Affluenza My Ass

[Content Note: Driving while intoxicated; killing; class warfare; privilege; racism; fat hatred; violent imagery.]

Last Friday, I mentioned the case of Ethan Couch, the 16-year-old wealthy white Texas teenager who received probation after killing four people while drunk driving, because he suffers from "affluenza," i.e. being a privileged shit who's never held accountable for his actions.

First, I want to direct your attention to this piece Jessica Luther wrote about the case, because it is brilliant and please read it. It also provides a lot of good background information on the case and the double-standard in sentencing.

Second, Anderson Cooper interviewed Dr. G. Dick Miller, the defense psychologist who coined the garbage term which he presented in court as a legit defense, even though it is not a recognized mental disorder, and good fucking lord. Here is the interview in three parts:

[A full transcript will be here, when available.]

On the one hand, I agree with Dr. Miller that the worst way to deal with a lot of criminalized behavior is sending people into our terrible for-profit prison system. On the other hand, this doctor is a nightmare who refuses to acknowledge the realities of racism, class, and the colossal problem of a two-tiered justice system that offers rehabilitation only to people who can buy it. No less the part he is playing in perpetuating it.

A few other thoughts:

One: I love how his go-to example of people who suffer "affluenza" that may not be wealthy are fat people. At 0:43 in Part One: "Actually I believe that affluenza's not exclusively for the rich. I think it's for anyone, and you see it in our society in eating and all sorts of ways." And again at 5:23 in Part Two: "I think we've all done that. The people who are obese, and feed you and offer you food. That's—you got more food than you need? Let's eat it!" Sure. That's exactly the same as killing four people because you stole alcohol and then drove while intoxicated.

Two: I also love the good doctor's explanation about how this $450,000/year rehabilitation center with cooking classes, equine therapy, and yoga classes is not a luxury resort for this kid. At 6:12 in Part One: "I'm not interested in how much punishment he gets. I'm interested in taking away things that are important to him and replacing them with things that are in his best interest. And I believe that this facility, with the ratio that they have, that because they only have seven young men there, and they're isolated from women, they're isolated from their Xbox, they're isolated from television, they're isolated from all the things that they're accustomed to having." Women. One of the many things that young men are accustomed to having.

Three: He didn't intend to kill anyone! At 5:56 in Part Two: "When you use the word 'killed'—and people out in America hear that—it implies that there was some motive, that the motive was not good. You know, I think these parents, I think this kid, I think the people in my—all of my patients, about 90% of 'em, their motive is totally honorable." To which Cooper responds by asking if it is not true that Couch killed four people, and the doctor responds, "Four people died." Way to hold him accountable, Doc!

Four: This shit from Miller, in response to Cooper noting that the families of the people killed by Couch were hoping he would serve time in a juvenile prison facility, at 7:21 in Part Three: "Well, we have a system of justice in the United States where we don't take the people that have been offended and have them string you up or lynch him or whatever you want to choose to do." This white fucking guy equating this white fucking kid having to serve time in exchange for killing four people with being lynched.

Again: I don't really want anyone to serve time in the US prison system as it is. (Example. CN: Rape.) I really don't. But I also don't think that "rich white killers get probation and rehab" constitutes meaningful prison reform, either. And every single thing this doctor is saying is indicative of someone who doesn't get, and frankly doesn't seem to give a fuck about, the systemic inequalities and privileges that mean this case will entrench injustice rather than serve as some sort of clarion call to comprehensive prison reform.

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