Changing the conversation around criminal justice

February 29 / US

By Molly Vorwerck and Christine Chu, Women of Uber Book Club Leads

On Thursday, February 20, 2020, Uber Talks and Women of Uber hosted a community screening of the award-winning film, Just Mercy, at Alamo Drafthouse Cinema in San Francisco, followed by a conversation between San Francisco District Attorney Chesa Boudin and journalist Josie Duffy Rice

Just Mercy, based on the best-selling memoir of the same name by attorney Bryan Stevenson, addresses inequality and prejudice in the U.S criminal justice system through the lens of a black man wrongfully convicted for the murder of a white woman in Alabama, and his attorney’s attempt to appeal his verdict. 

In the film, Stevenson, a young lawyer fresh out of Harvard Law School committed to helping indigent communities with little access to legal representation, co-founds the Equal Justice Initiative and travels to an Alabama prison to meet death row inmates. There he meets Walter McMillian, a black man who was convicted of murdering Ronda Morrison, a white woman, but discovers key testimony in the case to be contradictory. The rest of the story follows Stevenson’s fight to overturn the ruling and secure McMillian’s freedom. 

Following the film, San Francisco Supervisor Matt Haney introduced Boudin and Duffy Rice, highlighting their mutual commitment to fighting inequality, his through pushing criminal justice reform, and hers through journalism and advocacy.

Duffy Rice started the discussion by asking Boudin about his non-traditional background as a public defender, and how it feels to be on the other side now as District Attorney. Boudin, whose parents were incarcerated, recalled how many of his first memories took place in the prison system.

“I spent my whole life visiting my parents in prison,” Boudin said. “My earliest memories as a child are walking through steel gates and metal detectors just to hug my parents.”

Boudin drew parallels between Stevenson’s fight for criminal justice, as portrayed in Just Mercy, and his own observations, first as a child of prisoners and then as a lawyer and politician. According to Boudin, a white man, race, and privilege play heavily into someone’s chances of leaving the system, regardless of whether or not they were wrongfully convicted.

“The criminal justice system fails victims, neglects rehabilitation as a fundamental goal, costs tremendous amounts of money, and shows very little in return,” he said. “Seeing the role of race and poverty in those outcomes, as well as privilege and  opportunity, I know that if it weren’t for all of the second chances, I wouldn’t be sitting here.”

Duffy Rice closed the conversation by asking Boudin what it takes for a community to have public safety. Boudin spoke on the importance of recognizing the cycle of violence that continues to expose our communities to the criminal justice system and the need to address the root causes of crime in order to increase public safety. . 

“The people we prosecute are themselves almost always victims of crime,” Boudin said. “Our collective failure to protect people when they’re most in need cannot justify or be excused by harsh punishments when they themselves are victimized. I believe that public safety is bigger than that—people are bigger than that. “ 

Uber Talks would like to thank Chesa Boudin, Matt Haney, and Josie Duffy Rice for participating in our event, and our Uber volunteers Molly Vorwerck, Ava Fruin, Rachel Friedlander-Holm, Jessica Klinger, Christine Chu, Rosanne Lui, and Blynda Stephens for their in help making this event a huge success.