This is a story that struck close to my heart. A mother lost her child to a hit-and-run driver last year. She is now facing charges of reckless endangerment and improperly crossing a roadway, as a result of that incident. The hit-and-run driver who killed her son served six months of a five-year sentence. Now, I imagine most people who have read this story will look at this as yet another example of how broken our judicial system is and how badly it needs to be reformed. I don't disagree, but I think they'd be missing the much larger point of this story. That point, to me, is that in this country, unless you own and drive a vehicle, you are something less than a person, and will be treated accordingly so in our courts, as well as in the eyes of the public.
Raquel Nelson, the mother whose son was killed, does not drive a car. She lives in Marietta, GA, which is located in the Atlanta metropolitan area. Atlanta, like many parts of the country, are nearly uninhabitable to pedestrians or cyclists. Their urban planners designed the entire landscape to center around the motor vehicle. Ms. Nelson uses public transportation so that her and her kids can get around. On April 10, 2010, the day this happened, Ms. Nelson got off the bus with her kids after nightfall, the nearest crosswalk being third of a mile away (why the crosswalk wasn't right by the bus stop shows the obsessive closed-mindedness of Atlanta's urban planners). Her son let go of her hand, thinking it was time to cross, and got plowed by Jerry Guy, the piece-of-shit driver who then fled the scene. (Picture of the street here)
Nelson, a black woman, was convicted by an all-white jury. But, additionally, she was a pedestrian who was convicted by a jury of people who drive cars, and who cannot hope to have any understanding of what someone without a car must go through to live in this country. The mere act of walking, in many places, is akin to putting one's life in their hands. You are struggling to negotiate with traffic who will see you as a nuisance, and who very often will not stop when they see you trying to cross the street. I deal with this regularly in Patchogue's Main Street, where I do use the crosswalk. Even with a big electronic sign above, with big words saying that pedestrians have the right-of-way, and with a sign on the ground, cars just blow by as I am crossing. I live in Long Island, which is similarly unfriendly to walkers and in which the urban planners have also designed the towns around the car. There was just a cover story in Newsday last week about how cyclists face the most accidents here than anywhere else in the state.
This reminds me of a book whose existence I stumbled upon online, and had meant to read. Unfortunately, it's one of those scholarly books that are hard to find at the library. I even forget what it was called, but it was about how when the car first came into existence and started to see sporadic use here and there, it was seen as a menace by most of the populace, who still walked to get to most places. When someone was killed by a car, the person driving the car was blamed. But as the car played a bigger and bigger part in our lives, the blame started to shift from the car to the walker, or the cyclist. You can see this in this case. Not just the fact that she was not judged by a jury of her peers (the jury being white and who all get around by motor vehicle), but that there was an editorial in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution shortly after the incident, with the headline "Jaywalkers Take Deadly Risks". So when something like this happens, it's not the fault of relentless, impatient drivers, or the fault of urban planners who have a warped, out-of-touch view of how people behave and carry themselves, but the person with no car, who's just trying to cross the street to get home? Yeah, it's their fault, they're taking a "deadly risk" by crossing the street.
So, when this collapse of ours finally plays itself out, assuming I survive it, I will miss a lot of things about our culture. I will miss my newfound love of cooking, I will miss blogging, and many other things. But I will not miss this horrible, abhorrent car culture that was forced on us by our government, Corporate America, and the many short-sighted urban planners across the country. I will be glad to get from Point A to Point B without putting my life into my hands (at least, not from the car). I will be following this case, and hope that Ms. Nelson gets off very lightly, or better yet, completely.