Say their names

Prateek Sharma

Sophia Lambert

Rose “Granny” McDonald

Maggie Paxton

Sabrina Obando

Jarret Young

DJ Washington

Denise Griffiths

Casey Willits and Bryan Eastman said their names last week right after they took the oath of office as newly elected city commissioners.

As candidates both commissioners had knocked on hundreds of doors and introduced themselves to hundreds of people. But as Eastman put it “I’ll think of those people I met, but I’ll also think about the people I didn’t meet. The ones I couldn’t meet.

“People like Sabrina Obando.

Sabrina Obando

“Sabrina was 22, just graduated from UF, and like all graduates, trying to figure out what her next step out of school was.

“Sabrina was walking to her job at Crane Ramen when crossing eighth ave from my neighborhood, a crossing I make almost daily, and was hit by a Ford F-150.

“I would have loved to have met Sabrina, her friends describe her as witty, kind and intelligent. “To be her friend was to feel real joy” said one close friend in her obituary.”

To which Willits added “Gainesville has the 9th highest death rate for pedestrians in Florida. Even without the data, we can anecdotally feel this.

“When pedestrians and cyclists and parents cry out for solutions to these needless deaths, they are shamed for wanting safety as if it is a personal failing to possibly need 4,000 pound vehicles to responsibly share our city and for streets to enable that safe sharing.

‘Too many think it’s the humans outside of the 4,000 pound vehicle that are the problem that needs to shrink away from our streets and disappear. But Gainesville belongs to all of us, no matter whether you can afford a vehicle for every trip you take.”

That Eastman and Willits could even know the names of so many victims of traffic violence in GNV is something of a minor miracle. These days, police practice is to not only conceal the identities of victims of traffic violence, but to release as few details as possible about what happened, how it happened and who was responsible.

Since news reports are based on police reports, that means a story about the latest traffic fatality is likely to be no more than three or four sentences…with no names released.

Police say they are restrained from releasing names by a state law – dubbed Marsy’s Law – ostensibly intended to protect the privacy of crime victims. Which presupposes that everyone killed in traffic is automatically assumed to be a victim of a crime. (Personally, I have no problem accepting this premise, but that’s just me.)

Oddly, neither do the police typically release the names of the drivers who kill cyclists and pedestrians. Are they assumed to be crime victims as well? (Personally I’d say yes, if only because we have purposely designed our roads and streets to encourage fast…aka reckless’…driving. One might argue, then, that drivers who kill have been entrapped into doing so by our ‘forgiving’ road designs.)

The result is that, typically, the only time a victim of traffic violence becomes known is because, like Sabrina Obando, she was a popular University of Florida student with a host of friends who refused to allow her memory to fade into oblivion.

Listen, when we give both the perpetrators and victims a cloak of anonymity the cumulative effect is to downplay, even trivialize, an autoAmerican death toll that each and every year mounts into the multiple tens of thousands. These once living, breathing human beings are literally reduced to dry statistics.

Who are these people who lie dead on our over-designed roads/speedways? They can’t be anybody, really. Consigned as they are into oblivion by a few paragraphs in the local newspaper backed by a sanitized police report.

I suspect the National Rifle Association would pay pure gold to ensure that victims of gun violence enjoyed the same official privacy protection as are victims of traffic violence. The body count is roughly the same. But somehow, government has decided to shield the lethal consequences of our autoAmerican way of life.

I give Willits and Eastman credit, not only for saying their names, but also for making it clear that GNV must become a more bike/ped friendly city. And make no mistake. The only way that can happen is if GNV takes affirmative action to SLOW THE CARS by more intelligent street design and other measures.

As Eastman observed “our roads were designed at a time when our commission forgot why cities exist: for people.

“They were built in an era where city planners believed cities should just be a stop, a ‘central business district’ to get to and from as quickly as possible.

“An era when our vibrant downtown was ‘urban renewed’ to become parking lots and University Ave was transformed from an economically rich storefront road into a four-lane state highway.

“Those mistakes didn’t just hurt the vibrancy of our city for decades after, they kill people.

“It is time for us to bring back a Gainesville designed for people. One where I don’t fear letting my daughter walk or ride her bike to school in the morning. Where no parent has to get that call that Sabrina Obando’s parents did.”

When we use the cloak of government secrecy to hide the names of victims of traffic violence we also make it too convenient for all of us as a society to downplay the casual yet bloody consequences of our autoAmerican way of life.

Just two days after I listened to Eastman and Willits talk about ending the cycle of traffic killings in GNV, I had a casual conversation with a friend who wondered aloud why so much attention was given on swearing-in day to a problem that, really, the city can’t do anything about.

If my friend is right, then God help us all.

Rose “Granny” McDonald. Killed by a hit and run driver in GNV.

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