Cue the “Free Ali” shirts: Ali Boulala was sentenced today for the drunk-driving motorcycle accident that killed Shane Cross a little over a year ago. Ali’s looking at two to four years for something called “culpable driving,” which is probably Australian for driving while under the influence of more than 10 beers, or whatever the limit is down under.
Does Boulala deserve to sit in some jail, despite its possibly tropical location, for two to four years? Who knows. From all accounts the Cross family wasn’t pressing charges, which is pretty admirable from a turn-the-other-cheek perspective. Skateboarding as a whole, meanwhile, seemed ready to absolve Boulala the moment it was clear that he came out of the coma. Should we?
It seems like whenever some high-profile, well-loved skater runs into trouble the skateboard world tends to rally around him.* Baker had those “Free TK” shirts printed up before Terry Kennedy ever saw the inside of a cell for having a gun in his car, if I remember right. Josh Swindell is still generally revered for being that pro locked up in Mexico, despite the fact that he may or may not have killed a guy. The murder/suicide mess that Ben Pappas was apparently involved in last year was more or less glossed over. Shit, people were about ready to canonize Christian Hosoi when he got out of jail in Hawaii, and he got busted with a load of meth. To paraphrase Aaron McGruder here, every famous skateboarder who gets arrested is not Nelson Mandela.
But it happens and I think it gets back to the dubious legal status act of skateboarding itself. We don’t like law. “No Skateboarding” signs get ignored. Cops chase you out of spots, they write you tickets, they beat your ass if you’re unlucky or can’t keep your mouth shut. But what are you going to do, not skate? Skateboarding is not a crime, etc. So early on we learn a healthy skepticism/cynicism for the law.
So how far should that go? Should Ali Boulala really go free? You could make a good argument. He suffered plenty, three months in the hospital, brain damage, may not ever be able to skate like he used to. He’s gotta live with the fact that he killed a good friend of his, and someone who’s pretty well-loved throughout skateboarding. The Cross family didn’t hold it against him, by all accounts. But then there’s the law, which also says thou shalt not skate this curb, jump that gap. In for a penny, in for a pound, then? Is there even a point to drawing a line between the two?
I don’t know. It’s hard to argue against punishing drunk drivers, or meth dealers**, or, you know, murderers. But the disregard for law is part of what used to make you a skateboarder, versus a kid who rode a skateboard, and that same pack mentality that gets people hyped about Hosoi getting out of prison is the same thing behind benefit skate jams and eBay auctions for skaters, pro or not, that are facing crazy hospital bills or some other crisis. And it’s probably worth preserving.
Anyway, rambling. RIP Shane Cross. Hold your head, Ali. Don’t drink and drive and hug your loved ones this weekend.
*Note that getting arrested in Tampa does not really count, since it’s more a passage into manhood at this point.
**Unless they’re actually cool dudes