"Just Mercy," based on the best-selling memoir of Bryan Stevenson stars Michael B. Jordan as a young lawyer seeking justice for a man on death row wrongfully convicted of murder in Alabama.

The Riverhead Anti-Bias Task Force is hosting a free screening of the 2019 film “Just Mercy” Feb.28 at The Suffolk, in honor of Black History Month.

The film is based on the best-selling memoir “Just Mercy: A Story of Justice and Redemption” by attorney Bryan Stevenson, founder of the Equal Justice Initiative in Montgomery, Alabama. The nonprofit organization provides legal representation to prisoners who may have been wrongly convicted and  guarantees the defense of anyone in Alabama in a death penalty case. 

“Just Mercy” tells the story of Walter McMillian, an African-American man wrongfully convicted of the 1986 murder of  an 18-year-old white girl, and Stevenson’s successful effort to get McMillan’s conviction overturned. 

Starring Michael B. Jordan as Stevenson and Jamie Foxx as McMillian, the story is a powerful depiction of systemic racism in the American justice system.

The film’s screening in Riverhead will be preceded by a forum with a panel of three elected officials, moderated by Riverhead Anti-Bias Task Force Chairman Mark McLaughlin: Suffolk County District Attorney Ray Tierney, Suffolk County Sheriff Errol Toulon Jr. and Riverhead Town Supervisor Tim Hubbad.

The panelists will speak about “what black history means to them, what things they’re doing for the community, the future,” McLaughlin said in a phone interview last week. 

“It’s just a community conversation, nothing really too political or anything like that, even though they’re elected officials,” he said.  “It’s just a gathering …to discuss, not even just Black History, but just unity in itself,” he said. “When we’re  celebrating cultures,  I like to use the word harmony because I don’t want to turn anybody off.”

The three panelists all have had long-term careers in the criminal justice system that “Just Mercy” analyzes with a critical eye. Hubbard retired from the  Riverhead Police Department after a 32-year career. Tierney is a career prosecutor with more than 27 years experience before his election as Suffolk D.A. in 2021. Toulon had a long career in corrections prior to his election as Suffolk County sheriff in 2017. He is not only the first Black person elected sheriff in Suffolk but also the first Black person elected to county-wide office in Suffolk.  

McLaughlin said the panelists’ careers in the criminal justice system was not the reason they were invited to participate. “The forum is not based on that film,” McLaughlin said. It’s just giving people a chance to get to know these officials a bit, he said.

The pre-screening forum is scheduled for 7 p.m. with the film starting at 7:30 p.m. Doors open at 6:30 p.m. 

Mosaic portraits honoring Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. will be displayed by East End Arts at the theater on the night of the event. Guests will receive complimentary gift bags, courtesy of Riverhead Tanger Outlets, thanks to the Riverhead Chamber of Commerce, McLaughlin said.

The event is a collaboration between the Anti-Bias Task Force and The Suffolk. “It’s a team effort,” McLaughlin said.

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Denise is a veteran local reporter, editor, attorney and former Riverhead Town councilwoman. Her work has been recognized with numerous awards, including investigative reporting and writer of the year awards from the N.Y. Press Association. She is a founder, owner and co-publisher of this website.Email Denise.