Opinion: A 71-year-old was killed in a crosswalk; there will likely be no legal consequences for her death

2020 is becoming a deadly year for those both in and out of cars in Long Beach—but especially for those outside of them.

These cases were announced in a police press release explaining what happened: A driver suspected of being under the influence, hence the crash; a pedestrian in an unmarked crosswalk, hence the crash; a pedestrian “stepped off the curb,” hence the crash; a pedestrian attempted to cross mid-block, hence the crash…

Unless there is something the police can immediately point to, like inebriation or driving on an expired license, there would be no immediate legal consequences for the drivers in the deaths of these people. After that particularly violent week stretching between Jan. 31 and Feb. 4, police told the Post that they want pedestrians to “pay attention” and drivers to “not drive drunk.”

Basically: “You jump into a road with high-speed cars—expect danger. You drive drunk—expect consequences.”

Sometimes, that is hard to argue; that I can accept when the situation is grounded in clear terms. There’s a genuinely base understanding about risk there.

But what about when neither pedestrian distraction or driver inebriation are involved?

What about when pedestrians follow the precautions they are supposed to and driver distraction is to blame? Yes, there are moments when pedestrians put themselves in danger; I try to look at why pedestrians put themselves in danger and oftentimes, I find that there aren’t crosswalks within a reasonable distance or the such. That doesn’t always apply but I try to understand something outside of someone willing to die over walking; is there something we designed to contribute to them taking that risk?

But there are definitive moments when that logic or analysis can’t be employed and the public outcry over the loss of someone who didn’t deserve to die barely rises to a murmur, let alone arise in legal consequences.

The case of 71-year-old Mamlekat Joseph, a woman attempting to cross Third Street on the west side of Magnolia Avenue on Saturday morning, is one such definitive moment—and with it, there is a deep sense of bafflement and frustration that her death will likely result in absolutely no legal consequences.

According to the police department press release, Joseph “waited at the ‘DON’T WALK’ signal for the light to change and began to cross the street with the ‘WALK’ signal. While crossing in the marked crosswalk, she was struck by a 2002 Bluebird bus, which was traveling north on Magnolia Avenue, turning left onto 3rd Street.

“The bus was being driven by a 25-year-old male resident of Van Nuys, who remained at the scene, was interviewed and later released. Neither alcohol, drugs or distracted driving were a factor for the driver. He had a valid commercial driver’s license and proof of insurance.”

A woman who did absolutely everything she was supposed to—she wasn’t “distracted on her phone,” she didn’t “cross mid-block,” she didn’t “step off a curb,” she didn’t “attempt to cross in an unmarked” space, she waited patiently for her cue—was killed. And because the driver wasn’t drunk or high, and had a valid license, he was free to go.

And this is common in these cases.

“An immediate arrest would occur for drivers obviously under the influence or other evidence pointing toward it being intentional,” said Arantxa Chavarria of the Long Beach Police Department. “The driver has been identified in this case; if malice or intent is discovered throughout the investigation, an arrest warrant will most likely be issued.”

In other words, absent “malice or intent,” manslaughter is unlikely to be pursued. It is a powerful message to both drivers and pedestrians: Even if you are perfectly following the directions given to you as a pedestrian, if a driver simply doesn’t see you and kills you, it is unlikely anything legal will be pursued.

It is a terrifying message no matter how you frame it because it seems to harness the idea that taking the life of someone, albeit taken unintentionally, is just… Well, it’s just something that happens.

It blindly dismisses the entire purpose of why we have manslaughter charges in the first place. Manslaughter is the idea that we as a society believe that taking of someone’s life—outside of intentional, cold-blooded murder—is still worthy of legal scrutiny and consequences.

What this type of situation continues to tell society is that our roads are for cars and their drivers and no one else.

What this type of situation continues to tell society is that even if you follow these precautions as a pedestrian, even if you follow all the rules and you lose your life for it, drivers will face no legal consequences and your life means less than others.

We need to be saying otherwise.

We need to harness the belief that someone’s life being lost pointlessly cannot be dismissed simply because it was “an accident” or you “didn’t see them.” Someone died; let’s treat it with the sanctity it deserves.

Brian Addison is a columnist and editor for the Long Beach Post. Reach him at [email protected] or on social media at FacebookTwitterInstagram and LinkedIn.

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Brian Addison has been a writer, editor, and photographer for more than a decade, covering everything from food and culture to transportation and housing. In 2015, he was named Journalist of the Year by the Los Angeles Press Club and has since garnered 16 nominations and two additional wins for Best Political Commentary for his work at KCET and Best Blog for Longbeachize, a section of the Long Beach Post. Brian currently serves as a columnist and editor for the Long Beach Post.