The saying goes, ‘there’s two legal systems in America: one for the rich and one for the poor’. Is it true in the case of Amy Senser and Anousone Phanthavong? It’s a classic case right out of a movie: the wealthy White trophy wife is pitted against a low-income immigrant who became her fatal victim on a tragic night of two very different worlds colliding. If the roles were reversed, would we be dealing with a completely different outcome by now?
It’s not news that the Amy Senser case has been under the microscope of simple negligence, poor judgment, and public crucifixion. At the unfortunate mercy of the media’s own trial on sensationalizing a local icon, they’ve managed to lose focus and momentum for the real victim: the Lao man who lost his life, 38 year-old Anousone Phanthavong.
The incident: Amy Senser, the wife of former Minnesota Vikings Joe Senser, is charged with felony criminal vehicular homicide in the Aug. 23, 2011 death of Anousone Phanthavong, whom she struck and killed as he filled his car with gas on the Interstate 94 ramp at Riverside Avenue just east of downtown Minneapolis.
The evidence: Amy Senser claims she did not know she hit a person but rather construction equipment and had left the scene. Senser told witnesses that she was drinking on the day of the incident. Senser was on a phone call while she hit Phanthavong. During the incident, Senser’s vehicle dragged Phanthavong about 40 feet from where he was standing. There was blood and significant damages of up to $7,500 on the hood of Senser’s vehicle. After the incident, calls were made to a medical director of a detox center and then to Amy Senser’s brother who is a policeman on recommendations for attorneys. The Sensers waited about 10 days after the incident, before reporting to police that their vehicle was at the scene. Senser refused to speak to investigators and family members, pleading the Fifth Amendment right from self-incrimination.
The trial: Amy Senser is on trial for three counts of felony criminal vehicular homicide. Senser pleads ‘not guilty’ to all counts. Senser’s attorney filed a request for a trial outside of Hennepin County due to ‘media attention’ but was denied. The criminal trial begins Monday, April 23, 2012 in a Hennepin County Court under Judge Daniel Mabley.
As both families look forward to the upcoming criminal trial (and their own civil case), the local community especially the Lao have to be aware of what this case means for a community that has seen more than its fair share of daily injustices, racial discrimination, and disenfranchisement from basic resources and opportunities. This trial is the perfect example of much needed advocacy for our social justice issues. We have to move beyond a culture of ‘letting things work itself out’. It’s a matter of whether or not we choose to let another injustice go by unless our own community rises up to challenge these systems and institutions that puts us at a disadvantage. Maybe then we’ll be able to surface some of the root causes that have historically entrenched us in these two separate legal systems.
Anousone Phanthavong is not just a victim. He represents the face of immigrant families and is a symbolism for the future of justice for the Lao community. As the trial moves forward, let’s hope more advocates, other than his family members and former employer, will stand up to organize and call for a legal system that no longer favors the wealthy and powerful, but is fair, adequate, and equal for EVERYONE.
Do you think there will be justice for Anousone and his family? Watch with us as the trial unfolds next week.
LATEST NEWS UPDATES:
Judge Daniel Mabley’s rulings and motions before Amy Senser’s trial begins next week:
Amy Senser pleads ‘not guilty’ to third felony charge:
-Chanida Phaengdara Potter