This article was originally published in americanchronicle.com on Feb. 17th, 2008
I heard of a radio talk show host that came up with the idea to a form a group DAMM, Drivers Against Madd Mothers. Recently events have occurred on a very local level that gave me pause to think about this. These events are tragic in their own way, and yet it seems to me that we as a society like to take such events and compound them. Sometimes when trying to make sense of the senseless groups of people can compound the issues that individuals should be dealing with on their own terms. Groups can certainly help a person deal with personal tragedy when done on a voluntary basis and when help is requested, but groups can also throw wrenches into already muddled situations and make things painful for all of us until even the most innocent in society are paying a price for a situation they had absolutely nothing to do with.
I heard a story about a young man, seventeen or so, who got drunk one night, got in a car, got in an accident and killed someone. Actually, it was in all the papers. It was a very sad story. It´s a story that, I´m afraid, has been repeated too many times. The boy had never been in trouble before. He was a good student. He had a loving family. He was by all accounts a nice person on his way to a productive life. Then he made a couple of bad decisions one night and something terrible happened. It was tragic.
The judge sat in his courtroom and listened to this story. It took about a year before things would be settled. The judge had considered all sides of the story and rendered his decision. He took all kinds of factors into consideration, factors that maybe some of us might not think about. That´s what good judges do. He sentenced the boy to six months in jail and five years intense probation. The papers had a field day reaming this judge. They claimed the sentence was too lenient. Personally, I think it was a good sentence. It was an accident, regardless of the circumstances or the consequences or the stupidity involved, and it was not done with forethought or malice. And it is my understanding that some people would rather do jail time than do intense probation which puts a lot of pressure upon the recipient. But my opinion of this young man´s sentence and this sad story is not what this article is about.
I have a friend whose son was involved in an accident in the same county while coming home from high school. It was a pretty bad accident. He and the other driver involved, a woman with a son his age at the same high school, were both hurt. Her injuries were pretty serious, but nothing life threatening or life changing. His son was not drunk, was not high, but he had a marijuana pipe in his car at the time of the accident. The police found it and tested him at the hospital. They found trace amounts of marijuana in his system, but he admitted to having smoked it three days earlier, which would mean there would still be traces in his system. He hadn´t been high at the time of the accident. There were even questions about whether he actually caused the accident or not, though the evidence did point to it being his fault. But none of that would matter. He was charged with felony DUI.
During the year this was dragged through the court system, the woman involved with the accident would show up for each and every hearing this young man had to go to. Every time she would have with her someone from Mothers Against Drunk Driving. She wanted to make sure this young man paid dearly for what had happened to her. And yet, did anyone from her family come to the courthouse to support her? Did any of her old friends come with her for support? No. It was always someone from Mothers Against Drunk Driving, someone who hadn´t met her until after the accident and someone with a political agenda to attend to. MADD may have felt they found a willing and productive poster child to hang their hats upon with this woman, and they were ready to use her to the best of their ability to further their agenda to get draconian zero tolerance laws passed in every state of the union. My guess is that they couldn´t have cared less about this woman, they only cared that she had been involved in an accident where a hint of marijuana use had been found.
When crunch time came in this case, a deal was struck, as happens so often in this country. We no longer have a system where one is innocent until proven guilty, we have a system where once arrested your lawyer will only go to trail if he is certain he can prove you innocent. Juries are no longer fully informed. People that should be sitting on them, people with principles and who know their responsibility, instead try to find ways to wiggle their way out of jury duty. Often times if a person with principles who knows what a fully informed juror knows, that the law itself can be judged, if found in the jury pool that person will be rejected by the prosecutor who does not want his precious law to be subjected to scrutiny by ordinary citizens. But that´s tangential. What happened is this case was that, due to the other case mentioned above, the judges in this county were now under pressure and giving out sentences that far exceeded minimum standards. They didn´t want to be seen as soft on crime by the papers and the vengeful masses who know little about the details of each individual case and are quick to judge those sitting in judgment without taking the time to find out the specifics.
And so the lady from MADD had made her presence felt. They have done this all along by waving pictures of dead babies in our faces and making us all feel guilty. They have taken the pain from personal tragedy and spread it throughout the public until even the most tea toddling senior citizen might feel its sting one day when forced to stop at a random, unconstitutional roadblock while trying to get to the drugstore before it closes to pick up much needed meds. Their loud screams and fascist demands have reverberated in legislative chambers across this land and it seems they will not stop until prohibition is reinstated and we as a society get to relive the nightmare of the roaring twenties gang wars. It seems as if the cowardly lawmakers are easily swayed by their persistence and will not take a stand against them for fear of being labeled a criminal sympathizer rather than a constitutionalist. Certainly, those who are driving dangerously should be taken off our roads, but just because someone´s blood alcohol level is .08 or some other random number does not automatically mean he is a danger on the road. Just because a kid has a marijuana pipe in his car and trace amounts in his system does not necessarily mean he was smoking recently or that his driving was impaired by it. We need to start dealing with people as individuals, not as statistics. And a very important thing I personally think we as a society have forgotten is that forgiveness is good for the soul. We should remember to forgive others as we would want to be forgiven under similar circumstances.
My friend´s son was sentenced to sixty days in jail, two years intense probation, and he will have to pay restitution. I don´t think jail time was necessary for the kid. It does no one any good, not him, not his parents, not the woman who was injured, not her family, not society in general, not even the woman from MADD, except maybe to satiate her vindictiveness. I hope he is strong enough to survive the two years intense probation without permanent psychological damage. I believe that paying restitution was the fairest part of the sentence, for he did cause harm to another and should make every effort to repair what has been broken.
As for the woman, she read a statement to the court in which she blamed the accident for everything that had gone wrong with her life recently. She blamed it for her husband leaving her. She blamed it for her kids abandoning her. She never considered that her own actions may have brought these things about. She never considered that maybe she was driving them away. By some accounts these things had been manifesting before the accident. But that accident gave her the opportunity for attention. It gave her the opportunity to make a new friend with the MADD woman who wants to stick her nose in everyone else's business and make sure anyone who may have even thought about driving under the influence of any illicit substance is cast out of society and thrown into a prison cell for as long as possible. It gave her the opportunity to try to make someone else´s life as miserable as her own. She took that opportunity and lapped it up. How empty her life must feel now.