Blame, Shame, to Acclaim: A Plea for Personal Responsibility
It is every mother’s worse nightmare.
A knock on the door late at night. The police are at standing on the outside. Their purpose is to inform the resident that their loved one was involved in a fatal crash. Such an accident happened in the late hours of Saturday night, 20 March 2010, on the normally sleepy streets of Canberra, Australia’s capital. But unlike the many accidents that happen across this nation each year, this particular one gained national prominence.
A stolen Mazda 626, travelling at high speed to flee from the police, ran through a red light and sliced through another Mazda. Within moments an entire family of father, mother, and infant child were killed instantly. The other driver died soon thereafter and his girlfriend lay clinging to life in the hospital. Even more tragic was that the deceased family was only 200 metres from their final destination, the home of their father. In an even more bazaar twist, the occupants of both cars knew each other.
NSW Police Commissioner Andrew Scipione called it ‘a tragedy almost beyond description.’
Yet this story--horrendous as it is--is made even worse by the fact that the news media have been interviewing the grieving families. Their verdict: the responsibility for this tragic accident lay ‘totally’ with the police. Two constables, around age 30 and with an average of 3 years experience each, were doing a routine check of cars around 10:15 that night. While they were pulling over cars, the Mazda 626 sped past them without stopping. And for good reason ... his Mazda was a stolen car and the driver unlicensed. To stop would have meant arrest and more.
Responding as they normally would, a chase ensued. Little did they know that the driver, Justin Charles Williams, 23, was experienced in police chases. One chase he had last year left him in a coma for 3 weeks. In a matter of minutes, the police called off the chase because it was too dangerous.
Yet 1-2 minutes later, they now had a different matter to attend to. It was the scene of the horror crash, where the other Mazda was plowed into the other. Killed instantly were Scott Oppelaar 33, his de facto girlfriend Samantha Ford 29, and their 3 month old infant son Brody. Williams died shortly thereafter. His 18 year old girlfriend Skye Webbe remained in critical condition in hospital.
The scene of the crash was beyond belief. Photos of Mr. Oppelaar’s children from another relationship, standing at the scene and mourning, were enough to break the hardest of hearts. In their grief, both families are laying blame on the police, who were only doing their jobs.
NSW Assistant Commissioner John Hartley, spoke about the condition of the two constables:
‘Quite simply, it was a no-win situation for police. These two men have gone to work to protect the community and they have ended up in a very, very bad situation,’ he said
It is understandable that when a senseless tragedy occurs, that bereaved people look for someone to hold responsible. Years ago a Tasmanian woman went on the mission field and was killed in an uprising. Her unchurched, grief-stricken parents searched for someone to blame and then pointed their finger at their daughter’s home church. Their daughter’s death, they declared, was completely the fault of the church ... and not the rebels who caused the uprising! Or when Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin was assassinated in November, 1995, by a Jewish extremist, some of his close circle chose to blame the then Opposition leader, Benjamin Netanyahu for the murder because his style of politics ‘created the culture’ that led to the murder.
Frankly, with the erasure of standards and a growing de facto culture which craves privileges and pleasures without the corresponding commitment and responsibility, it is becoming more and more common to lay blame for tragedies on a variety of sources. In the case of Justin Charles Williams, we could blame the police for chasing him, the school system for not training him right, the courts for not being tough enough or too tough, and even the churches for not doing their part, etc.
Finger-pointing, blame-shifting, and self-deflecting is not some new postmodern innovation. It is as old as the Garden of Eden. When Adam was caught ‘red-handed’ eating the forbidden fruit, he did not accept responsibility for his actions. Here was his response to God: ‘And the man said, The woman whom thou gavest to be with me, she gave me of the tree, and I did eat’--Genesis 3:12 KJV. Notice that Adam shifts the blame from himself to Eve and to God! When Eve was questioned, her response was simple: ‘The serpent beguiled me, and I did eat’ (verse 13). In this case, Eve was more honest but ultimately it was the serpent’s fault.
Here is my suggestion: the person responsible for the horror crash in Canberra is ... Justin Charles Williams. For starters, he was 23 years old which means he is a legal adult age. Adulthood means responsibility for one’s actions. He was the father of 3 children from his previous relationship, a car thief and experienced in running from the police, with multiple convictions. He refusal to stop when the police asked him to and his subsequent actions ... and his actions alone ... led to the horror crash that wiped out an entire family and himself within minutes.
Secondarily, parents need to take responsibility too. Williams was the fourth of ten children and his father took off when he was just 4. Furthermore, he may have been abused when he was young and expelled from school for misbehaviour, but again ... until he is of age, it is the parents who must answer for these things.
Until we break free from our ‘no fault’ mentality and start owning up for our actions and those under our care, we will continue to grow in collective immaturity as we slowly slide into more chaos. Many so-called leaders today are refusing to be held accountable when things go awry under their watch. They love the title but they don’t like the task. Leadership means ‘holding the can.’ How refreshing to hear the usually rhetorically-gifted US President Barack Obama, in response to the near bombing of a US jet from Amsterdam to Detroit on Christmas Day 2009, borrow a tried and true axiom. He declared ‘The buck stops with me!’ Such words have not been uttered since US President Harry S Truman made them sixty years earlier. It’s about time!
After all, when we stand before God, as Romans 14:12 says we surely will, we will not be able to turn around and blame anyone else for our actions. It just won’t wash.
Let us pray for the bereaved families and the two young constables. If we can learn this simple lesson: to reject the ‘blame game’ of those who are doing their job ... by those who aren’t ... then something redemptive will have come out of this sorry story.