Thursday, February 5, 2015

Justice for Thomas Palermo

Wow, a driver is actually getting charged for killing a cyclist.

Bishop Heather Cook, left, indicted this week on 13 charges in the death of Thomas Palermo, right.
Cook struck and killed Palermo with her car in December. 

If you're a cyclist, you get used to hearing stories about other cyclists being hit and killed by drivers every couple weeks or so. And it's really discouraging.

Usually, the outcome is that the driver faces no consequences of any kind: he couldn't see her; he was distracted by his new car smell and couldn't focus on the road; she didn't notice the bike frame stuck under her bumper for 10 miles, these are all just terrible accidents. 

Those are real things that have happened by the way, I'm only not linking to them because I can't find the reports. The blame is all too often placed on the cyclist in order to excuse the driver: he should have been wearing brighter clothing; she should have ridden on the sidewalk; WHY didn't he wear a helmet?

Our limitless capacity for victim-blaming aside, Bike Snob NYC and others have made much of the societal pathology, embedded in America but increasingly rare in other developed nations, that leads us to view rampant traffic deaths (National Safety Council nationwide estimate: 35,200 in 2013, most caused by cars) as an acceptable cost of doing business, rather than a mind-boggling public health crisis that demands immediate attention.

So it's refreshing to see the justice system working at least in this one instance. The beginning of a new era? Maybe. But this particular case has several aggravating factors that would have made the usual "I didn't see him" defense ring *real* hollow, including that Bishop Cook may have been drunk and texting at the time, and initially left the scene of the crash (allegedly.) I guess it takes a crash that egregious to suggest the driver may be at fault after all.

Word is, she's been at a treatment center since the incident, which is probably good- though there's no excuse for killing someone with your car, drug and alcohol addiction is as every bit as serious a public health issue as traffic fatalities, and she obviously needs help.

Burning questions around Bishop Cook remain, including how much the Episcopal Diocese knew about her possible alcohol abuse and what might have been done to prevent Tomas Palermo's death. I've always had a lot of respect for the Episcopal Church for their progressive stance on gender and LGBT issues, and it would be really unfortunate if they had missed an opportunity to help prevent this tragedy.

Below I have some additional musings on this event's relationship to other current issues. They may or may not be in entirely good taste, so only read it if you want to. If you do, I hope you'll understand it's my attempt to process some conflicting thoughts and I intend no offense to anyone.

So there we have it. If you're hearing about this ongoing saga for the first time (or if you're not,) I encourage you to go offer your support to the Washington Area Bicyclist Association and Baltimore Bicycle Club, or your local cycling advocacy group, as they work to mainstream cycling in (y)our area, increase alternative transit opportunities, and help ensure that people can get where they're going safely, regardless of how they choose to get there. Thanks for reading, and ride/drive/walk/Metro/helicopter safe!

--AWG a style Clark Gable would have admired...

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