Panel Calls for Prisoners to Be Humanized After Justice Film Screening

By Rebecca Johnson, Howard University News Service

Washington, D.C. — Friday, February 28, Howard University School of Law hosted a screening of a condensed version of HBO’s new documentary True Justice: Bryan Stevenson’s Fight for Equality. The documentary delves into the U.S. Criminal Justice System as it follows the career of public interest lawyer and Executive Director of the Equal Justice Initiative, Bryan Stevenson.

“The burden of facing this system is explored in candid interviews with associates, close family members, and clients,” according to HBO. Stevenson recalled how his own encounters with racism and inequality.

Following the film was a panel featuring Dr. Bahiyyah Muhammad, a professor of Sociology and Criminology Howard University, and Anthony Hinton, a community educator with the Equal Justice Initiative. The moderator was Squire Patton Boggs law firm partner J.R. Clark.

The documentary included Anthony Hinton’s Story of serving 12 years on death row for murder, before being exonerated by the Supreme Court.

Stevenson has argued and won numerous cases in the Supreme Court, including a case banning life-without-parole sentencing for children under 18-years-old. One of his most notorious cases, which was portrayed in the legal drama Just Mercy, of Walker McMillan, who was released from death row after six years of being wrongly accused of killing an 18-year-old white woman.

The overarching answer to the problem of criminal justice in the United States, addressed in the documentary, was humanizing those accused of a crime.

“We’re not dealing with Mass Incarceration. We’re dealing with slavery,” said Hinton.

“I think when you don’t vote you allow black men and black women to go to prison daily,” said Hinton.

During Hinton’s time in prison, he created a community through book clubs (which became so popular the wardens shut them down) and became a mentor figure to some of the younger men. He said when he spoke with them about the crimes they committed, they said “All my life I was looking for one thing: someone to love.”

“Death row is the only place that I’ve never experienced no racism,” he said. He befriended a man, who unbeknownst to him was a Ku Klux Klan member and had killed and castrated a mentally challenged black man.

When incarcerated people earn money from working, 80 percent of them send money home to their families. Dr. Muhammad said that some of her past students still have things that they bought with the commissary money that a family member sent them.

“You have to start taking money from the prison industries.”