Woman convicted of vehicular homicide for crossing the street to get home from bus stop

Some news stories just make you lose all faith in humanity.

According to the office of Cobb County prosecutor Barry Morgan, Nelson – who had no car at the time – committed vehicular homicide by attempting to cross a five-lane highway with her three kids to get to her apartment, after being let off the bus.

An Atlanta-area mother who lost her four-year-old son to a hit and run while crossing the street has been charged and convicted of vehicular homicide.

Perhaps this is not surprising:

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.

I can’t even describe how disgusted I feel that I live in a country which punishes low-income women to this degree. I’ve written before about the relationship between transportation, poverty and stress–but this case takes it to the most absurd degree.

As this post points out, it would be much cheaper and more just to, I don’t know, put in crosswalks at bus stops located on busy highways, rather than putting an innocent women in prison? The culture of criminalization, particularly of low-income people of color, has risen to such heights in this country. What good does putting Nelson in jail do? She has already suffered the worst punishment–the loss of her child.

As a friend said, the prosecutors “stuck a knife in a grieving mother and twisted it.” Now she’s awaiting sentencing of up to 36 months in jail and working desperately to make provisions for her kids, should she be sent away. Prosecuting people like Raquel Nelson, who truly are the victims of poor planning and bad design, is like closing the door of the proverbial barn and then burning it down. One well-marked crosswalk would save more lives, and in all likelihood it would cost less than this malicious prosecution cost the taxpayers of Georgia.

Join the Conversation

  • http://cabaretic.blogspot.com nazza

    I used to live in Atlanta, and as the article points out, this was once a middle-class suburban enclave. East Cobb was for a long time a conservative enclave, and still is. It’s the district that gave us Newt Gingrich.

    It is its own GOP universe and very much insular, so the fact that a jury pulled from those sorts of people convicted this woman on insensitive, unfair charges is not surprising to me at all.

  • http://feministing.com/members/katrinka/ Kathryn

    People make jokes. People make jokes about women, people of colour and people who are poor and on the lower rungs of our societies and “our” perceptions of their intelligence. This is what I immediately thought. And I also thought that while people make these jokes, an actual person with small children and a busy life was just trying to get home. I don’t have to take a bus to buy my groceries, let alone two. But that doesn’t mean I can’t imagine myself in this woman’s shoes and see that she was in an incredibly shitty situation and she is not to blame for the death of her own damn child at the hands of a reckless driver whether she was stood in the middle of a highway or not. This case and this judgement are ludicrous and obscene.

  • http://feministing.com/members/drusilla/ Drusilla Roessle

    Doesn’t it just completely blow your mind how illogical a judgement like this is? It would be almost laughable if it wasn’t so god damned real. This mother of once three and now one less child is being put in prison, being put in prison, for crossing the street and for losing a child. Well, for being a poor, low-income, African-American woman, and for being a poor, low-income, African-American working mother of three, who doesn’t have a car to drive to work. Shame, shame, shame on her for not being white and wealthy and living in a respectable neighborhood where everyone drives a car and nobody gets hurt crossing the street because everyone is so responsible, and where moms (naturally) stay home. I’m surprised we didn’t hear about her marital status, honestly.

    Definitely a multilayered criminalization problem. Miriam, exactly — what is expected that Raquel Nelson will learn while she is imprisoned? What is expected that her children will learn from this experience? Get a car? Sorry, tough luck if you can’t afford it? Get a husband with a car? Don’t use public transportation, it’s irresponsible and unsafe? Don’t cross the street? Don’t have children if you can’t carry them all at once, on your back, while you work and wherever you go? Don’t live in an area that we’ve completely neglected to notice and take care of because we’ve completely neglected to notice you and your problems and will continue to do so?

    Sure, she could have walked to the cross-walk, wherever it was – the transportation blog referenced implies 3/10 of a mile away. So could the rest of the bus passengers who didn’t, and who crossed the street where Raquel did which they likely do every day. Which brings up another other important and completely obvious issue — city planning, safety, and public transportation. Planning that might actually focus on the well-being of citizens and the logical organization of urban spaces to accommodate the people who comprise it — who live, work, and pay taxes to support community and livelihood. That neighborhoods, often low-income housing, are isolated across five lanes of traffic is one issue, that public transportation stops way across the five lane highway is another issue, that there are no immediate cross-walks is another issue; that there is no stop-light, no traffic signals, no pedestrian bridge only implies that the people who live there are completely irrelevant and their lives, experiences, and humanity (hello, this woman just lost a child) apparently completely unimportant in relation to thru-traffic.

    Is it so crazy to imagine even an urban community where residents are prioritized ?!? We’re literally just talking about justice, it’s not that difficult to figure out. I say, women and mothers on city council!

    • http://feministing.com/members/veritykhat/ Verity Khat

      I actually work in Cobb County. I pass the intersection in question regularly. That 3/10 of a mile to the crosswalk? Not only am I’m pretty sure you have to cross a side street to even get to it, NO ONE STOPS FOR PEDESTRIANS WALKING IN IT ANYWAY. Seriously, most East Cobb Snobs have a serious “I own the road” problem; it’s just as perilous to cross the street legally as to jaywalk.

      But no one’s talking about that, oh no, it’s not planning problems or a callous entitlement driving culture problem. No, we’re putting this poor woman in jail despite the fact that the driver openly admitted to being under the influence. *froths at the mouth in rage* I think he got like two years; he’ll probably be out on parole in 10 months. Those jurors will figuratively hang her. This is bullshit, sexist classist racist bullshit.

      • http://feministing.com/members/liza/ Liza

        I was going to say, I don’t know this specific street but I have spent a lot of time in Atlanta and its surrounding areas, and it’s one of the least pedestrian-friendly cities I’ve been to, at least in the US. From what I’ve experienced there, I doubt being in a crosswalk would have made much of a difference.

  • http://feministing.com/members/critter/ Critter

    This is just disgusting. Pure and blatant racism and classism. She deserves a settlement from the state and the driver who killed her child, not a prison sentence.

  • http://feministing.com/members/cmblack/ Christina

    Thanks for this and your previous post about transportation. I agree with all your points and have found myself thinking about many of these issues before. Needing to use public transportation creates a lot of stress and tension, exacerbating the problems of the largely low-income using it. Nelson’s punishment clearly does not fit the crime–if you even want to call it that.

  • http://feministing.com/members/napoleoninrags/ Napoleoninrags

    Just want to add my voice to the chorus of posters who are absolutely disgusted by this and to agree with those above who see this as indicative of systematic dysfunction within the U.S. justice system.

  • http://feministing.com/members/azure156/ Jenny Gonzalez-Blitz

    Wait, what’s wrong with this comment that it’s still in moderation? I’m on the woman’s side. I’m critique the fact that our system would rather spend money prosecuting and imprisoning people unjustly instead of putting the proper safety precautions in place!