“We need a radical change in the national narrative on white supremacy”

Lawyer Bryan Stevenson after Anthony Ray Hinton was released from Jefferson County Jail in Birmingham, Alabama on April 3, 2015. Ray Hinton, 59, spent nearly 30 years on death row in Alabama for a crime he didn't commit.

Bryan Stevenson does not yet know if the Biden administration will call on him, but he is at the disposal of the next President of the United States, in the event that the latter seeks to reform the criminal justice and the American police. For the time being, the African-American lawyer, slayer of miscarriages of justice and racial inequalities for more than thirty years, is preparing to receive, Thursday, December 3, from a distance, in his stronghold of Alabama, the Right Livelihood Award , an award considered to be an “alternative Nobel Prize”.

Read the portrait (in “M”): Bryan Stevenson, lawyer for African-American death row inmates

The Swedish foundation, which annually recognizes four personalities working for human rights and the defense of the environment, welcomes the “Mr. Stevenson’s inspiring efforts to reform the US justice system and promote racial reconciliation, in a context marked by historic trauma.” Founder of the Equal Justice Initiative, Mr Stevenson shares his award this year with Belarusian activist Ales Bialiatski, Iranian lawyer Nasrin Sotoudeh, and Nicaraguan indigenous peoples defender Lottie Cunningham Wren.

Multiply places of memory

Recognition of the work of the American lawyer, whose militant career was brought to the screen in the film Just mercy (The Way of Justice), comes the year the United States saw the largest protests against racism and police violence in its history, following the death of George Floyd below the knee of a white police officer in May.

Read also: After the death of George Floyd, the city of Minneapolis faces a multiracial rebellion that it struggles to apprehend

For the lawyer, these mobilizations, in which an unprecedented proportion of white Americans took part, demonstrated a “Awareness of racism” within the population. “More and more people recognize the legacy of history”, he explains, in reference to slavery and the century of institutionalized racial segregation that followed its abolition. “They understood that racial injustices, those toxins that have contaminated American society, were not going to go away on their own. “ So that this awareness permeates society, Mr. Stevenson defends the proliferation of places of memory, such as the memorial dedicated to the victims of lynching that he created in Montgomery, a painful crossroads of segregation and the struggle for the rights of African Americans.

Read also Alabama memorial recalls dark hours of black lynching

For the 60-year-old lawyer, the United States urgently needs to face up to its history. “Unlike South Africa after apartheid or Germany after the war, the United States has never experienced regime changes, which have led people to confront their past, he points out. Here, the slave holders or those guilty of lynchings have not been held to account. Americans have never had to confront their history of racial inequalities, from slavery to the genocide of the natives. They had the right to silence. This is why the demonstrations this summer have been so spectacular. “ Besides the creation of a “truth commission” dedicated to a better knowledge of the history of the country, Mr. Stevenson therefore defends the idea “ a radical shift in the national narrative on race hierarchy and white supremacy “.

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