Ms. Nelson was convicted of vehicular homicide in her own child's death, though she does not own a car. She will serve more time in jail than the person who actually hit and killed her 4 year old son. Ms. Nelson, who had taken two buses to Walmart 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. 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, pled 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, Ms. Nelson, whose son was killed at the tender age of 4, has been convicted of vehicular homicide for "crossing the street other than at a crosswalk" and "reckless conduct." She may serve up to 3 years in prison.
I keep trying to understand the conviction and what crime it is that the jury believe 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 neighborhood? Why design a city and a transportation system hostile to those who need it the most? Why persecute the poor for simply being poor?
Because I believe the jury convicted Ms. Nelson for the crime of being poor in this country - the crime of not being able to afford a vehicle; the crime of needing to take two buses to buy groceries; the crime of living in an apartment complex located on a busy highway; the crime of being reminded that while many of us live in relative luxury, others are risking their lives for basic necessities. This blog sums up the true scope of Ms. Nelson's crime:
Nelson, 30 and African-American, was convicted on the charge this week by six jurors who were not her peers: All were middle-class whites, and none had ever taken a bus in metro Atlanta. In other words, none had ever been in Nelson’s shoes:
They had never taken two buses to go grocery shopping at Wal-Mart with three kids in tow. They had never missed a transfer on the way home that caused them to wait a full hour-and-a-half with tired and hungry kids for the next bus. They had never been let off at a bus stop on a five-lane speedway, with their apartment in sight across the road, and been asked to drag those three little ones an additional half-mile-plus down the road to the nearest traffic signal and back in order to get home at last.I take for granted my ability to run to the grocery store and pull my car up to my door without having to negotiate a 5 live highway with my small child; these are the luxuries of my current middle-class existence. But as a child who grew up in unrelenting poverty, I understand this story all too well. It is a story of trying to provide for a family, even when that means two bus rides for fresh groceries. It is a story of food deserts in urban areas, where the only food available is the unhealthiest food available. It is a story of a city that doesn't care enough about its poorest citizens having access to efficient means of travel. It is a story of human indifference to the true cost of poverty. It is a story repeated in cities all over this country. We continue - whether in planning our cities to privilege those who have vehicles or implementing an educational system based on property taxes - to disadvantage the poor. Ms. Nelson may have erred in attempting to cross the street at the bus stop, but the crime for which she was truly convicted was her poverty.
© Yolanda Pierce