Making "Respect for the Law" Into a Bad Joke Once Again

Article by Jess Leber.


Update: We’ve just arranged for this petition to be personally delivered to the judge at Raquel Nelson’s sentencing hearing on Tuesday. Please sign and share widely so we can show the national outrage over her prosecution.

The unjust prosecution and conviction of Raquel Nelson, a grieving Atlanta mother, for the death of her 4-year-old son in a hit-and-run accident has outraged a nation in recent days.

Of particular note, it has also outraged a Eliza Harris, an urban planner in Orlando, Florida, who started a campaign on Change.org to clear Raquel’s name and prevent a similar tragedy from ever happening again.

I’d like to share with a little bit about why Eliza started her petition to help Raquel a few days ago. Raquel’s sentencing is this coming Tuesday, July 26th, so we find it to be particularly urgent that everyone spread the word. So read below, sign the petition, and then share it with your friends.

You can also tweet: Outrageous! Grieving mom of hit-and-run victim faces more jail time than driver. Take action http://t.co/9lmiTew #raquelnelson

Here’s what happened. In April 2010, Nelson, her son A.J., and her two other children, got off a bus in metro Atlanta and—with several other passengers—attempted to cross a 5-lane highway to get to her apartment across the way. The nearest crosswalk was nearly a half a mile in either direction. Most anyone would take the shortcut. Standing at the median in the middle, little A.J. reportedly saw someone else jaywalk and ran out into the street to follow. Raquel ran out after him to stop him. But it was too late. Both Raquel and A.J. were hit by a vehicle, and A.J. died in the hospital a few hours later.

The accident was tragic, and Nelson put her life at risk to try to save him, as any mother would. So how is it possible she may serve more time in jail than the driver who hit and killed her son—a man who admitted to having a few beers and some medication that afternoon?

The driver was released in October after serving a six-month sentence, but Raquel Nelson now faces up to 36 months in prison for vehicular homicide at her sentencing on Tuesday.

Eliza read about the case on Transportation For America’s blog. Eliza is a passionate advocate for public transportation access, especially in low-income communities and in minority neighborhoods, and saw the pure injustice in Raquel’s situation.

“It was outrageous that a jury convicted her. It is more outrageous that the Solicitor prosecuted her to begin with,” writes Eliza.

Raquel, an African American mother who takes two buses to go food shopping at Walmart in one of the least walkable cities in the nation, was convicted by a jury who could not possibly understand her situation. As Transportation For America puts it, the 6 jurors were all middle-class whites; none had ever taken the bus, or seen how difficult it is to get around without a car in Atlanta. This was a tragic accident no more, no less.

Eliza is asking to clear Raquel’s name and make sure she doesn’t serve undue punishment for her son’s death. But she’s also proposing a simple solution to prevent this from happening again: Why not install a crosswalk at this bus stop?

Common sense urban planning, in the form of a simple crosswalk, could have prevented A.J.’s death by making drivers aware that pedestrians are crossing.  And that’s what people do at a bus stop. They cross the road. The lack of a crosswalk is indicative of much larger issues regarding flawed designs of sprawling cities and the lack of accommodation for people who must walk in car-dependent areas.

If enough people sign Eliza’s petition in support of Raquel, maybe another tragedy will be prevented at this particular intersection. And that would be a real victory to celebrate. Please sign Eliza’s petition here:


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Photo credit: Robinsonsmay via Flickr

Jess Leber is a Change.org editor. She most recently covered climate and energy issues as a reporter in Washington, D.C

Categories: Uncategorized

1 reply »

  1. “Common sense urban planning, in the form of a simple crosswalk, could have prevented A.J.’s death by making drivers aware that pedestrians are crossing.”

    In my opinion, there is no such thing as “common sense” urban planning.

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