Re: “Russ Weller: An Accident, Not a Crime” (11/23-29/06).
N. Borenstein’s conclusion that “what happened to Weller could have happened to most anybody and was completely unforeseeable” and his statement that, “It was no more predictable than a heart attack in a person without symptoms…” are hard to believe and seem part of Borenstein’s own made up “theatre.”
When the story first appeared in the news, Weller was shown, via videotape, crashing onto a curb barrier at a friend’s party. After seeing Weller’s car garage, Police Chief Butts’ expression of disgust was all too telling that the “solid citizen” had been having a problem at the helm of his wheel.
I guess crashing into a friend’s property and your own property never seemed serious enough to Mr. Weller, or to those close to him. Usually, the people who do this type of behavior are under the influence of alcohol.
I had such a problem in the mid-1970’s. Even after a DUI, I was still drinking, blacking out and bumping into things. It bothered me so much that I started having a recurring nightmare. Much like Weller’s doing, I’d be driving my car, my foot is all the way down on the brake pedal, but my car would not stop as I continued to speed into total darkness. I knew I had to do something to stop this behavior. I decided to move to southern from northern California. (Yes, I left my car there for a while.)
It’s not even worth mentioning all the things that Mr. Weller (a man of means) could have done. I can’t believe that the Neighborhood Watch group never caught sight of him bumping up on the curb and reported him to the SMPD (like they do in my neighborhood). Maybe then he would have gotten that one “traffic ticket” that’s missing from his “70 years of driving.” But of course! An elderly white gentleman who lives north of Wilshire is usually not deemed a worth-watching candidate as, say, a young Black or Latino male in Santa Monica.
Which brings me to the “psychology of revenge” not to be confused with “justice” analogy made by Borenstein. There are a lot of young Black and Latino males serving life sentences (or sentences that become life sentences) in our prisons. Usually, as an act of revenge, an adolescent may take the life of another person. A court of law is expected to hand down “justice” to that individual. It doesn’t matter that the act was done as an adolescent (when some kids do a lot of stupid stuff). It seems that the court considers the taking of a life a serious crime.
In Weller’s case, the psychologist who best comes to my mind is Erik Erikson. In his book, Childhood and Society (1963), he lists his eight stages of psychosocial development. In late adulthood it is the stage of “ego integrity versus despair.” The important event is “reflection on and acceptance of one’s life.” Unlike many of his victims, Russ Weller gets to do just this, and go right on living in Santa Monica to boot.
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I am glad Young Mr. Borenstein loves his father, does well in school and involves himself in current events. Perhaps his father did seek justice for a man’s life. Unfortunately, he did not find it. Aside from Shakespeare’s apt observation that were we each to get his (or her) just desserts, none of us would ” ’scape whipping” (Hamlet’s next year), Mr. Weller did not stand trial for the deeds of a lifetime, but for the deed of one Saturday afternoon.
On July 16, 2003, a man got back into his car after getting a verbal warning from police officers, drove about a bit, then plowed through a mass of human beings who were trying to buy food. In slaughtering far more than the 10 who consequently died, with or without the actual suffering a grief of actual people who didn’t tearfully appear on anybody’s TV. The ruin of people’s lives simply is not “theatre.”
Mr. Weller’s actions were a crime: manslaughter. Men and women were slaughtered, and in a civil society, that has to have consequences for the perpetrators, not just the victims. The facts that determine the sentence are simple: 10 dead, 70 injured and hundreds of lives ravaged. I presume that is not what Mr. Weller intended to do, but that is what he did. I live and walk in Santa Monica, even across that automotive equivalent of a target range: Wilshire Boulevard, where few can manage to cross before the boulevard light goes green and often, yes often, the drivers start moving without looking.
A “reasonable person” would not have scoffed at the verbal warning he had. A reasonable person would not have gotten into the car if they couldn’t tell the accelerator from the brake. A reasonable person would not have gone west on Arizona at 4th, but left or right. The car didn’t go there by itself: It couldn’t. Mr. Weller drove it through the intersection, using the gas pedal and steering wheel. The car did not stop, because it was not the car’s duty to stop, or to steer itself away from pedestrians: It could not. The driver must safely operate the vehicle. That is the law and the fact. I believe, that if Young Mr. Borenstein’s account of events is to be believed, that Mr. Weller, in again and again pressing the pedal that did not stop the car, did what a person who is not reasonable would do. He did the same thing again and again, hoping for a different result.
Young Mr. Borenstein, since you have assumed an editorial mantle, simply stating that there is no societal interest to be served when one person, enjoying a privilege, kills people, maims people and destroys lives must endure some consequence for their action is simply ludicrous. Mr. Weller had a duty to operate two tons of rolling steel safely. Each of us has people’s lives in our hands when we drive. Taking a life while performing an extremely hazardous act, as driving, requires consequence for the driver, not just the victim. The societal interest is clear. We do not get to drive over pedestrians with our cars and say oops. People died needlessly because of what he did, and did not have to do.
That whatever victimized Mr. Weller could have happened to anybody stretches not only credibility, but possibility. If that were true, if this dark hobgoblin of unaccountable possibility hovers over us, slaughtering people right and left, we would all be dead. Bad reasoning. But that doesn’t matter.
Simply put: we have to answer for what we do, especially when it destroys the lives of others. We don’t get a pass because we got drafted and went to war, or joined and went to war. We go to war to maintain civilization. We get good driver’s rates on our insurance for having a clean driving record, not a pass on vehicular homicide. We are all community members, by residence, not merit. And I’m sorry, but we are only solid citizens until we are not, and Mr. Weller lost that solid citizenship when he lost track of the brake pedal and tore through the grocery shoppers.
The only measure of compassion for Weller’s victims is what has been done for them. I know as little about that as I do of the deep suffering you claim Mr. Weller endures.
Law demands consequence. Civilization requires law. Maintaining civilization is THE societal interest.