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Riverside Protest Against Cooper Execution

by Kynn Bartlett, Inland Anti-Empire Friday, Feb. 06, 2004 at 1:36 AM
iae@kynn.com

In the heart of the conservative Inland Empire, hardy activists braved a cold, wet night to argue against the execution of Kevin Cooper. Speakers included local clergy, the Rev. Jesse Jackson, and actors Mike Farrell and James Cromwell.

California People of Faith Working Against the Death Penalty and Death Penalty Focus held a rally on Tuesday night to protest the upcoming execution of Kevin Cooper -- a man convicted of murdering nearly an entire family from the Inland Empire in 1983. Although there are a number of legitimate doubts about Kevin's guilt, Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger has denied a clemency hearing. Barring some sort of legal miracle, Kevin will be put to death next Tuesday. The Riverside event was one of several taking place across California.

The rally, organized by the tireless (okay, not always) Carolyn Boyle, started at the old courthouse building in Riverside.

Clergy members from a number of faiths led prayers, while the crowd gathered by candlelight for a solemn vigil.

The quiet procession then walked slowly to the Martin Luther King memorial in front of Riverside City Hall.

Music was provided as the crowds grew to an estimated 50-80 people.

A giant letter to Governor Schwarzenegger appealing to his conscience was on display.

Despite the cold weather and sprinkling of raindrops, the attendees were passionate about their cause.

Speakers included community leaders, clergy, attorneys, and poets.

The Reverend Jesse Jackson compared the questionable evidence in the Cooper case to the questionable intelligence in Iraq. The latter led to a war that would kill thousands over a threat that did not exist.

Actor Mike Farrell (BJ Hunnicut on "M*A*S*H"), the president of Death Penalty Focus, spoke out on the injustice of state executions.

One of the more dramatic exchanges of the evening -- not covered by any of the newspaper or television reporters on hand -- took place when Joshua Ryen, one of the survivors of the ghastly murders for which Cooper was convicted, showed up and spoke to Mike Farrell offstage, away from the crowds. Passionate and angry, but oddly calm as well, he confronted Farrell and argued for Cooper's guilt. Cooper's execution, Ryen said, would bring closure to his pain and loss. Cooper's actions made him more than deserving of death, argued Ryen's unidentified female companion.

Standing in the shadows talking to the young man who had experienced so much horror -- his throat was slashed 20 years ago when he was 8, and his family was slaughtered -- Farrell was sympathetic but resolved as well. He didn't counterattack Ryen's arguments, but listened carefully. Ryen spoke his mind and then, as a KPFK reporter approached, he vanished beneath the dark shadow of the city hall building, refusing comment for the record. A palpable aura of contemplation lingered in his stead, each person who witnessed the exchange mulling over the actions of the night.

As the event wrapped up for the evening, Carolyn Boyle announced a reception in the basement of Back To the Grind coffeehouse. Not quite a party -- there was little to celebrate, to be honest -- the reception did give a chance for those who stuck it out 'till the end to speak with each other.

Actor James Cromwell ("Babe", "Star Trek: First Contact"), another speaker at the rally, is seen here with exhausted organizer Carolyn Boyle:

Cromwell added his signature to the growing list of signees at the bottom of the letter to Governor Schwarzenegger.

Good food, carefully labeled "vegetarian" or "vegan" as appropriate, was enjoyed by all.


For more pictures, see Kynn's Image Dump.

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