Publicizing a Play for Tookie

An obscure piece of anti-death penalty propaganda theatre in Berkeley somehow makes the Times' front section.

Berkeley-based Jesse McKinley somehow makes Thursday's news pages with "Political Drama Re-enacts Moments in a Death Chamber," on a piece of performance art re-enacting the death of convicted killer Tookie Williams. The piece is being staged on the anniversary of Williams' execution at San Quentin last December.

Over aphoto from the show that fills most of the top of the page, McKinley plugs the show: "As drama, what happened on stage at the Black Repertory Theater of Berkeley early Wednesday morning was not classic theatrical fare. The actors were mostly motionless, the play had only one line, and everyone in the audience knew how the story was going to end.

"But creating a compelling narrative may not have been the authors' point. The play was a re-enactment of the execution of the convicted killer Stanley Tookie Williams, staged on the first anniversary of his death by lethal injection at San Quentin State Prison.

"The performance was written and produced by Barbara Becnel and Shirley Neal, two friends of Mr. Williams and death penalty opponents, who were unapologetic about their play's being agitprop."

McKinley doesn't mention that Becnel is not only a death penalty opponent but thinks that Williams, executed for the 1979 murders of four people, was an innocent man.

Foreign editor turned international affairs columnist Roger Cohen wrote last yearafter the execution of Williams.

"But to claim, as [California Gov. Arnold] Schwarzenegger did, the nonexistence of redemption in the face of Williams's repeated apologies for gangland violence and his earnest attempts over many years to turn youths, especially poor young black men, away from crime seems to me at once facile and grave....Williams had some effect on a huge social problem; it's fair to believe that if his life had not ended at 51 he would have had more."

Cohen played the race card: "Williams was also a black man sent in the end to his death by a white man. Like a lot of black kids, he had it tough, and in his youth he did heinous things. Social hardship is no excuse for murder, but there is no escaping the fact that justice is a racial issue in the United States."