Dear Ethan Couch,
I do not know you. I do not know your family. I have no idea what your upbringing was like. All I know is what the news tells me and that is that you were only sentenced to 10 years probation for killing 4 people while driving under the influence (.024 — 3x the legal limit for people 21+, you’re 16). You received such a minimal and abysmal sentence because the criminal justice system accepted a defense of “affluenza,” claiming that you were brought up in a wealthy family of privilege and your parents never taught you consequences, right from wrong, how to go through life with limits.
I don’t know the 4 people who you killed and perhaps you don’t really either. What I do know is that the 4 people whom you killed were on their way to help their wife/mother/parishioner with a flat tire when your truck sped through the intersection and ran them over. I also know that a couple of your friends were severely injured too while riding in the back of your pick up.
You see, Ethan, America knows very little about what happened that day, the day before, and quite frankly the 16 years of your life leading up to that day. You and your family are the only ones who can recall that history, recount those moments. You’ll have to relive the moments of that day for the rest of your life. I imagine Eric Boyles’, whose wife and daughter you killed, words of grief, anger, and frustration describing the moments of learning of his loved one’s death up through hearing your very short and unexpected sentencing will haunt you every day for the rest of your life. Or will they? I guess I don’t know that either. I can only hope.
Just as America and the world, for that matter, don’t know anything about you, your family, or that day — the criminal justice system does not either. The psychologist who testified that you suffer from “affluenza” does not truly know you, your family, or your life story either. But the criminal justice system prevailed and led to an incomprehensible outcome. The criminal justice taught kids just like you that if mommy and dad didn’t “bring them up right” and they were wealthy, they could live that reckless life that so many teens long for because it sounds so cool, right Ethan?
Now, I do think there is truth to the idea that your upbringing has impacted the way you act and view life. We are all shaped by our environments. Put simply: nature vs. nuture. Your parents not setting limits and not taking the time to teach you responsibility and accountability probably did lead you to steal beer, drink heavily, and then get behind the wheel of the truck. Also, your privilege is certainly impacting how you are perceiving the events of your life since that June day when you murdered 4 people.
But that is absolutely no excuse for the fact that your actions led to an crash that left 4 people dead and others injured. Your upbringing — the privilege, wealth, and free-life you’ve led — will not bring these four people back. Your parents failed you, Ethan and so did the criminal justice system. And I hope all that read that previous sentence understand I am not avoiding placing blame on, you, Ethan because at the end of the day, you’re 100% responsible.
I hope that you break free of the clench of privilege you have been caught in for 16 years. I hope you can come out from the cloak protecting you from responsibility and accountability. If that day comes when you break free and remove your cloak, I hope you understand everything I am saying in this letter — plea — to you. Because right now, you can’t understand it because you’re blinded by layers and layers of “protection” that have allowed you to do, say, and think whatever you want for the past 16 years.But Ethan, wealth and success are different than privilege. We cannot help the socioeconomic status we are brought up, but we can and should be in control of what we do with that privilege.
If you don’t break free soon, another tragedy will strike and you’ll, again, be to blame. Or perhaps your neighbor who may be near your age and in your socioeconomic status, will learn from your mistakes that he, too, can live recklessly with no consequences. And your entire class will begin to cause tragedy with no consequences, only deep and endless grief caused to others.
The last paragraph sums up the path that your sentence placed “privileged America” on. A pathway to wealth-driven excuses allowing those who are privileged to glide through life seemingly carefree. Today, you may feel as though you’re “punishment” and diagnosis of “affluenza” are fair and accurate. I hope with every fiber of my being you wake up one day and understand how horribly wrong and unfair 10 years of probation for killing 4 while driving under the influence while under the legal age to drink was. Just say it over and over again to yourself, Ethan: “10 years of probation for killing 4 while driving under the influence while under the legal age to drink.” Think about that while you grow up, go to college, pursue your dreams. Think about the 4 whom you murdered who can’t grow up, pursue their dreams, and try to be successful.
The day you wake up and realize this, you can genuinely call yourself privileged.
A disheartened citizen.