundation 
support to field a whole staff. By the second half 
of the book, they are taking on mandatory life 
sentences for children (now abolished) and 
broader measures to encourage Americans to 
recognize the legacy of slavery in today's 
criminal justice system.

As I read this book I kept thinking of Paul 
Farmer, the physician who has devoted his life 
to improving health care for the world's poor, 
notably Haitians. The men are roughly 
contemporaries, both have won MacArthur 
grants, both have a Christian bent and Harvard 
connections, Stevenson even quotes Farmer - 
who, it turns out, sits on the board of the Equal 
Justice Initiative. Farmer's commitment to the 
poor was captured in Tracy Kidder's 
"Mountains Beyond Mountains" (and Kidder's 
advance praise adorns the back cover of "Just 
Mercy").

A difference, and one that worried me at first, is 
that Farmer was fortunate enough to have 
Kidder as his Boswell, relieving him of the 
awkward task of extolling his own good deeds. 
Stevenson, writing his own book, walks a tricky 
line when it comes to showing how good can 
triumph in the world, without making himself 
look solely responsible.

Luckily, you don't have to read too long to start 
cheering for this man. Against tremendous 
odds, Stevenson has worked to free scores of 
people from wrongful or excessive punishment, 
arguing five times before the Supreme Court. 
And, as it happens, the book extols not his 
nobility but that of the cause, and reads like a 
call to action for all that remains to be done.

 "Just Mercy" has its quirks, though. Many 
stories it recounts are more than 30 years old but 
are retold as though they happened yesterday. 
Dialogue is reconstituted; scenes are conjured 
from memory; characters' thoughts are 
channeled  la true crime writers: McMillian, 
being driven back to death row, "was feeling 
something that could only be described as rage . 
. . 'Loose these chains. Loose these chains.' He 
couldn't remember when he'd last lost control, 
but he felt himself falling apart." Stevenson 
leaves out identifying years, perhaps to avoid 
the impression that some of this happened long 
ago. He also has the defense lawyer's reflex of 
refusing to acknowledge his clients' darker 
motives. A teenager convicted of a double 
murder by arson is relieved of agency; a man 
who placed a bomb on his estranged girlfriend's 
porch, inadvertently killing her niece, "had a big 
heart."

For a memoir, "Just Mercy" also contains little 
that is intimate. Who has this man cared deeply 
about, apart from his mother and his clients 
among the dispossessed? It's hard to say. 
Almost everything we learn about his personal 
life seems to illustrate the larger struggle for 
social justice. (An exception: a scene where he is 
sitting in his car, spending a few minutes alone 
listening to Sly and the Family Stone on the 
radio. "In just over three years of law practice I 
had become one of those people for whom such 
small events could make a big difference in my 
joy quotient.")

But there's plenty about his worldview. As 
Stevenson says in a TED talk, "We will 
ultimately not be judged by our technology, we 
won't be judged by our design, we won't be 
judged by our intellect and reason. Ultimately, 
you judge the character of a society . . . by how 
they treat the poor, the condemned, the 
incarcerated." This way of thinking is in line 
with other pronouncements he makes 
throughout: "The opposite of poverty is not 
wealth; the opposite of poverty is justice." They 
are like phrases from sermons, exhortations to 
righteous action. "The real question of capital 
punishment in this country is, Do we deserve to 
kill?"

The message of this book, hammered home by 
dramatic examples of one man's refusal to sit 
quietly and countenance horror, is that evil can 
be overcome, a difference can be made. "Just 
Mercy" will make you upset and it will make 
you hopeful. The day I finished it, I happened to 
read in a newspaper that one in 10 people 
exonerated of crimes in recent years had 
pleaded guilty at trial. The justice system had 
them over a log, and copping a plea had been 
their only hope. Bryan Stevenson has been angry 
about this for years, and we are all the better for 
it.

AUTHOR BIO
BRYAN STEVENSON is the executive director 
of the Equal Justice Initiative in Montgomery, 
Alabama, and a professor of law at New York 
University School of Law. He has won relief for 
dozens of condemned prisoners, argued five 
times before the Supreme Court, and won 
national acclaim for his work challenging bias 
against the poor and people of color. He has 
received numerous awards, including the 
MacArthur Foundation "Genius" Grant.




