In the news over the last couple of days are contrasting stories of justice spurned in Denver Colorado, while justice prevails in Vancouver, BC.
In Denver Colorado a very wealthy man, Martin Joel Erzinger, who happens to manage over $1 billion worth of assets for Morgan Stanley, hit a cyclist from behind with his Mercedes. Then he sped away from the scene, leaving his victim severely injured on the ground. Nice one.
His victim was liver transplant surgeon Dr. Steven Milo. Erzinger should have been prosecuted for a felony, but Eagle County District Attorney, Mark Hurlbert, dropped this to a misdemeanour, because he was concerned that this might hurt the despicable Erzinger’s income:
“Felony convictions have some pretty serious job implications for someone in Mr. Erzinger’s profession, and that entered into it.”
Milo is furious. He suffered bleeding from the brain and spinal injuries, and may suffer lifelong pain:
“Mr. Erzinger struck me, fled and left me for dead on the highway. Neither his financial prominence nor my financial situation should be factors in your prosecution of this case.”
Milo has a wife and kids, and his ability to earn an income has been jeopardized. However, in this case justice seems to be more concerned about the financial status of the cowardly villain who left a cyclist to possibly die in the street.
On the other hand, in Vancouver we have the case of cowardly scumbag Shawn Woodward. He decided to spend his evening in The Fountainhead, a well-known Vancouver gay bar. While there, he deliberately sucker-punched a much older man, Ritch Dowrey, causing massive brain damage and effectively destroying Dowrey’s life.
Woodward ran away, but was chased down by outraged witnesses. He compounded matters by showing no remorse, asserting that his victim deserved it because he was a “faggot.”
Seems Woodward was outraged to find a gay man in a gay bar. What the hell did he expect to find in a gay bar?
In any event, justice prevailed, in that Woodward did not skip away with a two year sentence, as has happened too often in the past when it was decided that a hate crime could not be proven. The judge was clear that this was a hate crime committed by a virulent homophobe. Convicted of aggravated assault, Woodward is off to prison for six years, and I don’t wish him a pleasant time in there. His victim sure isn’t having a good time, in the long term care facility where he will most likely spend the rest of his days.
Two victims lying on the ground, their lives forever changed. Two cowardly perpetrators fleeing the scene.
In Vancouver, I was delighted to see that justice prevailed and Woodward got the sentence he deserved. But I was very sad to see that in Denver, the power of money prevailed – and once again, injuring a cyclist was deemed not important enough to warrant serious repercussions.
The point is that giving paltry sentences to people who persecute or injure a group encourages those perpetrators to continue their behaviours, and instills justifiable fear in those who are inadequately protected by the law. Jennifer Breakspear, executive director of QMUNITY, B.C’s queer resource centre, said:
“Hate crimes truly do instill terror and fear in an entire community. It expands beyond a victim and the judge’s ruling today spoke to that significance.”
In much the same way, it instills terror and fear in cyclists when people can mow us down and get away with it – as in the Denver case, and also in the recent case in Manitoba: motorist Ian Gibbons killed two cyclists, fundraisers Robert Joseph Carrier and Daniel Hurtubise. For this, he got a paltry $5,000 fine.
How can we as cyclists feel safe on the streets when the courts put so little value on our lives? When they see a man’s income as more important than the despicable crime of hit and run, or when they value cyclist’s lives at $2,500 each? Just as gay people cannot feel safe if attacks on them are not deemed hate crimes and severely punished, so too cyclists cannot feel safe if those who injure or kill cyclists are given a slap on the wrist. This has to change!
See also these interesting blog posts on The Huffington Post and Abandon your Car.