Athletes (Like Stallworth) Are Not The Only Ones Who Get Off Easy

Mike Lydon's picture
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If you watched or read the news yesterday, then you likely came across the sentencing of Donte Stallworth. Previously known (maybe) for being an NFL role player, Stallworth will serve a 30 day sentence for hitting and killing a pedestrian named Mario Reyes while driving intoxicated here in Miami Beach. The typical sentence for such an offense in Florida is 4 to 15 years. Stallworth will be released just in time for his NFL training camp.

How convenient. 

Reactions to the Stallworth sentence are mixed, running the gamut from satisfaction to outrage, to jaded assumptions that he is just another NFL bad boy getting a free pass. While you probabaly already know how I feel about the issue, it should be noted that in addition to the 30 day sentence Stallworth's license has been revoked for life and he will serve 1,000 hours of community service while being under house arrest for the next two years. He has also agreed to compensate the devastated Reyes family with an undisclosed amount of financial support. All of this, you may say, is a paltry price to pay for irresponsibly taking another's life. 

While the Reyes family is reportedly just looking for closure, and not the worst for Stallworth, Livable Street advocates are likely finding the vehicular manslaughter sentence particularly tough to swallow, but also unsurprising. Indeed, lost in the NFL player brou-ha-ha is the story of Mario Reyes, a 59-year old family man who was simply trying to cross the street to catch the bus home after working the night shift.  Stallworth, clearly acted with fatal negligence and the sentence doesn't seem to match the severity of the crime.  

Yet, NFL player or not, DUI's, hit and runs, and other types of fatal automotive "accidents" are typically not pursued to the extent that you think they would be. Just read Streetsblog on a weekly basis for a sense of the daily injustices levied against innocent citizens across the country. The media also tends to ignore the humanity of the perpetrators when covering such incidents, instead referring to the vehicle that struck the other car, pedestrian, or immovable object, and not the human behind the wheel. Earlier this spring, David Alpert from the Greater Greater Washington blog summarized this fact by analyzing how media outlets and society use an excessive amount of passive voice when reporting incidents involving motor vehicle crashes, a leading cause of deaths in America at approximately 40,000 a year. David says:

No news story ever began saying, "A person was killed yesterday when he collided with a bullet moving at high speed in the opposite direction." Yet that's exactly how news stories about traffic "accidents" often begin, like this Post story:
Four people ranging in age from 19 to 21 were killed early yesterday in Culpeper County, Va., when their car collided with a vehicle that was going the wrong way, Virginia State Police said.

Police said a Chevy Tahoe sport-utility vehicle was driving on the wrong side of a two-lane stretch of Route 3 when it struck the Toyota Corolla about 2:50 a.m.

Certainly, the death of Mario Reyes was not fully intentional, but labeling it as an "accident" as many media outlets have and continue to do does not get it right either. After all, Stallworth blew through a red light while Reyes had the right-of-way (in a poorly marked crosswalk along a limited access, high speed vehicular causeway that he had to cross to reach the bus) and killed him. Clearly, this could have easily been avoided by just following the most routine of traffic laws--a difficult accomplishment when your blood alcohol content is .126.

Mike Lydon is Principal of the Street Plans Collaborative and co-author of Tactical Urbanism: Short-term Actions for Long-term Change (Island Press, 2015).

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