I’m sure that by now you’ve all heard the story about the wealthy white teenager who killed four people while drunk driving. As we mentioned in yesterday’s Non-Sequiturs, 16-year-old Ethan Couch got off — sentenced to therapy — because the judge agreed that the kid was a victim of “affluenza”: his parents gave him everything he wanted, and he believed that being rich meant that he wouldn’t have to face consequences for his actions.
The kid’s not wrong; the fact that he’s not facing incarceration for killing four people kind of proves the point. A poor white kid would be in jail right now. A rich black kid would be in jail right now. A poor black kid would be picking out items for his last supper right now. Anybody who thinks that this kind of lenience would be given to anybody other than a wealthy white dauphin is wrong and stupid (and probably racist). The rich kid isn’t in jail because rich people don’t suffer the full force of consequences for their actions.
That said… the judge isn’t wrong either. When you have a jerk-off prick of a 16-year-old, as this kid appears to be, it’s probably not his fault. Not really. My outrage isn’t that Couch is getting off, it’s that so many other teens and young people are being incarcerated without this kind of compassion.
Not that there aren’t people who deserve jail time behind this. It’s just that those people are Couch’s parents….
The term “affluenza” perfectly captures the problem. It’s not just rich kids who suffer from terrible parenting that then lead to horrible life choices. A bunch of people have awful parents (or no parents at all) who fail to teach them right from wrong. Now, if we’re dealing with a 25-year-old, f**k ’em. Nobody wants to hear your sob story about how Daddy never hugged you… or hugged you too much. You’re an adult and your decisions are your own.
But when you are 16 years old, when you are still under the physical control of your parents, well, it takes a village to raise a dickhead.
A lot of people are saying that putting Couch in jail would “teach him a lesson.” But what we’ve learned (frankly from the scores of poor children we put in jail for various offenses) is that jail doesn’t “teach lessons” so much as it “punishes a**holes.” Literally. Sending Couch to 20 years of non-stop ass rape would accomplish nothing. The American prison system is terrible, it should be reserved for the absolute worst, who we want to throw away and never hear from again. If we want to “teach” people, prison is not the place, unless we’re talking about teaching them to become better, more hardened criminals. Couch… DOES… need therapy. Therapy is pretty much the ONLY WAY society has any hope of undoing what his parents did to him.
I’d just like to apply the logic that the judge accepted with Couch to the scores and scores of teens who are incarcerated for their offenses instead of helped in any way. Couch isn’t suffering from affluenza, he got “Parent Pox,” and it’s a disease that afflicts young people all across the nation. Instead of just using Couch as a case study in how rich white people have considerable advantages in the criminal justice system (which this case is a clear example of), can’t we also use it as an example of a more reasonable and restrained approached to criminal justice that should be available to all people? If a judge can see it here, can’t we demand that judges see it when their defendants are not rich and white? We don’t have to accept judges who put people in prison just to be part of the club.
If we are committed to putting somebody in jail, why not the parents? Now, don’t get me wrong, Couch’s parents are not about to get out of this unscathed. I’m sure all the testimony about how wealthy and negligent they were will be real useful to the plaintiffs lawyers in the civil trial. And you could argue that taking money from rich people is the only kind of punishment they truly understand.
But I’d like to roll the dice with taking away their freedom as well. They raised a menace. They unleashed a rabid dog out upon society and affixed a laser beam to its head. They were the “but for” cause of this accident. Next on Nancy Grace: where were the parents?
I’m less concerned about whether or not a kid takes “personal responsibility” than I am with whether adults are punished for their horrible behavior. But not everybody agrees with me on this….
JoePa here. It’s not that I disagree with Elie on everything. Indeed, my NS blurb covered most of this same ground in about 650 fewer words. You’re welcome, readers. Yes, this is racist and classist as all get out since poverty and discrimination are at the root of many crimes and the judicial system doesn’t care. And, yes, living in a concrete and steel cage won’t cure a case of the “I don’t give a f**ks.”
Where I depart from Elie is his decision to go all Nancy Grace (or at least HLN) on us and start repeating the trope that the parents should go to jail because their kids are awful. One of the worst traps to fall into is accepting the frame of someone pushing something despicable. The whole “punish the parents” line is trotted out by people who want to put more poor, usually black (note the kid front and center of the pic in the HLN article linked above), people in jail. It’s a two-for-one deal! We can pull two of them off the streets because the kid they struggle to raise because they’re working five jobs fell into the wrong crowd when they had the audacity to try and raise it in this world.
This kid may or may not have had bad parents — though the evidence suggests the former — but once we start down the “put more people in jail for what someone else did” road, even for defensible reasons, we’re giving strength to the arguments of people who want martial law declared in my neighborhood.
Yes, but we’re not really blaming the parents for what some other “person” did. We’re blaming the parents for what their child did. That’s more like punishing an owner when their exotic snake slithers free and strangles my cat.
I’m all for being compassionate to struggling parents. And it certainly occurs to me that pulling a parent away from the child probably isn’t great for the kid (well, maybe in this case). But remember, I’m coming at this from the point where jail only exists to punish people. If anybody deserves some time in the maximum security time-out corner, it’s probably the parents.