News you can relate to

Some news stories that caught our eye this week:

It’s hard to know what to do about a friend who is abusing their partner.  And it’s even harder if you come from a marginalized community that has good reasons to distrust the police.

A tattoo artist is offering free tattoos to help abused women cover scars left from knives and bullets.

Without Scars: Domestic Violence, Abuse and the Tech Pipeline “I look around and I see my friends building technologies that make life easier for abusers.”

Stand down

The prosecutor has spoken. And the court of public opinion is in session.

Thurston County’s Jon Tunheim announced that he has declined to press charges against the Olympia Police Department officer who shot and injured two unarmed black men last May.

He will, however be pursuing assault charges against the two young men.

The prosecutor claims that race was not a factor. We have to agree to stop saying that. Race has been a dominant factor in this country for hundreds of years, which means of course it was a factor in the shooting, it was a factor when the prosecutor made his decision, and it’s a factor in everyone’s reaction, including my own.

What to do? Fortunately big brains and big hearts have been working on this for a very long time and are working on it now.

Bursting on the scene, Campaign Zero has a plan. They recently put forward a vision statement and platform around ending police violence: “We can live in a world where the police don’t kill people…by limiting police interventions, improving community interactions, and ensuring accountability.”

Here are their solutions.

Solutions from Campaign Zero

Take for example Campaign Zero’s Strategy 1: End “Broken Windows” Policing. The theory behind “broken windows” policing is that when police respond to minor crimes, they nip crime in the bud and major crime can’t develop. Theory disproven. Add racism to the “broken windows” philosophy and you have shoplifting turning into shooting.

I listened to a few of my white middle class friends respond to the shooting by saying “Yeah, I shoplifted when I was a kid and I never got shot.” They get that race played a part in them, a) getting away with it and b) knowing that even if they were caught, the penalty would be minimal. What I find disturbing is an underlying attitude of so many liberal white people―a focus on “those stupid/racist cops.” I fear that we white people use our contempt of police to try to absolve ourselves of our guilt, our culpability. White folks can try to distance ourselves from the institution we created, support, and benefit from, but we can’t put down the ease with which we move in the world as white people, even if we don’t want that extra privilege, even if we want to give it away. Being pulled over by the police will never mean the same thing to us. It just doesn’t.

If we adopt this Campaign Zero strategy  in Olympia, we will have to figure out the non-police response to shoplifting, loitering, littering and such. How we are all going to respond as people who share the sidewalk with homeless people who have nowhere to live? What are we going to do when people steal food because they are hungry?

There is so much more to say about the Campaign Zero proposals from a domestic violence perspective. Even the idea of ending “broken window” policing gets complicated for domestic violence advocates. “Death by a thousand cuts”, which is how some batterers accomplish their dehumanizing control over victims, is often achieved with just the kind of minor crimes referenced in this strategy. If we call the police off from responding, how do we organize ourselves to help/support/force perpetrators to stop their wrong-doing and be accountable?

It’s time to follow the lead of the black people in Campaign Zero and black leaders in our communities and work to dismantle, demilitarize, de-escalate our police state. It’s time to think critically about how police are positioned now, at the top of the list of people we are urged to call. How do we move them to the bottom―the backstop, the call of last resort? It’s time to call ourselves, our media, our schools, our religions, our neighborhoods, and our democracy to task for failing to create a world where all people thrive. And it’s time for the police to stand down. The time is now.

What ever happened to human compassion?

I got a bit political in a status update on Facebook the other day. A comment about taxes caused a ruckus with my more conservative friends back home in the South.  Comments started flying about the role of government and how much we should be expected to give to our communities versus what we deserve to keep for ourselves. Looking back at the conversation I wonder: What has happened to basic human compassion?

I think we would do things very differently in this country if we could all tap into real, nonjudgmental compassion for others. To me, compassion means admitting to ourselves that other people’s experiences are not the same as ours, and that they still matter. This is actually quite difficult, and I struggle with it myself.

What if we all worked a bit harder to understand how big social problems like poverty, racism or domestic violence impact people’s lives? What would it be like if we took a walk in their shoes? For those of us who’ve faced some of these hard situations, we’re still not off the hook. Our task is to realize that our way of dealing isn’t the only way.

There is actually research that suggests that compassion causes a chemical reaction in our bodies which makes our desire to be compassionate grow stronger. All we need to do is exercise it! Imagine if everyone in your community was just a little more compassionate. Albert Einstein had it right when he said:

“A human being…experiences himself, his thoughts and feelings as something separated from the rest…. This delusion is a kind of prison for us, restricting us to our personal desires and to affection for a few persons nearest to us. Our task must be to free ourselves from this prison by widening our circle of compassion to embrace all living creatures.”

I’m busting out of that prison. Will you come with me?

Dude, WTF?

Alright – can we all agree that domestic violence is not going away until abusers knock it off? So the bazillion dollar question is, how do we make that happen?

I think we could create a lot of change by simply challenging abusive behavior when we see it. But some people get nervous, hesitant about how to confront an abuser. And for good reason. I’m not saying you should put on a superhero suit and wrestle the knife out of his hand. I’m not even talking about physical violence. We need to call people out way before things escalate to that point. I’m saying notice and comment on the creepy, possessive, controlling stuff your friend says or does: convey a sense of alarm; describe the bad/worrisome behavior; and tell the person to stop. It’s that simple.

Give one of these a try:

Dude, WTF? She’s a person, not a piece of property. Knock it off and give her some space!

