By the age of twenty-three, his youngest assailant had learned the lesson of hate. Why hadn’t he learned it by age forty-nine? Shouldn’t he have known better? It was during the wee hours of Sunday morning; all drunk: three white males-in a pick up-on a dark Texas road. One black male-on foot-been drinking and he accepts their offer for a ride? Even the predictably anti Black everything, Rent-A-Toms took a pass on this outrageous display of inhumanity. Perhaps the reality of their own colored liability forced them into quiet reflection. The dastardly murder of James Byrd, Jr., on that fateful June morning, in 1998, sent America into national rigor mortis. No one was recorded asking those questions; rather, the wisest among us questioned the unbelievable act of barbarity. And that is how it should have been.
Fast forward to the year, 2003, and head northwest, about 150 miles, from the infamous Jasper decapitation site. December 4, to be exact. A thirtysomething Black woman witnesses the murder of her mother, Janice Reebes, by her then boyfriend, Terrance Dwayne “Popeye” Kelly. The single shot to her mother’s stomach was followed by the life altering shot to her own head, leaving Carolyn Thomas, today, with half of a face.
There was no phalanx of clergy and elected officials descending upon Waco, Texas, decrying the horrendous act; as there had been to Jasper. The final services for Ms. Reebes mother was not attended by scores of resurrected 1960’s super heroes; i.e., the NEW Black Panthers; the NEW Fruit of Islam; or the same old rhetoricians declaring how fired up they were and weren’t “gonna take it no mo’!” No Presidential message; no commissions created; no town hall meetings. After all, one in two women, in
America, will experience a violent relationship in her lifetime. Women are treated in the emergency room for domestic violence in larger numbers than for rapes, muggings and vehicular incidents combined. The response to the violence against Black women from the Black community is summed up in the words of CC in Gloria Naylor’s, Women of Brewster Place: “She ain’t nothin’ but a woman.”
Violence within the community of African ancestry takes as many forms as it does in any other cultural configuration of citizens. Domestic violence has no boundaries that follow skin color, religious, socio- economic, age, gender or gender preference guidelines. According to the American Medical Association, domestic violence is the fastest growing silent epidemic in America. The Surgeon General has identified domestic violence as America’s number one social disease. In New York City, the Health Department’s studies have found that Brooklyn is the borough where more Black women are murdered by their intimate partners; the Bronx is number two. Domestic violence is the last social issue to rest snuggly in “the closet” and will not come out without a great deal of kicking and screaming. An unfortunate fact is that many who rail against internecine destruction, are abusive in their personal and family relationships. Others among the hearty protesters remain silent about their own abuse.
Double standards “double” the trouble families have when one parent murders the other; and is incarcerated; or, one parent murders the other and then commits suicide. Children are doubly “parentless”. Both parents’ families grieve. The economic devastation of losing two incomes is inarguable. Surviving family members must double their living accommodations to take in orphaned nieces, nephews, godchildren and the like. Boys raised in an abusive environment are more likely to engage in violent behavior and to continue the cycle of partner abuse. Girls raised in violent homes are more likely to become promiscuous; or to become a runaway. Boys are likely to protect their mothers by either killing or attempting to kill the batterer. This has resulted in over sixty per cent of males, between the ages of 11 and 20, being incarcerated for murdering their mother’s batterer. How many of them are of African ancestry is unclear. It would be unthinkable to state, especially in public, that the trail of black men who have been the victims of police violence deserved the excessive force that caused their injury or death. Women affected by domestic violence, on the other hand, are more often than not scorned and blamed for the violence meted upon them. “Serves her right.” “She must like it; she keeps going back.” “What did she expect? Everybody knows how she is.” “What else was he suppose to do? She dissed him.”
So, what do we do? The first step is toward community education. In their report titled, ENDING VIOLENCE AGAINST WOMEN: An Agenda For the Nation, the Department Of Justice noted,
“Women of color¼have struggled more than others to have their experiences with violence understood and addressed. To be effective, intervention and prevention efforts must be culturally¼appropriate, address across women’s lifespan, and be rooted in communities themselves.”1ä1
Become familiar with the facts of the matter and release the myths. Brothers, declare a “misogyny free zone” in your physical, mental and social space. Do not tolerate sexist or violent conversation; even in jest. Initiate action, discussion and education in your place of worship; in your fraternal and social organizations; in your place of employment. Sisters, develop support systems for those in violent relationships. Impress upon your daughters the need for zero tolerance of “play hitting, pulling or pushing”. Guide them in their quest for loving and caring partners. No longer can we declare that we’re minding our “business”. Domestic violence IS our business. Remember that domestic violence, regardless of the gender of the abuser or the abused, is unacceptable.
In early April, in the 54th Circuit Court in Waco, Texas, the Kelly trial will begin. It won’t be the caravan of buses transporting an outraged Black community that will bring this case to the world stage. No clerical pilgrimage to another tragic landmark. The cameras and peppered strokes on laptops will be heard because of the resilient, “Faith Based” Black woman; Carolyn Thomas, whose quest for life is indefatigable. Maybe you won’t be there but wherever you are, you can do something. If you know of someone in a violent relationship, there are five things that can be said to them. The complexity of domestic violence may require that any or all of the following be repeated over the course of days, weeks or even years. But it is a task that we must do. We must save the children; we must save the “homegirlies”. We must double our efforts; not double the standard.
1. It [the abuse] will only get worse.
2. I’m afraid for your safety.
3. I’m afraid for the safety of your loved ones.
4. You don’t deserve to be treated this way.
5. There’s help when you’re ready: THE DOMESTIC VIOLENCE HOTLINE #:1-800-799-SAFE
(This number is available 24 hours a day; 365 days a year; from any state in the country.)
Roslyn Bacon is a retired educator and the Executive Director of JONAH VILLAGE, INC.; a non- profit, youth leadership organization dedicated to the prevention of domestic violence.
1 1 Ending Violence Against Women: An Agenda for the Nation (2000). Washington, DC: US Department of Justice.