James McAuley, Dallas native, '12 Harvard grad, and current Marshall Scholar at Oxford University, is well on his way to a smashingly successful career in academics, journalism or whatever else he puts his mind to. Already, though, he seems to have settled on an avocation: trashing his birthplace in The New York Times.
You might recall McAuley's stinging piece from a month ago in which he labels Dallas a "city with a death wish in its eye" and blames it for murdering a president. Impressively obscure Jimmy Dale Gilmore reference and some legit points about Dallas' inability to reckon with history aside, the piece mischaracterized the city as it exists today and thus largely missed the mark.
This weekend, McAuley was back in the pages of the Times, this time opining about Ethan Couch's "affluenza" defense and what it means that a rich, white 16-year-old can effectively escape punishment for drunkenly killing four people.
He frames his argument by saying that North Texas has greeted the the sentence with little more than a shrug, that it's outsiders, inflamed by the 24-hour media outrage machine, who are raising cries of injustice, citing as proof a Fort Worth Star-Telegram editorial defending District Judge Jean Boyd's lenient treatment.
Never mind that the premise is faulty, that the Star-Telegram's editorial was an outlier, that North Texas was shaken by the same paroxysms of outrage as the rest of the country. McAuley uses this as foundation to present his thesis:
"The disparity between the televised outrage over what was perhaps the cleverest legal argument since the 'Twinkie defense' and the relative local indifference to the role of wealth in insulating the guilty from justice illuminates how much of North Texas itself has been constructed for the purpose of insulating wealth from any unpleasant reality," he writes. "Why should criminal justice be any different?"
McAuley goes on to describe how, starting in the 1970s, white families fled Dallas for increasingly far-flung suburbs in response to the long-delayed desegregation of Dallas ISD. They wound up in places like Keller, "plastic fiefs" situated at the "crossroads of bourgeois comfort and ennui," part of a "ring of suburbs that are masterpieces in the art of urban control."
That's the type of place that produced Ethan Couch, whose case "is a metaphor for the dark side of suburban cosmology, for every other barricaded enclave like Keller -- places that, if not entirely above the law, are somehow removed from it. Even after four deaths by the side of the road."
The critique of exurbs as places in which those with means barricade themselves from the real world isn't too far off base. On the other hand, his claim that Couch's sentence says something fundamental about suburban life, rather than about a criminal justice system that can be gamed by anyone with enough money to hire a solid team of defense lawyers, or that any of this somehow endemic to Dallas-Fort Worth, is bull.
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