I’m supposed to be editing captions for our second “Street Style” gallery with images of fashionable folks walking the streets of Austin, Texas where members of our team have been for a week, attending the SXSW festival. But it doesn’t seem fair or right to be thinking about dope kicks or cute Afros right now.As many of you have heard there was a tragic accident here last night outside a planned Tyler the Creator performance last night. Reports indicate that a driver, who was being pursued by local police under suspicion of DUI, gave chase and then plowed into a large group of people. Two people were killed and at least 23 were injured.
For the uninitiated, SXSW is a massive gathering of tech, film and music professionals, influencers and consumers and a usually amazing time for both industry folks and fans alike. I was attending Samsung’s Jay Z and Kanye West concert when news of the tragedy hit. Like many folks, my plans for hanging out were canceled in favor of returning to my hotel room, checking in with friends and being grateful to be alive. There is a massive amount of events at SXSW and many of them feature free or cheap drinks. However, in the three times that I’ve attended the festival, I haven’t seen much drunk belligerence or deplorable behavior. Folks come out here, learn a lot at the panels and keynotes, check out performances and films and have a nice time partying like adults. Even the people who only come here to party seem to be capable of doing it without acting like freshmen at their first college spring break. I hope that this incident does not ruin the greatness of this 27-year-old annual event, nor scare people away from attending. However, it is one in a million opportunities for folks to FINALLY have a wake-up call about getting on the road when you shouldn't.
It’s time to be honest with ourselves about drunk driving. I’ll start. I did it many times in college---something I look back on with lots of guilt and gratitude for not having ever getting caught or, worse, hurting myself or others. The same goes for my friends. We didn’t have money for cabs. Cabs do not come to Black people very easily in that area. We needed to go home, we couldn’t just spend the night at so-and-so’s house. We had to drink----not some of the liquor, we had to drink all of it. There were lots of excuses and they were all that: excuses. Excuses are the tools of the weak and the incompetent, right? Well, when it comes to drunk driving and being permissive of it, I think the “weak and incompetent” outnumber the strong and the capable. This isn’t a SXSW thing or a festival thing (and it’s certainly not a “too many Black folks ruin a good time” thing, which seems to be a sentiment quietly simmering among some folks, due to the fact that the suspect is a Black man.) This is an 'irresponsible and extremely common' thing, and it HAS TO STOP.
"Drunk driving is bad" might be the ultimate "Water is wet" wisdom. We all know this to be true. But so many of us speak outrage when it comes to driving-while-scummy, but live a very different truth. So maybe we do have to look at the wetness of water just this once to see how wrong so many of us are or have been in the past.
If you drive with any level of intoxication, you have to own the fact that you can kill and maim yourself and others. The difference between you and the man who hurt those people last night might simply be luck or chance. While I don’t currently own a car, I’ll admit to having slipped on my hard stance against riding with intoxicated drivers on occasion---and I know that I am not alone when I say that. Be honest with yourself, please, and ask when the last time you or a friend were a driver when you should have been a passenger.
Could you have killed someone this past year? This past week? Did your choices prevent you from doing some terrible harm, or are you simply leaning on God's grace, good brakes or great luck?
It's beyond tapping friends on the shoulder and asking them to chill, there needs to be social consequences for drunk driving. The same way we shame folks who don't tip or who can't hold their liquor or commit some other faux pas, we need to make drunk driving the sort of behavior that gets you removed from guest lists and excluded from get togethers. Something has to give, we have to stop publicly condemning drunk driving while quietly participating in or condoning it with silence.
Please call a taxi, take a bus, take a train. Please learn how to drink in moderation and stop hours before you get behind the wheel. Please make arrangements to take turns being the designated driver (“You turn up on Friday, and I’ll get Saturday.”) Just, please, no more of this. Drunk driving can ruin your career, strip you from your friends and family, land you in jail and, most importantly, it can end the lives of people who are guilty of nothing more than being in the vicinity of someone selfish enough to drive when they shouldn’t. I love drinking, I love parties and I love connecting with friends over wine, lots of it. These things will never be worth my life or the life of anyone else. There should be no blood sacrifice for your good time and while I know this is reading like a PSA, this is a message that folks in their 20s, 30s, 40s, 50s and beyond still NEED to hear. Live to turn up again, live to say you've never cost someone their life because you didn't know when to stop or couldn't spend 20 bucks to get home.
Jamilah Lemieux is EBONY.com's Senior Editor. Tweet her: @jamilahlemieux