Note: On October 9, 2013, Willie Craft, Sr. suffered a diabetic crash while driving and killed Mimi Liu and injured Spandana Matravadi. Both women were students at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. On July 9, 2014, Craft was charged with reckless homicide and sentenced to 42 months in prison by Judge Richard Klaus.
The Dalai Lama once said, “Violence will only increase the cycle of violence.”
When I began assisting with Willie Craft, Sr.’s case, I wanted to remain silent because the complexity of the case is so immense and the grief remains palpable for countless individuals. I still see posts about Mimi nestled within my Newsfeed on Facebook. The flowers that line Mimi’s tree on Lincoln Avenue are still replaced on a regular basis. I feared that I couldn’t possibly write something that would completely honor both the complexity and grief surrounding this case.
But when I saw the dispersion of violently hateful messages across news websites and social media, I found my hands shaking as I read message after message about how Craft is a reckless public menace that deserves to be locked away. I couldn’t remain silent any longer. While the fear that I mentioned earlier still remains within me, the lack of empathy and respect that I have observed has urged me to at least attempt to encourage less violent communication. I am choosing to break my silence because fastened tongues do not nurture deeper understanding. Instead, the seeds of deeper understanding are sown by thoughtful dialogue and peaceful communication.
With this being said, this article is not meant as a chastisement but merely as an encouragement for us to pause. There is no precise destination I wish for you to arrive at the end of this article, for I have no right to dictate your opinion. But I do ask that we try to blend the black and white into greys and meditate.
On October 9, 2013, Mimi Liu’s life was taken, and Willie Craft, Sr.’s life as he knew it ended as well. At the time of the accident, Craft was not under the influence of drugs or alcohol. Craft experienced a diabetic crash that caused him to black out, his blood sugar to severely drop and him to lose his memory. Up until the accident, Craft took careful precautions with his health condition and was successful for 59 years.
However, on that day, Craft caused a tragedy, and we need to honor that. Mimi is gone forever and I know her loved ones still grieve to this day. Last Wednesday at Craft’s sentencing hearing, I watched Mimi’s father tell the court how his family still feels the pain of their loss. Mimi’s death is a void in her family’s lives that continues to interrupt their ability to resume their lives. Her death is still an unbearable truth in their lives. I watched him hold back tears as he talked about how beautiful, intelligent and talented Mimi was. He spoke about how friends and family from near and far gathered to celebrate her life and mourn her death. I sat behind Mimi’s mother and watched her shoulders tremble as she held back tears. The pain that I witnessed cannot be fully expressed in words.
At the same time, Craft is not a monster. As with anyone else in the world, he is a human being, and we also need to honor that. While Mimi’s father gave his testament, I watched Craft wipe away tears from his eyes. When he was finally allowed to speak, all he could say was, “I’m sorry. I’m so sorry.”
Craft was pained as well because he knows what it is to have a beautiful, intelligent and talented daughter. With less than a high school education, he worked tirelessly as the sole guardian of his granddaughter. He knows what it is to have an enduring, loving relationship with a daughter. His 14-year-old granddaughter bore witness to this after the lawyer asked her what she and Craft do at home, and she replied, “We eat ice cream. We watch TV. We laugh together. We talk together. I’m there for him and he’s there for me.” I watched his granddaughter leave the courtroom partway through the hearing, and heard her sobs echoing through the hallways. The pain that I witnessed cannot be fully expressed in words.
On October 9, 2013, a horrific accident between three human beings occurred. Humans beings that loved/still love and are loved. To see this case as black and white risks the possibility of dehumanizing all parties. The reason is that as humans, we are not black and white. Our lives, our tragedies, and our mistakes are not black and white.
We need to pause and honor the complexity of this case. I understand that this is no easy task because, in grief, we search for solid ground. Very often we believe that our pain can be alleviated by rigid conclusions. Despite this, we owe every party in this case to strive to ruminate in this ambiguous, often unfamiliar territory of grays. Because to acknowledge the grays is to acknowledge the humanity of all involved.
Amanda Hwu is a senior at the School of Social Work at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. She is also the President of the Prison Justice Project, a student organization dedicated to creating safe, productive spaces for students and community members to engage with social justice issues relating to incarceration. After attending graduate school, Amanda hopes to work for a grassroots organization that serves juvenile delinquents.