Tuesday, August 23, 2011
Why Persecute the Poor for Being Poor?
Raquel Nelson's conviction for causing her own child's death by jaywalking shows America's indifference to the cost of poverty
I love to cook and was delighted when a friend requested a pan of my favourite dish. In search of my "secret ingredient", I rode to the grocery store in the air-conditioned comfort of my car, focused on my task, with not a thought that it is a luxury to have several grocery stories in my vicinity, a working vehicle that can take me to those stores, and the disposable income to spend on life's basic needs and a few wants. Like most middle-class Americans, a trip to the grocery story is an errand one takes for granted. However, it is a story, like that of Raquel Nelson, which humbles me and deeply troubles my soul, reminding me that poverty in the United States means a special brand of persecution. Instead of waging a war on poverty, we are waging a war on poor people.
Nelson was convicted of vehicular homicide in her own child's death, although she does not own a car. Her conviction carries more time in jail than the person who actually hit and killed her four-year-old son. Nelson, who had taken two buses to Wal-Mart to shop for groceries, attempted to cross the street with her three children at the bus stop, located on the opposite side of a highway from her home. The bus stop is on a busy Atlanta road, a five-lane highway with no marked crossings, and the housing complex where she lived required crossing this dangerous intersection.
The driver of the vehicle, who admitted to being under the influence of alcohol and pain medication, and who is partially blind in one eye, pleaded guilty to a hit-and-run charge. He has already served his six-month sentence, despite this being his third hit-and-run conviction. The mother, Nelson, whose son was killed at the tender age of four, has been convicted of vehicular homicide for "crossing the street other than at a crosswalk" and "reckless conduct", a crime for which there is a three-year prison sentence.
I keep trying to understand this conviction and the crime that the jury believes she committed. How is one guilty of vehicular manslaughter without a vehicle? Why does the grieving victim face a stiffer penalty than the convicted driver? Why are there no safe crossings in front of a residential complex? Why were the complaints about traffic from other tenants of these apartments ignored? Why not lower the speed limit in this residential neighbourhood? Why design a city and a transportation system hostile to those who need it the most? Why persecute the poor for simply being poor?
Read the rest here.
Comment: This is a tragic story of racism first before it is even about class. I doubt very much whether a white mother, even a poor one, would have received the same sentence.
The literature is full of studies that show sentence disparities that punish black and brown folk. Why you think black and brown folks make up the largest sector of those behind bars?
And if you thinking it is because black and brown folks commit more crimes than whites you are seriously deluded.