It is a simple concept that serves two purposes. One, it delivers justice to the victim. Two, it serves as a deterrent to prevent others from committing the same crime.
It is a solid system that dates back to the earliest stages of our civilization’s development. But as solid and strong as our system of law is, our faith in it can be shaken when one part of the system fails.
On May 16 of this year, 73-year-old Rafael Diaz was crossing Atlantic Avenue between 87th and 88th streets when he was struck by a black Toyota traveling in excess of 60 miles per hour.
The force of the impact was such that the hood and the windshield were destroyed. Mr. Diaz’s body was thrown high into the air and slammed down on to the hard pavement several yards away.
The hood of a car is quite hard, as is the windshield of a car. Try rapping your knuckles against them sometime to see just how hard they are. And we’ve all probably had occasion to feel how hard the pavement can be. We would ask Mr. Diaz how painful this accident was to him, but he did not survive his injuries. He died at Jamaica Hospital shortly after he was struck.
But the pain of his injuries did not end at the moment of his death. The pain lives on in the hearts and minds of his friends and family. This is something that they will have to live with for the rest of their lives, reliving it every time they hear the screech of a car slamming on its brakes and every time they pass the scene of the accident so close to where they live.
And now the city is pouring salt in their wounds. The driver of the vehicle who killed Mr. Diaz, 25-year-old Joel Rodriguez, was driving without a license. In fact, on the day he killed Mr. Diaz, there was a warrant out for Rodriguez’s arrest for driving a vehicle without permission.
And yet, Queens District Attorney Richard Brown has charged the driver of the car that killed Mr. Diaz with a misdemeanor. In general, a misdemeanor is a crime that is punishable with one year or less in jail (felonies are punishable by a year or more in jail).
What is particularly upsetting with this decision is that in two similar cases (as pointed out by streetsblog.org) the driver of vehicles that killed pedestrians walked away with little punishment.
Edwin Carrasco struck and killed 78-year-old Yolanda Casal in Manhattan while backing up, trying to nab a parking spot. Carrasco had a history of license suspensions and reckless driving and ended up paying a $500 fine.
Diego Tapia-Ulloa struck and killed 35-year-old Laurence Renard in Manhattan and was charged by police with aggravated unlicensed operation of a motor vehicle in the third degree. He, too, ended up paying a $500 fine.
Let’s add some perspective. In New York City, vacant lots must be kept clean of debris and litter. Failure to do so can lead to a $300 fine. Throwing out your residential garbage into public trash cans can lead to a $450 fine. Parking a tractor-trailer on a residential street between 9 p.m. and 5 a.m. can lead to a $265 fine for a first offense; a second offense will cost you $515.
Our city is reducing the value of human life on our streets to the level of offenses that some people shrug their shoulders over before paying with their credit card. We hope the judge will understand this and punish Rodriguez to the full extent of the law, which now appears to be just one year in jail.
We all walk around with an expectation that we are protected by the rule of law. If someone walks away from recklessly killing another person, it denies justice to the victim and his or her family. And it serves as no deterrent to prevent others from committing the same crime.
In the killing of Rafael Diaz, the punishment doesn’t fit the crime, it is the crime.