black women

They got off light for DUI Killings, but She Got 36 Yrs prison for an accident

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by Dr. Boyce Watkins

There are two drunk driving cases that have gotten my attention over the past couple of months.  The first was that of Ethan Couch, the “Affluenza” teen who received probation after getting drunk behind the wheel and killing four people in cold blood.

The second case was that of Josh Brent, the former Dallas Cowboy who killed his friend and teammate Jerry Brown after getting drunk while driving and crashing the car. Brent’s sentence was harsher than Couch’s, but still lenient, at only six months behind bars.  This was the second time that Brent has been caught drunk behind the wheel and I wouldn’t be surprised if he did it again.

Some people think I’m in the business of defending any old action just because the subject at hand happens to be black.  Sorry, but I’m not.  Brent needs more time in prison for what he did, and by letting him and other drunk drivers off so lightly, we are jeopardizing the lives of millions of innocent people who are going to die because someone slams into their car after  a night of popping bottles at the club.

These cases also confuse me about the criminal justice system because they made me think of another case about three years ago. The case of Aimee Michael is one that I consider to be a real American tragedy.  Michael was a college student who didn’t crash into anyone, but did cause a collision that led to the deaths of five people on Easter Sunday of 2009.  She wasn’t drunk, but was a young person who swerved while driving in bad weather.  Michael also made the terrible mistake of driving away from the scene of the crash and getting her mother to help her fix her car.

As a result of her poor choices, the 24-year old student was given a whopping 36 years in prison, plus another 10 years of probation.  This means that she will be a free woman when she is sixty years old, while Josh Brent and Ethan Couch will be free to get “turnt up” at the club until they are old and gray.

Oh yea.  The judge also gave Aimee’s mother, Sheila, eight years in prison for her role in the crime.  That was her sentence for two misdemeanors.  I couldn’t understand the severity of the sentences in Michael’s case, largely because I know a lot of mothers who might have done the same thing (or actually have) to protect their child from going to prison.  I also know a lot of young people who don’t drive very well or have conspired with their friends to cover up criminal behavior.

Another important fact is that Michael turning herself in right after the accident would not have changed the amount of trauma and pain caused to the families who were affected.  Her sentence was one designed to send a message:  Don’t lie to the government, or we will take your life.

We can never say that such activities should go without punishment, but the truth is that this is a mistake that could be made by a lot of young people who panic and don’t understand the severity of the consequences behind their actions.  Those who somehow conclude that a 24-year old, law abiding student deserves 36 years for conspiracy, while two known and consistent alcoholics deserve almost not jail time for killing people are out of their minds.  Michael was covering up an ACCIDENT, not deliberate criminal behavior.  How many people do you know who’d be tempted to cover up an honest mistake in order to avoid the horror of going to prison?

Of course, we can agree that, in all three cases, every one of the defendants deserves time in prison.  But it’s not as if Aimee got drunk and decided that she would speed down the highway and risk the lives of innocent people.  Both Brent and Couch made that decision and arrogantly boasted about their behavior as if they were immune from punishment.  Both of these men suffered from “Affluenza,” even though one of them just happened to be black.

Anyone who thinks I will defend Josh Brent’s right to freedom just because he’s a black man is dead wrong.  I can only, in good integrity, defend his right to justice. Justice means getting enough time in prison to teach him a lesson, especially since this was his second DUI arrest over the last four years. Given that most drunk drivers never get caught, I dare speculate that he has done this more than two times, making him a danger to those around him.

Some people say that Brent is already living with the guilt of killing his friend and that his sentence was light because the family has forgiven him, but it goes deeper than that.  We are LUCKY that Brent only killed the person who chose to ride in the car with him and didn’t also murder an innocent family of four on their way home from church.  So, making sure he pays a price for his crime is for the protection of every person out there who DOESN’T want to hear about their little baby burning to death in a car crash because some dude thinks that drinking and driving is a joke.

I won’t even talk about Couch.  You can see how furious I am with him by what I said about him on CNN.   Honestly, if Couch were just a few years older, I would have no problem seeing him receive the death penalty.

In these cases, the punishments don’t fit the crimes.  I dare say that being rich or white may be exactly what one needs to avoid punishment in the criminal justice system.  It also helps if you remember one simple rule:  Killing whoever you want might be OK, as long as you make sure you’re drunk and driving before you do it.   In that particular space, there appears to be little to no accountability.

Dr. Boyce Watkins is the author of the lecture series, “The 8 Principles of Black Male Empowerment.”  To have Dr. Boyce commentary delivered to your email, please click here.