On an ordinary January morning this year I learned that 9-year-old Cooper Stock, a 3rd grader at my school, was killed by a taxi while crossing the street, holding hands with his father.
I called Cooper's parents immediately. "I'm so, so sorry." "Whatever I can do." "Please, please call on me if there's anything... " Of course there is no consolation. Nothing. I only brushed up against their raw grief and just that much was nearly unbearable.
You should know something about Cooper. Look closely at the picture on this page.
Look at his eyes. He was so full of life that it is hard to imagine that anything could take it all away. He loved his family and friends. He loved sports, especially basketball, and knew more about the Knicks than, well, the front office of the Knicks. He was funny -- a wise little man in a boy's body. All that gone in a reckless, unnecessary instant.
Last week, Cooper's family learned that the taxi driver who killed Cooper faces no criminal charges. It was just an unfortunate accident, according to the law. It is unfathomable that the failure to see a 6'3" man and little boy in a crosswalk is "just an unfortunate accident." This driver, like so many others who have killed or maimed, is free to drive in New York. His license was not suspended or revoked. "Just an unfortunate accident."
If you have children or grandchildren you know the fear of losing a child. I believe I could endure nearly anything in life but that moment when the phone rings or the police appear at the door. But Cooper's parents didn't even have a telephone line or police officer to buffer the blow. Cooper's father held his hand as the taxi took his life and Cooper's mother rushed to the corner and touched her lifeless child's face only moments later.
Their survival through these months is among the most courageous things I've ever witnessed.
Life goes on. I don't mean that in the casual, dismissive way the phrase is sometimes used. But life does go on and Cooper's parents have gradually re-entered. I won't dwell on their unspeakable pain or describe the ways their friends and family have held them and absorbed their pain, only to have it erupt again and again. Cruel and random death drains us hollow and we hope, against all rational evidence, that some muted and tolerable life will seep back in.
Yes, all premature death seems unnecessary, but Cooper died from our civic negligence. We, the citizens of New York, are complicit.
Cooper died because the bustling commerce of New York is more important than his infectious smile. Cooper died because we don't have the political will to make our streets, sidewalks and crosswalks safe for little boys, even when holding their fathers' hands. Whatever happened to the simple imperative with which most of us grew up? Pedestrians have the right of way. Not in New York.
There is no statute that criminalizes the impatient, inarguably reckless operation of a several ton vehicle. Or is there?
Last week Cooper's mother sent me links to two unenforced laws: Elle's law was signed by former Governor David Paterson in 2010. It was precipitated by a 2009 incident in which 3-year-old Elle Vandenberghe was struck and gravely injured in a crosswalk on her way to the second day of pre-school. Elle, thankfully, emerged from her coma and serious brain injury to begin pre-kindergarten a year later. Unlike Elle, Cooper will never begin 4th grade. This law calls for immediate suspension of any driver who strikes a pedestrian while driving recklessly. I would suggest that any driver hitting a pedestrian in a crosswalk is "driving recklessly," yet Cooper's killer is free to strike again. But this law is not enforced.
Hayley and Diego's Law was passed in 2010, in response to two young children killed in a Chinatown crash. At the time, New York State Senator Daniel Squadron, among the law's sponsors, issued a press release stating, "Careless Drivers Will Now Face Jail Time for Injuring Pedestrians." This law is not enforced either.
We have the power to change. Cooper's parents are pressing for the passage of Cooper's Law, legislation that would take away the hack license of any driver hitting a pedestrian. Transportation Alternatives is pressing for a law that would allow New York City to reduce speed limits to 20 mph.
I'm not a politician or social networking expert. But somehow, we must shake up New York City and New York State. Each one of us has a responsibility to do something -- anything -- to minimize the possibility of losing another precious child to our own fast-paced indifference.
Please, I urge you: Share this piece on Facebook. Tweet, re-tweet and tweet again. Help me arouse a storm of outrage.
Send a tweet to Police Commissioner Bill Bratton and tell him to enforce the laws already on the books: https://twitter.com/CommissBratton
Sign the petition at Transportation Alternatives, to reduce speed limits in New York: https://secure3.convio.net/ta/site/Advocacy?cmd=display&page=UserAction&id=297&pw_id=2441&autologin=true&utm_source=20mphnow_jumpURL&utm_medium=jumpURL&utm_content=version1&utm_campaign=2014POGO%2020MPH%20Now%20-%20Online
Write to your City Council person and urge them to enact Cooper's Law:
Also, support Int. 238, a bill that clarifies and enforces the rights of pedestrians and cyclists in New York. This bill is currently languishing in committee.
And, whether or not you live in New York, click "like" and offer a comment, so that Cooper's parents will know how many of you stand with them.
Do it for Cooper's sake.