Dude, WTF? She’s not screwing someone else – she’s just stuck in traffic, like she said. Sheesh, you need to knock it off!

Dude, WTF? You’re totally Facebook stalking her. Knock it off.

Dude, WTF? Just enjoy your visits with your kids and don’t worry about what she’s doing. Knock it off and move on.

The Revolution Starts at Home

What does it mean for an abuser to be held accountable? What does justice for a survivor look like? And how do we get there?

I’ve been studying domestic violence murders for the past 7 years and have seen time and again how the legal system is profoundly limited in its ability to provide justice, safety, or healing for survivors of abuse. But focusing on the failures of the police and courts can feel hopeless, because it is not clear where else to turn. I envision that our own communities can step up to confront abusers and support survivors. Yet it is hard to imagine communities where sexism, homophobia, isolation, and victim blaming don’t get in the way.

A new book, The Revolution Starts at Home: Confronting Intimate Violence Within Activist Communities, is a collection of stories from people who have also wrestled with these questions. The authors are activists working against racism and homophobia. It makes sense that the people trying to figure out how to hold abusers accountable within their own communities are those that have been the least served and most harmed by the criminal response to abuse—LBGTQ folk, people of color, immigrants.

The stories bring to life both the hope and promise of community solutions to domestic and sexual violence, and how painfully difficult this process can look on the ground. In one essay, a grassroots activist group describes how they organized to address abuse by one community member toward another. Their process had all the key ingredients for justice: a focus on the survivor’s safety and healing, treating the abuser with respect while demanding real change, and directly confronting the conditions that allowed the abuse in the first place. And yet, their efforts took years, required massive energy and commitment, and they found it was hard to know whether they were making real change.

Reading this book left me feeling both excited about the creative work being done and overwhelmed with the work left to do. The efforts, aspirations, and even failures in these stories felt like a call to action for all of us working to end domestic violence. As Andrea Smith says in the introduction, “the question is not whether a survivor should call the police, but rather why have we given survivors no other option but to call the police?”

Women trump guns

Imagine living in a place where your healthcare and schooling is free. Where you are given a plot of land to farm and a fishing boat. All that is required in return is that you do not beat your spouse.

Is there such a place? Yes, and its location will surprise you.

In war-torn Somalia, Dr. Hawa Abdi and her two daughters started a one-room hospital on her private land. A city of 90,000 refugees sprung up around it. The women of this city in turn, have created their own social services and justice system, which makes it a sanctuary from the violence, disease, and famine around them. But it is also a threat to those in power in the region.

I read in the news last week that a group of armed militants decimated Dr. Abdi’s now 400 bed hospital. They held Dr. Abdi and her daughters at gun-point for days and interrogated the doctor. “Why are you running this hospital?” the gunmen demanded. “You are old. And you are a woman!” Dr. Abdi said “I told the gunmen, ‘I’m not leaving my hospital … If I die, I will die with my people and my dignity.’ I yelled at them, ‘You are young and you are a man, but what have you done for your society?’ ”

Thousands of women from the refugee city surrounding the hospital organized a protest and forced the militants to back down. A written apology was wrung out of the militants by Dr. Abdi.

We live in one of the wealthiest places in the world and yet we don’t replicate the type of community Dr. Abdi created. As a matter of fact, many of the riches we do have are being eroded. What will it take for us to stand together and demand communities that are prosperous and free from violence for everyone?

Yikes, you did what?!

I live in a really social neighborhood where I chat with lots of people who live around me. Recently, I was talking to one of my neighbors about relationships. It was a normal conversation about the challenges of dating, and sorting through the choices that we make. Then he told me that he was once convicted of domestic violence assault.

To be honest, I had a moment of panic. What was I going to say? As he talked about going through batterer’s intervention, how much he learned, and how different he is in his current relationship, I was thinking: Has this man really changed? Is his current girlfriend safe? Is he manipulating the story to glorify himself?

According to the etiquette of conversation, I had to say something after he stopped talking even though I had doubts, questions, and yes, even a bit of fear. I thanked him for the disclosure, acknowledged his journey, and continued to openly talk to him about relationships.

By virtue of my work, I know how to respond to people who disclose that they have been abused. But what I learned from this conversation is that I am uncomfortable with someone telling me they’ve been abusive. My first instinct was to question this man’s intentions and his behavior, but then I realized that I want to be able to talk with anyone about how to be in a good, loving, happy relationship.

I have decided to believe that my neighbor understands what he did and is making an effort to be a better person. After all, won’t he need a community of people who can support him in his present while knowing his past?

Finding comfort, if not answers

Vanda Boone was murdered this month.

By a man.

On a trail where I ride my bicycle all the time.

Though I did not know Vanda, this feels personal. Another woman, just like me. In the place so many of us go when we need to be outdoors.

Ribbon Pole
The ribbon pole where 25 names have been tied since 2005 when the Moments of Blessing first began

Yesterday’s heat did not deter 80 of us, mostly strangers, from gathering for a Moment of BlessingInterfaith Works brings people together when someone is murdered in our county to reclaim the place of violence.

These events help me with the sadness and the big questions I’m left struggling with. What is so deeply wrong with us? Why do men murder women who are total strangers, and murder women they profess to love?

I have found few answers to these questions in my 30 years of working to end violence against women. I guess this is what draws me to the spiritual comfort of the Moment of Blessing. In standing with  others,  I am not alone in being deeply moved. It consoles me to form a circle, cry with others, and speak of life and love.