*The following post is part of JCJ’s Awareness to Action: 21 Days Toward Racial Justice campaign.*
Discussion questions after watching the film:
- Two thrones on which God can sit are Justice and Mercy. During the High Holy Days our prayers and mitzvot move God from the Throne of Justice to the Throne of Mercy. How can we work to instill and promote these Jewish values in our society every day?
- A scene shows black inmates at an Alabama prison toiling in fields while white overseers watch over them. This implies a modern-day enslavement of blacks in America. In the United States, the 13th Amendment permits penal labor: “Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States, or any place subject to their jurisdiction.” Is this form of labor just? Why?
- As Judaism teaches, we are all made in the divine image, b’tzelem elohim, — and yet, we often make assumptions about others based on our own preconceptions. Black men are often seen as inherently dangerous, and as Walter McMillian says in the movie, “All that matters is I look like a man who could kill somebody.” Since we are all God’s children, how should we reflect on our own inherent biases and work to change them?
- As Jews, we are taught not to stand idly by while our neighbor’s blood is shed. In a society fraught with bloodshed, how does complacency contribute to the problem?
- The Talmud teaches us that when we save a life, we should view it as if we have saved the entire world. Approximately 1 in 10 death row inmates are wrongfully convicted, and the use of capital punishment has already been shown to disproportionately target people of color. Does capital punishment achieve justice or mercy — justice for the state or mercy for the victims’ families? What are alternate and more just forms of punishment?
- On Yom Kippur, we are commanded to repent for our sins. We apologize to those we have wronged before we ask for redemption from God, and we are told to ask for forgiveness three times. After we have honestly asked three separate times, if we are still refused forgiveness, we say it is no longer our sins but the stubbornness of the person against whom we have sinned that prevents reconciliation, and we are allowed redemption. In Just Mercy, which characters repent for their sins? Which characters grow in their thinking and change their ways? Who deserves forgiveness, and why? Which characters in the movie deserve mercy?
- How does Just Mercy exemplify how mental health is treated/handled/exploited by the justice system? In America, the largest mental health treatment providers are prisons and jails. What does this say about the way our justice system treats mental health? How can we change this?
- When the officer in the courtroom excused his biased behavior toward the family members of McMilian, he claimed that he was “just following orders”. Where else have we heard this excuse be used throughout history and in modern times, and why is it such a frightening phrase?
- How does Tommy Chapman change throughout the movie? What are his intentions at the beginning of the movie versus at the end of the movie? How much do they really change?
- “Sir, I ain’t did nothing.”
- “A couple AME choir boys hanging on Death Row.”
- “Could’ve been me, Mama.”
- “Whatever you did, your life is still meaningful, and I’m gonna do everything possible to keep them from taking it.”
- “All they gonna do is eat you alive and spit you out.”
- “What do we tell these children about how to stay out of harm’s way when you can be at your own house, minding your own business, surrounded by your entire family, and they still put some murder on you?”
- “That don’t give nobody the right to kill you back.”
- “We can’t change the world with only ideas in our minds. We need conviction in our hearts.”
- “The opposite of poverty isn’t wealth. It’s justice.”
- “We all need justice, and we all need mercy, and perhaps we all need some measure of unmerited grace.”
This resource was made possible by the following JCJ Summer Fellows: Eliana Feinstein, Allen Schultz, Maxine Gill, Gibson, López De Huels, and Hannah Brooks.