‘I feel that I deserved to die…I’m worthless.’
There are no happy endings here. The crimes these fathers and mothers have committed are against themselves. An infant son or daughter died, slowly cooked, strapped in the backseat of their car, because the father or mother got distracted and forgot they were there. It happens in the United States around 30 to 40 times a year and the number is growing. I’m reminded of another statistic from a bygone era. Actuaries worked out for insurance purposes that one person a year in Britain would die because a horse kicked them in the head. They couldn’t tell you who that person would be, what class they would belong to.
Frida and Lasse Barkfors try to get a cross-section of these human casualties. We follow the relatively affluent white family, a father who left his daughter in the back seat. The black, getting-by father, who left his daughter in the back seat. The army mother, who left her son in the back seat. And the migrant who came to America to start a new life, who left his daughter in the back seat.
A psychologist was filmed to try and explain the workings of the hippocampus, frontal lobe and basal ganglia and how sometimes we use the wrong type of memory. When we drive, for example, we do so automatically. We don’t need to think about it and we’re rushing ahead to do something else. One suggestion was that those driving with an infant in the back seat should have a teddy in their lap, a reminder of the passenger strapped in the back seat. It’s not a particularly bad idea, but misses something very important. It’ll never happen to us syndrome. I would never do that. I’d never be that stupid.
Another simple rule is if you think you’d never be that stupid, you already are. My sympathy here is wholly with the parents. Madeleine McCann’s parents nipped out for a quick drink and left her sleeping in her bed in a hotel apartment in the Algarve in 2007, they didn’t know she’d be taken. More recently a little girl fell out of the window of a tenement flat in Clydebank, near me. The actuaries’ horse bucked and kicked them in the head.
I wouldn’t dream of playing the blame game. These parents have already constructed their own circles of hell. They don’t need any help from me. I’ll say it again and again. My sympathy is unconditional.
The law, of course, needs to look at these cases. The best was here, the judge in the case of the affluent white male passing down a sentence of community service, but only because the accused needed to get out of the house and mix with other people – for his own good.
In Trump’s America the toxic environment around immigrants had a familiar resonance even here in Scotland. The Hispanic immigrant was sentenced to twenty years for his crimes, followed by deportation. A law for the rich and a law for the poor. The issue of class is never brought up, but here it is in black and white.