While this year’s reading was not typical history reading, that is especially true of Anatomy of Injustice, by Raymond Bonner. As I mentioned a few posts ago, there was a review of the book in the Oregonian that was intriguing, and I was available to go hear the author at Powell’s, so I went for it. That was in March, and I am going to write about that in two parts. This is not so much about history or racism, just about people being awful, but it all relates.
Just to give you a brief summary of the book, it is about a black man who was convicted of murder in Greenwood, South Carolina and sentenced to death. It featured all of the death penalty concerns: racism, mental retardation, incompetent defense, contaminated evidence, snitch testimony, and prosecutorial misconduct as well.
Bonner was really likable (and he inscribed my book). He had the Clatsop County DA, Joshua Marquis, with him. Marquis is a prominent death penalty advocate. Bonner has written extensively about the death penalty in his newspaper career, and is against it. Despite the different viewpoints, the two men respect each other, and I guess the bookstores no longer want the authors just to read and answer questions, so they were both there to talk about the book.
If it had really just been the two of them it would probably have been fine, but some people managed to be truly awful, and I did a lot of thinking. First of all, Bonner himself said right at the beginning that it was not a debate on the death penalty, and none of us were going to convince anyone else one way or the other, but some people did still feel a need to try and debate Marquis on the death penalty, and take him to task for it. Then there were three that were different from that, and kind of amazing, in an appalling sort of way.
One was a young guy who kept interrupting to bring up the name Randy Guzick. Guzick is a multiple murderer who has received the death penalty several times, but then they call mistrials or appeals, so he has been in the system for years. Anyway, he kept interrupting, to where even the author, who was extremely patient, asked him to please stop, but he did it again saying something about a sentence that Guzick's father got, and the DA said he had put him in jail on another crime, and the interrupter said "I know. My buddy beat him up." Okay, you have a friend in jail with one criminal who is the father of a worse criminal. Was that the entire point? To be able to get that in there?
There were two others who were particularly bad. The one said that he was okay with us not having the death penalty and getting any of these small fry, and he even considered Dayton Leroy Rogers (serial killer) small fry, because as long as we don't have those war criminals from this administration or the previous administration on trial in the Hague these guys are nothing.
Okay, he thinks our government’s military conduct is criminal. Got it. That had nothing to do with the book, or what people were there for, and it deeply offended Marquis because he does not consider any of those dead women unimportant where their killers are small fry. And he is right on this. If you don't value an individual, it is way too easy to not value the large numbers either.
Then this other woman at the front asked Bonner if he would like it if an innocent person was executed. At first I think he was too shocked to really grasp what she was saying, but he just looked stunned and said "Why would I like that?" She said "It would make a great story." As it did sink in he became very offended because he has served in war zones and seen a lot of death, and he mentioned no one in journalism liking that, to which she claimed to be a journalist, and he was not impressed. Sorry lady, you may be a ghoul, but he is not.
I have been at open question sessions before, so I know that it is common that people will ask questions to show how special or smart they are, and that's usually not too big of a deal, but these people were something else. It was embarrassing, and really, they were disrespectful to the guests and the audience.
So then I got a chance to ask my question, which ended up having its own problems. More on that next time.