Bryan Stevenson is the Executive Director of the Equal Justice Initiative and the author of Just Mercy: A Story of Justice and Redemption. His essay in this issue is drawn from the collection Policing the Black Man: Arrest, Prosecution, and Imprisonment, edited and with an introduction by Angela J. Davis, which will be published in July by Pantheon. (July 2017)
Late one night several years ago, I got out of my car on a dark midtown Atlanta street when a man standing fifteen feet away pointed a gun at me and threatened to “blow my head off.” I’d been parked outside my new apartment in a racially mixed but mostly white neighborhood that I didn’t consider a high-crime area. As the man repeated the threat, I suppressed my first instinct to run and fearfully raised my hands in helpless submission. I begged the man not to shoot me, repeating over and over again, “It’s all right, it’s okay.” The man was a uniformed police officer. As a criminal defense attorney, I knew that my survival required careful, strategic thinking. I had to stay calm.