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22 March 2012

Bryan Stevenson on Bending the Moral Arc of Justice

In a widely praised TED Talk, Bryan Stevenson, founder and executive director of the Equal Justice Initiative, honestly and eloquently discussed the problems plaguing America’s criminal justice system. The Ford Foundation Visionaries Award-winner outlined the racial imbalances that have resulted in a prevailing sense of hopelessness in poor communities and communities of color—and in a situation where one out of three black men between the ages of 18 and 30 is in jail, in prison, on probation or parole.

“We have a system of justice in this country that treats you much better if you’re rich and guilty than if you're poor and innocent,” he told the audience at TED. “Wealth, not culpability, shapes outcomes... The politics of fear and anger have made us believe that these are problems that are not our problems. We’ve been disconnected.”

On March 20, 2012, Stevenson carried that message to the U.S. Supreme Court where he argued that sentences of life imprisonment without parole, imposed on defendants who were 14 when they committed their crimes, amount to cruel and unusual punishment that violates the Constitution. “Every person is more than the worst thing they’ve ever done,” he said, arguing in Jackson v. Hobbs (PDF) and Miller v. Alabama (PDF). “But children are uniquely more than their worst act. They have quintessential qualities and characteristics that a decent society, a maturing society, an evolved society, we believe, is constitutionally obligated to recognize and protect.”

Stevenson, who has dedicated his life to challenging injustice, concluded his TED Talk, held on March 5, in Long Beach, California, with a rousing call to action that resonates through all of his work. “[W]e cannot be fully evolved human beings until we care about human rights and basic dignity,” he said. “[O]ur visions of technology and design and entertainment and creativity have to be married with visions of humanity, compassion and justice.”

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The Ford Foundation is an independent, nonprofit grant-making organization. For more than 75 years it has worked with courageous people on the frontlines of social change worldwide, guided by its mission to strengthen democratic values, reduce poverty and injustice, promote international cooperation, and advance human achievement. With headquarters in New York, the foundation has offices in Latin America, Africa, the Middle East, and Asia..

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