There’s a lot going on in the world of American politics lately with the impeachment proceedings, the abandonment of our Kurdish allies in Syria, and whatever’s happening with next year’s G-7 summit. Each day showers us with so many hysterical (and nonsensical) headlines and Tweets that it’s easy to skip over — or completely miss — some of the smaller stories.
But one story, in particular, has been bothering me. On August 27th, Anne Sacoolas, an American diplomat’s wife, killed 19-year-old Harry Dunn in a collision. He was on a motorcycle. She was driving on the wrong side of the road.
Sacoolas subsequently fled the country, using her diplomatic immunity to leave the U.K. and avoid prosecution, returning to America without facing charges for the accident that killed this young man.
Dunn’s distraught parents begged Trump and their own government to intervene, hoping to compel Sacoolas to return to the U.K. to face justice. Sacoolas has not returned, despite a personal request from Prime Minister Boris Johnson.
The chief constable for the Northamptonshire Police and the police chief have also asked the U.S. Embassy in London to step in and waive Sacoolas’ immunity. As of now, the U.S. embassy has refused this request and Sacoolas remains in America, free to go on living her life as if she didn’t just shatter an entire family. According to a GoFundMe page set up to help the family pay for legal fees, Harry was a son and stepson. He was a brother to five siblings including his twin brother, Niall.
On October 15th, Charlotte Charles and Tim Dunn — Harry Dunn’s parents — met with Trump at the White House, no doubt expecting some type of concession would be extended to them (e.g., assurance that their son’s killer would be prosecuted, perhaps?)
Instead, they were blindsided by the president who had invited Ms. Sacoolas to the White House without telling them, then dropped the bombshell that Sacoolas was, in fact, in the next room. Trump then tried to force these grieving parents to meet with their son’s killer.
This was all, apparently, cooked up by Trump. According to a Washington Post article, he “believed he could solve the problem.” The couple, to their immeasurable credit, refused to meet with Sacoolas despite what sounds like considerable pressure being put on them by Trump and U.S. National Security Advisor, Robert O’Brien.
It bears mentioning that Trump’s meeting with Harry’s parents was well-received by them until the moment they felt pressured to meet with Sacoolas. In a BBC video from October 16th, Ms. Charles noted that Trump’s condolences felt sincere, but that Trump and several staff members, including Robert O’Brien, urged them to meet with Secoolas who was reportedly in another room.
Exercising superhuman restraint, Ms. Charles stated that it would not be appropriate for any of them to meet without therapists and mediators in the room. Mr. Dunn then had the grace and presence of mind to give Trump the benefit of the doubt by stating, “I think the president was very graceful and spoke very well to us.”
I would’ve been an absolute shrieking mess if, seven weeks after the death of my child, I was forced to confront her killer without the benefit of a lawyer or mediator present. It makes me sick to my stomach to think of these parents in this situation. I am deeply ashamed of how Trump and the U.S. embassy are handling this (not that I would expect more from Trump).
In spite of the couple’s graciousness, I don’t believe Trump was sincere in the slightest. The president has a track record of belittling grieving parents (and grieving people). The position he put Harry Dunn’s parents in was, per usual, tone deaf and contemptible.
Justice is something that the parents of murdered children crave. It is hard enough to lose a child, but when that life is cut short by someone else’s hand — whether accidental or otherwise — the victim’s family needs, on a visceral level, to see their child’s killer held accountable in an official way.
“I’m sorry,” just doesn’t cut it, yet this is exactly what Trump tried to foist on these parents in a disgusting display of political strong arming that beautifully illustrates Trump’s total lack of self awareness. It has been two years and seven months since my own teenage daughter died and I’m still trying to figure out how to make sense of my life and her death. It is the worst loss imaginable.
These parents need compassion. They need justice. They need time to grieve. They don’t need to be made a political spectacle by a navel-gazing president looking for a photo op so he can say, “See! I fixed it!”
There is no fixing the kind of damage caused by Ms. Sacoolas.
I accept that unless you’ve experienced this kind of loss firsthand, you may stumble or say the wrong thing to a bereaved parent, but trying to force grieving parents to sit in a room with their child’s killer goes beyond cluelessness. Trump undoubtedly caused these people more pain and heartache. Even if that wasn’t his intention, I find it absolutely unforgivable.
This entire incident will soon be buried by more outrageous headlines, raving Tweets by Trump and the next big firestorm coming out of an imploding White House. Harry Dunn’s name will fade from the headlines and his family will be left to try and get justice for him — a fight that has the potential to prolong their early, deep grief for years because as parents, they will feel obligated to seek justice for Harry. Wouldn’t you do the same for your child?
There are hundreds of examples of Trump’s over inflated ego, his narcissism, and his complete lack of empathy, but the casual dismissal of two grieving parents in pain is more chilling to me than any of Trump’s considerable list of atrocities. I am heartsick for this family, and heartsick for my country which is allowing Trump to bumble through the world like a bull in a china shop (with its head up its ass).
And to Anne Sacoolas, whose motivation can only be self-preservation, I urge you to go back to Britain to face questioning. You can’t give this family their son back, but you can give them justice. You can give them some semblance of closure.
You may think that’s difficult, that it will destroy your life and upend all your carefully thought-out plans of the future, but consider that Harry will never have the chance to plan his future. His family will never be the same again. That’s a life sentence you delivered to all of them. The very least you can do is look at these people in a court of law, explain what happened, and accept your fate as gracefully as they’ve been forced to accept theirs.