The story of Raquel Nelson, an Atlanta woman who witnessed her four year old son killed by a drunk driver and was subsequently convicted of vehicular manslaughter is the ‘Outrage of the week’ over at Lenore Skenazy’s blog Free Range Kids. And, frankly, what I feel about it is a shit-ton of outrage.
In brief: An Atlanta mom and her three kids got off a bus stop that is across a busy highway from her home. She COULD have dragged everyone to the next light, three tenths of a mile up the road, but it seemed to make sense to try to cross. Not only was her apartment in sight across the way, but the other passengers who disembarked were crossing the highway right there, too.
So she and her kids made it to the median, but then the 4-year-old squirmed away and got killed by a drunk driver. The driver was convicted of a hit and run. The mom was convicted of vehicular manslaughter.
Nelson’s conviction carries a possible jail sentence of 36 months.
What isn’t mentioned in Skenazy’s account (although a link to this piece by David Goldberg is provided) is that the bereaved mother, Raquel Nelson, is African American. Goldberg asserts that, by contrast, the jurors were middle-class white people who drove cars rather than riding the bus. Goldberg’s piece also tackles the problematic nature of placing personal responsibility on a mother who was struggling with a difficult set of circumstances. (Ever tried wrangling three children and shopping on and off a bus? I’ve not, personally, but I know it’s not easy.) What is most infuriating, to me, is that these are not unusual circumstances, they are not circumstances that a reasonable person could not for-see.
When basic provisions of public safety and amenity (like safe pedestrian crossings) don’t exist, and a child dies despite the efforts of his/her mother, and we blame the mother anyway? Outrage seems like a fair response.