Ugh… it’s Thursday. That means it’s my day to vacuum.
It’s also a religious holiday… one that involves drunkenness, at least in Germany. Christi Himmelfahrt, otherwise known as Ascension Day to us English speakers, is also Father’s Day in Germany. Back in 2014, before we knew we’d be moving back to Germany, Bill and I stumbled across a Father’s Day celebration at a Biergarten in Bacharach, Germany. We watched in amusement as fathers and sons sang songs and drank lots of beer. I knew, when we were sitting there in the midst of the celebration, that we’d be moving back to Germany. Sure enough, that’s what came to pass. I didn’t know we’d be here for so long, though.
Given the absolutely batshit legal system in the United States and the complete chaos that has ensued since Bill and I left in 2014, I can’t say we regret coming over here. As politicians seek to punish and imprison women who seek abortions and their doctors who provide them, and they take aim against transgender people, other criminals get off practically scot free.
Today is also the second anniversary of my friend Matt’s death. I’ve written about Matt a few times in this blog. We knew each other in Armenia, as we were in the same Peace Corps cohort. He was a very special guy. On May 18, 2021, after having spent the previous evening celebrating his birthday with friends and relatives, Matt was walking home late at night in Brooklyn, New York when he was struck by speeding Rolls Royce and left for dead.
In February 2022, Tariq Witherspoon, a New York City EMT with a long history of traffic violations, was arrested for hit and run. He bonded out of jail and initially pled not guilty to the criminally negligent homicide, along with several other felonies and misdemeanors. In March of this year, Witherspoon changed his plea to guilty and made a plea agreement. Yesterday, he was sentenced to just six months in prison for killing a man who dedicated his whole life to teaching and helping others. If he had gone to trial, he could have spent several years in prison
Witherspoon had nothing to say to Matt’s family members, opting to have his lawyer speak on his behalf. What a fucking coward! If anything, we can all be grateful that the bastard won’t be working as an EMT anymore.
For two years, Matt’s friends and loved ones have waited to see justice served against the man who callously took his life. I don’t think most of them are aware of just how lightly Mr. Witherspoon got off for recklessly taking Matt’s life two years ago. He’ll be out of prison by Christmas, if he doesn’t catch any other charges while he’s locked up. Meanwhile, Matt’s friends and loved ones continue to grieve.
I’ll be honest. I am usually pretty much against long prison sentences. I don’t like to see people’s lives ruined in prisons, especially for non-violent offenses. I can’t say that Witherspoon’s crimes were non-violent, though, since his actions in May 2021 left a beloved teacher dead. The only thing that could be said in Witherspoon’s favor is that Matt was crossing on red. But, Witherspoon was speeding, and didn’t even stop to render when he hit Matt– who was about 6’4″. As an EMT, he would have been more qualified than anyone to help Matt after he hit him. Witherspoon just plain didn’t give a shit. It’s heartbreaking.
Matt’s sudden death is just a reminder that you can do everything to live the right way and still be plucked from life without any warning whatsoever. There’s no reason why Matt Jensen should be dead today. He was killed by a person who, in spite of his occupation as an EMT, plainly didn’t give a fuck about anyone but himself. It’s absurd that a man who served in the Peace Corps twice, taught countless students and other teachers, literally influenced people around the globe, and was an unforgettable light to so many, would be taken out by a man driving a Rolls Royce who didn’t even deign to offer an apology or condolences to the people who loved Matt the most and knew him the best.
I hadn’t spoken to Matt in a long time when he died. I never forgot him, though, and I have many memories of good times together in Armenia. There must be a reason why I happened to find myself in the glow of his light. I do take heart that we had what I thought was kind of an insignificant Facebook interaction just before he passed. We both commented on a mutual friend’s Facebook post, and he commented to me, “I always liked you.” That statement made me feel good at the time, but now it makes me feel downright honored.
If you are interested in reading more about what happened in court yesterday, I highly recommend reading this blog post— which is much better– if not more biased– than the Yahoo! article that was posted in the hours after the sentencing. The blog post has statements from Matt’s family members and some photos, including one of his sister, Pamela. I was interested in her comments, as Matt told me about his family. I remember him telling him about his sister, who had served as a second mother to him.
I don’t wish terrible things for Tariq Witherspoon. He should do his time and hopefully reform. But I do hope that somewhere beneath that indifferent exterior, there is some modicum of remorse lurking… especially since Mr. Witherspoon is himself a father now. And I also hope that something is done about McGuinness Boulevard, the dangerous street in Brooklyn where Matt lost his life. It’s been a problem for others who have also been hurt or killed trying to cross it. If the powers that be could make that street safer, perhaps Matt’s death will have been somewhat less in vain. My niece lives in Brooklyn, so I hope she knows how dangerous that road is.
I am very disappointed in Tariq Witherspoon’s prison sentence. I don’t think the punishment remotely fits the crime. Even if Matt hadn’t been such an incredible person, six months would not be sufficient time in prison for the crime he committed. In fact, I’d say it’s an insult to victims. May God forgive Witherspoon, because I know a lot of people never will.