Update: When Nelson appeared in court Thursday, “the Cobb County solicitor ultimately accepted a plea to jaywalking and imposed a $200 fine,” according to Transportation for America. The other charges against Nelson were dropped.
Our friends at HLN are discussing a story out of Marietta, Georgia about a mother who is facing two years of jail time after her 4-year-old son was hit and killed by a drunk driver while she and her children were crossing the street. Now, hopefully you’re asking yourself how it is that the mother of a boy slain after being hit by a drunk driver while crossing the street could be facing jail time at all, and the answer is because “she chose to cross the street at the bus stop, instead of the nearest crosswalk, three-tenths of a mile away.
In July 2011, the mom in question, Raquel Nelson (pictured left with her now deceased son), “was convicted of … three misdemeanors: second-degree homicide by a vehicle, crossing roadway elsewhere than a crosswalk and reckless conduct.” She received a sentence of one year probation and 40 hours of community service, but has chosen a retrial which begins today. According to HLN, “She now faces up to two years behind bars.”
The driver, Jerry Guy, “fled the scene after the accident but later admitted being involved, according to CNN affiliate WXIA-TV. He was sentenced to five years in prison but served only six months. He is serving the remainder of the sentence on probation,” CNN noted in July of 2011. Nelson’s son A.J. died in April 2010. This woman has been on trial for three years while grieving for the death of her son in what was an accident caused by a drunk driver. If Nelson were to be ticketed at all, to be made an example of (because she’s a black single mother and American society loves to make an example of black single mothers), the only charge that seems reasonable in this case is “crossing roadway elsewhere than a crosswalk.” There’s no doubt that pedestrians need to obey rules and watch out for their own safety, but as Nelson’s attorney, David Savoy, suggested, “the white stripes of a crosswalk are not impenetrable walls of steel that could have prevented a driver from striking someone crossing the street.”
The idea that Nelson could be convicted of second-degree homicide by a vehicle makes me truly nauseous, because that is passing the buck from Guy to Nelson. Guy was driving the car, Guy was drunk, Guy struck the child and Guy fled. These charges are so, so sadly reflective of America’s victim-blaming culture. A child runs out into the street while crossing from the bus stop and is struck by a car and killed. How does it possibly serve anyone to put his mother in jail? She has two other children to take care of.
It’s hard to imagine a white mother facing trial in the same circumstance. Then again, it’s also hard for some to imagine a white mother in the same circumstance, unless she’s poor, and then she too is to be made an example of. Because we’re taught in America that if we’re not wealthy and successful it’s our “fault,” and that everyone should want to be an over-scheduled, workaholic consumer, because to be otherwise is unpatriotic. It’s un-American to stop feeding the machine. And if you’re not feeding it, you’re milking it, and that makes you scum. It’s immature black-and-white thinking (in more than one sense), but that’s what we’re best at.
This story reminded me immediately of one I read the other day about the Anonymous hacker that helped convict the Steubenville rapists. Mother Jones reported, “If convicted of hacking-related crimes, [he] could face up to 10 years behind bars—far more than the one- and two-year sentences doled out to the Steubenville rapists.” They added, “Defending himself could end up costing a fortune.” Precisely. America’s justice system favors the wealthy and powerful and blames those whose are already systematically oppressed. For how much longer can we sit idly by and watch as those in power in this country ignore the real problems of real people in favor of criminalizing the poverty and oppression they’ve created?
The message Nelson’s case sends is: You’re black and single with three kids and you don’t even know how to cross the street you pathetic worthless excuse for a human being. Now go to jail and think about how you killed your kid. Swallow the shame and the deflected blame. That’s what you get for needing to take the bus I pay for with my taxes.
When the lesson should be: Pedestrians have the right of way and drunk driving is illegal, not to mention unethical. Fleeing the scene of a crime is heinous. This poor mother, forced to take the bus on a four lane highway, lost her son. Perhaps we should provide better options for families who need to travel.
Think about the difference and decide which one is right. Put yourself in her shoes. Just think about it.
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