SECURITY WITH HUMAN RIGHTS

by Robert Adams 


AIUSA released the following press release on July 
28, 2016:

Turkey: Intensified crackdown on media 
increases atmosphere of fear

As Turkey enters its second week of a three 
month state of emergency, the ongoing 
crackdown on civil society and the assault on 
media freedom has reached disturbing and 
unprecedented levels, said Amnesty 
International.

Arrest warrants have been issued for 89 
journalists, more than 40 have already been 
detained and others are in hiding. A second 
emergency decree passed on 27 July has resulted 
in the shutdown of 131 media outlets.

 "Rounding up journalists and shutting down 
media houses is the latest assault on a media 
already weakened by years of government 
repression. The passing of this second 
emergency decree leaves little room for doubt 
that the authorities are intent on silencing 
criticism without regard to international law," 
said Amnesty International's Deputy Europe 
Director, Fotis Filipou.

 "Even under a state of emergency, restrictions 
must be necessary, proportionate and for a 
legitimate purpose. The provisions of the two 
emergency decrees passed this week fail all 
three of these tests and fly in the face of the 
government's claim that they are upholding 
rights and the rule of law."

The second decree follows the first, passed on 
the July 23, which increased the pre-charge 
detention period to 30 days. Amnesty 
International revealed credible reports of 
widespread ill-treatment and torture of 
detainees. Lawyers have been denied access to 
detainees in violation of law.

 "The authorities must bring to justice those 
responsible for unlawful killings and other 
human rights abuses during the coup attempt. 
But this must be done in a manner that respects 
the right to fair trial, the prohibition of torture 
and other human rights. The intensified 
crackdown on freedom of the press does not 
serve this purpose and is unlawful," said Fotis 
Filipou.

 "We reiterate our call for Turkish authorities to 
end ill-treatment and torture of those being 
detained and allow international monitors to 
visit all detainees in the places they are being 
held.





DEATH PENALTY NEWS
By Stevi Carroll



Best news this month: As of this writing 
(8.17.16), no additional executions in the good 
old USofA!

Justice that Works - YES on 62!

I'm still looking for ways for us to become 
involved in this campaign.  I've sent a FB 
message in which I asked how we can get 
involved and how to get materials.  I'll keep you 
posted should I get any information.  As I know, 
you will, too. You can also 'like' YES on 62 on 
Facebook: 
https://www.facebook.com/yeson62/

For information about YES on 62 (and to 
donate!), go to http://yeson62.com/about/.

Bryan Stevenson

September's Rights Readers book is "Just Mercy: 
A Story of Justice and Redemption" by Bryan 
Stevenson.  If you don't know anything about 
him, the New Yorker has an interesting article.

Bryan Stevenson New Yorker August 22, 2016 
issue article
http://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2016/
08/22/bryan-stevenson-and-the-legacy-of-
lynching

Consider joining us for the discussion of this 
book on September 18, 2016, at 6:30 PM at 
Vroman's, 695 E. Colorado Blvd., Pasadena, CA 
91101. We usually meet upstairs in the area 
where authors present.  The book is available at 
Vroman's Will Call, and you can get 20% off by 
telling the clerk you're buying it for our book 
group.

Recent exonerations
Ingmar Guandique - State: DC  Date of 
Exoneration: 7/28/2016
In 2010, Ingmar Guandique was convicted of the 
abduction and murder of Chandra Levy in 
Washington, D.C. and sentenced to 60 years in 
prison. He was exonerated in 2016 after the 
jailhouse informant who claimed Guandique 
had confessed admitted his testimony was false.
https://www.law.umich.edu/special/exoneration/

Stays of execution

August
10	Ramiro Gonzales		TX	
	date rescheduled
15	William Montgomery		OH
	reprieve granted (Ohio)
23	Robert Pruett			TX
	stayed

Executions

NONE since July 15, 2016!






GROUP 22 AUGUST LETTER COUNT
UA for POC                 6
Other UAs                 17
Total                     23
To add your letters to the total contact 
aigp22@caltech.edu 

Amnesty International Group 22
The Caltech Y
Mail Code C1-128
Pasadena, CA 91125
www.its.caltech.edu/~aigp22/
http://rightsreaders.blogspot.com


Amnesty International's mission is to undertake research and action focused on 
preventing and ending grave abuses of the rights to physical and mental integrity, 
freedom of conscience and expression, and freedom from discrimination, within the 
context of its work to promote all human rights.