Bryan Stevenson, founder and executive director of the Equal Justice Initiative, drew loud applause from a lively crowd as he recalled how he and his legal group won the release of wrongfully convicted death row inmate Anthony Ray Hinton earlier this month.
Hinton served 28 years in Alabama for two murders he didn't commit.
Stevenson shared personal stories from his book about unfairness in the justice system, "Just Mercy," on Sunday at the Los Angeles Times Festival of Books.
He also called on audience members to take a stand against racial injustice in the criminal justice system.
"Good people need to say, 'I'm here with a vision that demands more than what I'm seeing day in and day out,'" he said.
Stevenson recalled once sitting in his car listening to the radio when a police officer pulled a gun on him and yelled, "Move, and I'll blow your head off."
At the time, he was 28 and a lawyer. He calmed himself down and lived. Stevenson says he wondered if he would have survived the ordeal if it had happened to him when he was 16.
His book and fellow panelist Jill Leovy's "Ghettoside" largely follow a single legal case to tell their stories.
Leovy, a Los Angeles Times staff writer, said narrative writing is an essential component of criminal justice scholarship since it allows writers to hone in on complex ideas and better examine them.
Check out the Festival of Books schedule for this weekend.
MORE FROM THE FESTIVAL OF BOOKS: