This week in mother-blaming: child runs onto road, mother convicted

Cross-posted at Feministe

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.


Filed under Feminism, Guest Posts, Motherhood and Parenting, racism

8 responses to “This week in mother-blaming: child runs onto road, mother convicted

  1. I entirely agree that outrage is the only reasonable response. The world does seem to have gone mad with some of the judgements coming out of courts for all sorts of things!

  2. FFS.
    I’m counting on the fact no legal system would be crazy to put a,mum away and leave her children motherless.
    These people either aren’t parents, or as u say privileged enough not to struggle on a daily basis, whether by having nice air-conditioned data, nannies, gated estates. For most of us it is a struggle, frought with dangers we navigate on a daily basis.


  3. Heather

    I read this last night and was appalled and confused. After thinking it over, I’m still appalled and very very confused. 1) I can’t believe that this even happened, 2) how is this vehicular manslaughter and not, oh, say, jaywalking?, 3) even if she did do something to warrant punishment (and I believe she definitely did not)…isn’t the death of her child enough? Why must they punish her in such a way that punishes her children too. Right now, that family needs to be with each other.

    Seriously, it’s hard to wrap your head around it. I don’t understand how someone without a car was convicted of vehicular manslaughter. I also don’t understand how the guy driving only ended up with a hit and run.

    Yes, outrage is definitely the appropriate response.

  4. Well, I *have* wrangled three kids and shopping off a bus (in my case, I was privileged enough that this was a temporary contingency based on our family car needing engine work for a couple weeks, rather than a permanent condition). It is really effing hard. I would go so far as to say that you cannot physically restrain three kids at the same time (well, I know I can’t) and if you have one or more that are wanderers (I have 2 out of 3 that are incorrigible runners-away), well … all I can say is, I feel VERY lucky that my bus stop was on a quiet corner of a sidestreet, not on a busy highway.

    Really, to attach blame to the mother is absolutely ludicrous. Her child has been killed by a) a drunk driver and, secondarily b) lack of appropriate infrastructure to maximise bus passenger safety. To hold her culpable is unfair, unreasonable, heartless, and – yes – outrageous.

  5. Heather

    This is just SUCH complete and utter bullshit. I live by a street like this–many lanes of very fast traffic. Our family only has one car, and the bus stop–for the bus to the park, the playground, the zoo, and everything else that’s not available in our little community–is across the street. The traffic on our street is so fast that I don’t even trust it in the crosswalk, but I have on occasion crossed the street with my children because we wanted to go to the park. Thankfully, I have two children and two arms (one child in each arm). Adding groceries to the equation would be a nightmare. It’s just undoable.

  6. Reading this story is heartbreaking I truely feel for this poor mum who is going though the mental torture of losing a child as well as her what if’s but to be convicted of this would be absolutly horrific for her and as well as for her poor family… Society has a lot to answer for…

  7. Pingback: Outrageous! :: Blogs ::

  8. Pingback: Kinderspielzeug, Väterkarenz und Björk: Linksammlung « fuckermothers

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