AFFLUENZA?!

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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.

Sincerely,

A disheartened citizen.

 

 

 

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Wanted: Empathy & Compassion for All

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I read/saw three things today that set off a combination of rage, sadness, and confusion from within me. Let me give you an overview of what I read/saw and then I will provide insight to my competing emotions around these events.

This morning, while eating breakfast, we had CNN on in the background. They were discussing a video that has gone viral. The video depicts a young girl beating another young girl. CNN’s discussion revolved around the girl holding the camera and questioned whether she will have charges brought against her. The conversation also began to acknowledge how awful it was that the video was going viral, being uploaded to sites all over the web. CNN even quoted the victim’s mother stating that every time the video is uploaded or viewed, her daughter is being re victimized. And yet, CNN found themselves “above” the hundreds of thousands who have viewed this video on the web as it quickly was uploaded to numerous popular websites. They proceeded to show the video before referring to a legal expert who would shed light on the girl holding the video camera. I refuse to link to this story in attempts to avoid perpetuating the viral video and re-victimizing the girl who was beaten.

Somehow, I managed to keep CNN on (muting it as they continued to cover the horrific story explained above). The coverage then switched to discuss how Republicans are receiving training on how to talk to women and gain women voters. A montage of clips was shown to demonstrate the need for this. Women “shutting that whole thing down” during rape; rape and pregnancy from rape being “all apart of God’s plan“; binders full of women. Eric Cantor, the House Majority Leader, was asked by CNN if he thought the GOP was good at talking to women. First, he responded with something along the lines of “we have a lot of great Republican leaders who are women,” (19 in the House out of 232, to be exact), and the CNN reporter interupted him, repeating the question: “Are you good at talking to women?” He quickly changed his response to “bring it home” to his daughter, a senior in college, saying:

“She’s off now thinking about her next step in life, what kind of career or job opportunities  are available for her,” he said. “Well, I don’t believe that racking up trillions of dollars of additional deficit and debt are a good thing for her because, ultimately, what that does is it mortgages her future.”

Perhaps this deceived some as a genuine answer showing respect and acknowledgement of women in his life. But CNN went on to report on the training the GOP is receiving.

“First and foremost what we tell them to do (is) talk about yourself as a husband and a father,” this source told CNN, adding, “After that we urge a blanket statement about rape is abhorrent: ‘Anyone who is charged with this offense should be fully prosecuted, and as a husband and father I am outraged.'”

Lastly, Rick Santorum is spewing ignorance and outrageous comments yet again. Did you know that Nelson Mandela’s fight against injustice throughout this lifetime mirrors the Republican party’s quest to stop Obamacare? I can’t say much more “objectively” about what I read. Read for yourself.

Within approximately 3 hours, I was faced with these three events. My rage, sadness, and confusion have led me to recognize that producers of CNN, the GOP, and Rick Santorum, all lack empathy and compassion. They lack the ability to relate to human beings. To place themselves in another’s shoes and try to understand his/her experiences, feelings, or thoughts. When I try to put myself in Rick Santorum’s shoes, my sadness prevails. I become sad that he views the world in such a narrow, priviledged, short-sighted manner. I am sad that no one taught him compassion or the importance of empathy in making relationships and being successful. When I try to put myself in CNN’s shoes and try to consider their rational for showing the video of a young girl being beaten on national TV, my rage prevails. CNN is made up of intelligent, educated, and well-informed individuals. Sure, I don’t agree with all of their view point. But they know right from wrong and should have the common sense to not show a video that they are subsequently arguing is re-victimizing the victim and discussing how abhorrent it is that it’s gone viral. Shame on you, CNN. When I listen to the GOP discuss how they need to get better at talking to women and learn to be sensitive to women, my confusion prevails. Having to train a room full of men who hold a lot of power in the United States government on how to talk about women, how to be sensitive to things like rape and abortion, and how to relate women’s issues to the women they love in their lives boggles my mind. It is so disingenuous and condescending. It is ridiculous to know that men representing this country need a lesson on talking to women. When the idea came about to offer this training, I am confused why someone did not say “perhaps we get rid of everyone who requires this training because quite frankly, ya shouldn’t be in a leadership position if you need it.” Cantor wasn’t being genuine about his daughter’s experiences relating to policies the GOP proposes, he was just regurgitating a line he was fed during a training on how to talk about women. I am sure he loves his daughter very much, but due to him and his party’s lack of empathy and compassion, he had to exploit her and her future for the benefit of “gaining women voters.”

I am unsure where we lost compassion and empathy along the way. I think it is tucked away behind Facebook statuses, Instant Messages, and text messages. It’s blurred by the constant access to information about bad things in the world. It’s lost in desensitization and normalization of violence, discrimination, and inequality. I am desperate to recover it and instill it in everyone’s being. But where do we begin?