More than a dozen protesters picketed noisily outside Porter Square Books in Cambridge, Massachusetts, on April 19. The family and friends of a 16-year-old boy who was murdered by a classmate in 1993, they were protesting an appearance at the bookstore by an author who has written a book about the case that they believe is sympathetic to the killer.
Jean Trounstine, the author of Boy With a Knife: A Story of Murder, Remorse, and a Prisoner’s Fight for Justice (Ig Publishing), is a prison reformer who found the subject of her book when she was contacted by the murderer, Karter Kane Reed, who was serving a life sentence for killing Jason Robinson in a classroom of Dartmouth High School in South Dartmouth, Massachusetts. Although he was a juvenile, Reed was convicted as an adult and sent to an adult prison.
Trounstine uses the case to challenge the wisdom of the criminal justice system treating juveniles like adults. According to Trounstine, there are 10,000 juveniles in adult prisons. “I’m hoping to add to the conversation about why kids should not go to adult prisons and jails,” she told Boston magazine. “I just think it’s a waste of so much money, lives, intelligence, and chances.”
However, the protesters, including Jason’s sister, Shauna Robinson, are angry. Reed was released on parole after 20 years, and they believe the book, which contains excerpts from more than 100 letters that he sent to Trounstine, glorifies him. They are also unhappy that the book was published on the anniversary of the murder. “I can’t let her have her little book signing in peace,” Robinson told a reporter. “She has to know that she has left me not in peace, so I have to go up there and speak for my brother.”
Porter Square Books owner David Sandberg met the protesters when they arrived carrying signs that read, “Justice for Jason” and “This Is Murder.” “I spoke with a couple of them before the event and told them they were totally welcome to come in and listen, and to ask questions of the author if they liked,” Sandberg said. In introducing Trounstine, Sandberg read a statement expressing sympathy for the Robinson family. He also explained why the bookstore had rejected requests to cancel the event.
“Bookstores have long been at the forefront of issues relating to free speech and freedom of expression, and we believe deeply that it is not a bookstore’s place to tell people what they can or cannot, or should and should not, read or what points of view are worthy or not worthy of expression,” Sandberg said. [The text of the statement appears at the end of this article.]
During Trounstine’s remarks, the chanting outside grew so loud that it became necessary to close the doors to allow her to be heard. However, Sandberg said there was no effort to disrupt the event.
After the event, Shauna Robinson entered the store and spoke with Trounstine. Other protesters told Sandberg they thought they had been treated respectfully.
Many members of the audience thanked Sandberg for holding the event.
Let me say a word about the discussion of this event that has occurred in social media. I say with all sincerity that I am, and I think we all are, sympathetic with what any family and group of friends must have to go through when faced with a tragedy like the one that has befallen the family of Jason Robinson, which I’m sure none of us can comprehend. Nor would I want to minimize or discount the legitimacy of their strong feelings about this issue and about this book, and the fact that there is real pain over a horrific thing that happened and that has affected them for 23 years and that continues to affect them. We have gotten requests that we cancel this event and not allow this author to speak here. Bookstores have long been at the forefront of issues relating to free speech and freedom of expression, and we believe deeply that it is not a bookstore’s place to tell people what they can or cannot, or should and should not, read or what points of view are worthy or not worthy of expression. And we respect the right of the people who are outside to express their point of view as well and to invite them to join in the discussion. The point of a bookstore is to facilitate the free exchange of ideas that results from access to a variety of opinions. Authors have come to depend on independent bookstores to defend their right to say unpopular or controversial things, and that is a very important part of our role. So I hope you will all use this event as a prod to consideration and discussion of what is no doubt a very important and timely and emotional issue.