Defend Houston club attends Houston Texans’ movie screening


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Members of Defend Houston, a club that aims to educate the SJS community about the United States’s faulty criminal justice system, attended the Texans’ screening of “Just Mercy.”

Chloe Zhao, Staff Writer

As prisoner Herbert Richardson takes his seat in the electric chair, fellow inmates on death row upstairs clang pots and pans on the prison bars as a show of support towards Richardson in his final moments. The police officers downstairs take notice, but they continue the execution. Richardson is electrocuted and in an instant, he dies. Everyone in the theater is silent, yet the air is filled with unease. 

On Sunday, Dec. 22, instead of spending time with family and friends for the holidays, members of Defend Houston attended a screening of “Just Mercy” hosted by the Houston Texans.

Based on a true story starring Michael B. Jordan and Jamie Foxx, “Just Mercy” centers around Harvard law graduate Bryan Stevenson and the wrongfully convicted Walter McMillian. As McMillian’s execution day nears, Stevenson works towards proving McMillian’s innocence to the racially biased public and saving his life.

After working with Restoring Justice, a non-profit organization which that provides legal aid for people in need, juniors Rachel Tompson, Noura Jabir and Isabella O’Reilly created Defend Houston, a club that aims to educate the SJS community about the United States’s faulty criminal justice system.

“A lot of times my friends would ask, ‘What do you mean? What’s wrong with the justice system?’ when I mention the problems with the criminal justice system,” Tompson said.

The Houston Texans, who are in partnership with organizations such as Restoring Justice with their Houston Texans Foundation, arranged the screening to raise awareness about the justice system. 

“I thought it was a cool way for people to understand and observe a concrete example of what’s wrong with the criminal justice system,” Tompson said. “It’s sometimes hard for people to understand how the criminal justice system is broken, so I thought the film was a really easy way for people to understand it in a way that’s interesting.”

For junior Carolyn DePinho, Just Mercy was an opportunity for her to hear from different people in America’s broken justice system.

“One of the reasons that Just Mercy was amazing is that it shows individual narratives of people on death row who were wrongfully sentenced or convicted,” DePinho said. “It’s a super powerful way to make someone more empathetic towards other human beings even if they don’t look the same.”

At the end of the movie, Stevenson’s efforts eventually pay off and McMillian is set free, but like Herbert Richardson and many others, the lives of inmates are often taken without much care. Even now, at least 1 in 25 inmates on death row are innocent, leaving a lot of room for improvement in the justice system.

“It’s easy to think that 40 years has been enough time to make progress in criminal justice reform,” DePinho said. “But the truth is that it’s barely changed.”