Posts Tagged ‘capital punishment’

Getting Past “Stuck on Stupid”

July 14, 2012

I’ve read two extraordinary books lately. The novel, A Naked Singularity by Sergio de la Pava, and Connie Rice’s activist memoir, Power Concedes Nothing: one woman’s quest for social justice in America, from the courtroom to the kill zones are complementary volumes in what they say and also in what they demonstrate.

Disclaimer: My admiration for Connie Rice knows no bounds. When I interviewed her in 2007 about the irrational persistence of racial ideology and her work reforming the LAPD and addressing gang violence, I wanted to share her unorthodox ideas but I also wanted to see her own distinctive words on the page. I’d heard her speak–her vivid and inimitable language, but it seemed as though editors got their hands on every print interview and homogenized her voice. I wanted her power and personality to come through. Naturally, some of it got edited out, but maybe I preserved at least a hint. When we met, Connie Rice was trying to write her own book and my fantasy was that she would ask me to help her. That remained a fantasy. Connie Rice can do anything and she didn’t need me! Though I have been very familiar with her work and her thought over the years, her book stunned me with so much more. And the website includes photographs and archives well worth visiting.

Here’s my interview, as published in The Sun 388_rice — just a taste then, that I hope will whet your appetite so you’ll please please get ahold of Power Concedes Nothing and read this dramatic and lively and thought provoking account of how we’re, in her phrase, “stuck on stupid,” what we refuse to look at as a society and how we are destroying our young. Because those children that so many of us like to believe are not our children, hey, yes they are.

(But talk about stupid: whatever happened to LAPD reform with the riot police rioting over people drawing on the sidewalk with chalk this week!?!?!?)

People who’ll read Connie Rice may be a different demographic from those who are interested in literary novels. Sergio de la Pava does for our criminal injustice system what Joseph Heller did in Catch-22 for (to?) our military. A Naked Singularity is also rich in philosophy and cosmology, but the author, a public defender in NYC, penetrates the courthouse insanity better than any nonfiction account I’ve seen. The novel is as dizzying as its cover.

Read both. Read either. Whichever book you choose, you’ll get an inside view of the irrationality of capital punishment and of how the poor are treated in court. With these two volumes speaking to different audiences, I hope lots of consciousness will be raised.

And what is it that both authors demonstrate?

Connie Rice, who inspires with her passion and commitment and intellectual brilliance, has put her quest for justice ahead of making money. I hope that choice itself inspires people to follow her example. Today, we live in a society that considers people losers or inadequate if they aren’t out there motivated by greed and busily acquiring. She is a beautiful example of rejecting those priorities. OK, she likes to buy shoes, but her life choices are dictated by her commitment to the so-called underclass, to seeking justice, not to seeking personal advantage.

And Sergio de la Pava? If he had written his novel in the Sixties, it would have been snatched up immediately by a major publishing house, been on the bestseller list, and probably received the Pulitzer Prize. In the degraded and disgraceful cultural climate of today, he had to self-publish. He believed in this massive and brilliant book and refused to be silenced. Eventually, University of Chicago Press learned about it and this year brought out a reprint, making A Naked Singularity finally widely available.

This note is written quickly and hardly does justice to the accomplishments of Connie Rice and Sergio de la Pava, but if this blog entry encourages anyone to read their books, my job is done.