July 21, 2011

This is Nauseating

I'm a broken, Balko-phonic record today, I know, but it's just one of those days.

I remember several instances, back when I was a kid, of children and elderly people being struck by cars when walking across treacherous intersections. The universal reaction was always to blame the city for failing to mark out a crosswalk, neighborhood petitions for stop signs or traffic lights, and that type of thing. And sympathy for the victims, even if they were technically guilty of jaywalking. The idea that you would charge the pedestrians with "vehicular manslaughter" or put them in prison for crossing the street in the wrong place would never have occurred to anyone, and strikes me as completely outrageous.

I'm talking about this case recapped in Balko's latest Huffington Post piece. This woman suffered a horrible tragedy when a drunken, drugged, half-blind hit-and-run driver killed her son. To charge her, a pedestrian, with "vehicular manslaughter" defies logic, and decency. (I mean, what part of "vehicular" do we not understand?) To send her to prison for three years punishes not only her, but her entire family, for a tragic result of a minor offense that arguably shouldn't even be a crime in the first place. But if they're going to throw her in prison, why not the other pedestrians who were crossing the same intersection, and evidently encouraged her son to run out into the road along with them? Why not the city planners and administrators who placed a bus stop half a mile from the nearest crosswalk? They weren't driving the car, but neither was she.

Seriously, why do we try so hard to put ordinary, unfortunate people in prison in the wake of tragedy? From what I gather, the prosecutor, inspired by a newspaper article about jaywalking, saw his opportunity for another scalp and just went for it. It's almost as though we are deliberately trying to imprison people merely for the sake of it, the more the better, on any pretext available, without regard to whether it makes sense and with no thought given to whether it is a good or a bad thing for anyone involved or for society as a whole. It's sick.

ADDED: I've seen internet comments threads at their worst and most depressing, but even so I'm shocked at the callousness of all the HuffPo commenters saying, essentially, "sucks to be her, ha ha" and "she got what she deserved." And these are, presumably, the "liberals." It's a minority, but they're there. I can feel my already substantial misanthropy growing by the minute.

ANOTHER ADDITION: Oops. Just realized the comments thread I was reading was from this blog, not the HuffPo, on which there is so far little action. No appreciable effect on the misanthropy situation, however.

You know, I live in a relatively dangerous area, where walking around can get you mugged, assaulted, killed, set on fire, etc. Yet people walk around with strollers and kids all the time. If Alameda County wanted to double its contribution to the prison population, it could charge every victim of such street crime with contributing to his own assault by being outside, which is in many situations, in fact, every bit as reckless as crossing the road. Not all that different from the logic applied in charging this woman with manslaughter, it seems to me.

Posted by Dr. Frank at July 21, 2011 07:47 PM | TrackBack

Redefining words and concepts to mean something new has been happening for a good 20 years now by my not so scientific observation, and its natural extension will be an increase in lawlessness, not a decrease. Since you'll never know when you've violated a law because you'll never know when it will be redefined there will be less desire to stay within the law and more desire to do what you can get away with.

Posted by: Don at July 24, 2011 02:30 AM