Cats and raindrops bless us

Sherman Alexie said “I don’t believe in magic, but I believe in interpreting coincidence exactly the way you want to.”

So when a stray cat wandered into the circle of grief-stricken neighbors gathered outside the former home of Rachel Gardin-Gonzalez and made itself right at home, I chose to imagine that Rachel was back in this beautiful calm form to bask in the comfort and love of people who cared about her.

Rachel and her mother Kimberly Redford were murdered in this home last week. Interfaith Works had come here to hold a Moment of Blessing. A time for neighbors to reclaim peace in their community and love in their hearts for the entire family that was devastated here.

Seven years almost to the day, I wrote my very first post on Can You Relate about a Moment of Blessing for Vanda Boone who herself was murdered in south Thurston County.

Every single domestic violence fatality and injury and hurt is preventable. Without exception. So I wonder, now and all the time, about what it will take to end the violence.

Can You Relate has changed its focus recently to call out/call in the perpetrators of the violence. Ultimately it is they who control all these tragic outcomes. I know it’s hard to imagine, but rapists and batterers are the ones who need to understand what drives the violence and understand what it is going to take to stop it. We can provide all the support and care possible for victims (and we should) but they will just keep coming until we know this.

Unlike Sherman Alexie, I don’t know if I believe in magic. But as the circle of grief was breaking up today, a few drops of rain fell from the hot smoky sky. Was that raindrop blessing a bit of magic or just a coincidence? We’ll have to ask the cat.

The ribbon pole with the names of most of the people who have died from violence in Thurston County since 2005. With the magic cat in the background.
Tragic additions to the list of victims.

 

News you can relate to

Some stories that caught our eye this week:

Antoine Elvin Sullivan shot and killed his wife and then himself. His grieving mother decided to have a domestic violence expert speak at her son’s funeral. “I told her we needed to let people know the abusers are your father, are your sons, are everyday people who hold good jobs.”

Given how rarely police are held accountable for crimes they commit, it was a surprise when Daniel Holtzclaw was convicted of sexually assaulting multiple black women in Oklahoma City. Dr. Kimberlé Crenshaw discusses the case.

If domestic-violence victims can’t secure safe housing after separating from their abusive partners, 60 percent will return to their abuser and 38 percent will become homeless. Lifewire and the King County Housing Authority are working together to help survivors to a different outcome.

 

Thoughts from a future mom: Parenting amidst violence

We bring you this guest post from Leah Holland with the Washington Coalition of Sexual Assault Programs.

Recently, the folks at Can You Relate invited me to write a guest post on their blog. I planned to write about how trans folks are impacted by reproductive coercion. Then Michael Brown was murdered by a white police officer and I felt compelled to change topics.Audre-Lorde-no-border

Working in the anti-violence field with an anti-oppression focus keeps the intersections of peoples’ lives in the forefront of my mind. I can’t ignore that the impact of abuse is different for children of color than for white children. I can’t ignore that children of color must be taught how to interact with the police differently than white children.

And I don’t want to ignore it. You see, I’m in the middle of planning a wedding and a pregnancy. My sweetie is brown. I am white. We talk a lot about where and how we want to raise our children. My sweetie asked me this morning what I thought the hardest part will be for me being a white mom to a brown baby. Easy: OTHER PEOPLE.

Needing to trust other people is what is scariest to me. That was one of my biggest hurdles in deciding to have kids—knowing I can’t always keep them safe. I know all the stats about who is more likely to sexually abuse a child (hint: it’s someone the child knows).

In an interview for Ebony’s Ending Rape 4ever series, Monika Johnson Hostler says: “I always tell people, ‘As a parent do I worry about stranger danger?’ Yes. [However] the people in our lives that are associated with us, that it appears that we trust, those are the people I worry about most.” YES! And with the reality that one African-American is murdered by police every 28 hours, comes the recognition that the people we’re supposed to trust to keep us safe don’t keep everyone safe.

I’ll never be able to understand what it’ll be like for our child to be multiracial. But my sweetie and I will do our best to get them ready for the institutional, systemic, and individual racism they WILL face. If the other bad stuff happens too, at least I know our child will be believed, told it’s not their fault, and get help. And if our brown baby identifies as trans, we’re ready to parent at that intersection too.

Singing out to stop the silence & end the violence

We bring you this guest post from Emily McAllister, a senior at Auburn Mountainview High School. The following is an excerpt of the speech she gave at a benefit show she organized to support our work and promote healthy relationships.  benefitshow

Good evening, welcome, and thank you for coming! This promises to be an amazing night!

For those of you who don’t know who I am, I am Emily McAllister. I have taken on the challenge of raising $10,000 for the Washington State Coalition Against Domestic Violence. … We are here to raise awareness about an issue that is hard to talk about. I have realized that not a whole lot of people really know HOW to talk about it. My goal tonight is to give some ideas that will help you recognize if it’s happening to you, also, to help you be aware if you are treating someone this way, and lastly to help you know what to say if it’s impacting someone you know. This issue is called domestic violence.

My Aunt Kate died almost 19 months ago. She was only 29 years old. Kate died because someone beat her. That someone was her boyfriend. That someone was with her for 5 years. That someone took her away from us. That someone will get his day in court and have to answer to the charge of Murder. The bottom line is, it’s not ok to hit anyone—ever. Kate was in a relationship with someone who did not treat her with kindness or respect. We all deserve to be treated with kindness and respect.

Kate leaves behind a large family, her mom and dad, brother and sisters, nieces, nephew, and many many cousins. She also leaves behind friends and a very special daughter. We are here to celebrate Kate. We are here to listen to some great music. We are here to raise money for the Washington State Coalition Against Domestic Violence, we are here to share a message about encouraging healthy relationships. Kate would want us to enjoy tonight and be happy! Kate loved music! She will be with us tonight, looking over us. Let’s have a great night!

As we transition between singers, I would like to share some facts to help define healthy relationships.

Fact#1: Relationships are supposed to be enjoyable and fun. This means that both people are having a good time. Dating should be fun! If it’s not, that is a sign that it may not be a healthy relationship.

Fact #2: Family and friends are affected by our relationships.  At this time, can I have all the Southwards, Sullivans, Stephens, or any other family member stand up. Now any friends. And now anyone who had met Kate. Please look around and see how many people were impacted by this one act. This goes to show you how many people are impacted by our relationships.

Fact #3: Relationships are built on respect, where both people share in decision making and are free to choose what is right for them. If someone is not feeling respected, it may not be a healthy relationship.

Fact #4: Domestic violence can happen to anyone: male or female, popular or unpopular, rich or poor, famous or not famous, black or white, beautiful or not. Your neighbor, your friend, your family member, or you. It’s important to know the signs. If there is a lot of drama, possessiveness, grabbing, slapping, or shoving, those are all warning signs that you may be an unhealthy relationship. Reach out and talk to someone about it.

Fact #5: Domestic violence if often a silent battle for many. It’s like the invisible elephant in the room. That’s why we have come up with the slogan “Stop the silence & end the violence.” It starts with each of us. You can be a part of promoting healthy relationships by getting the conversation started. Opening the lines of communication is the first step. Even if you don’t have the answer, you can simply say, “Honestly, I don’t know. Let me do some research and then we can talk more tomorrow.”

If you or someone you know is experiencing domestic violence there is help available.

I will never forgive you

I have been hauling around a rotting corpse of an experience for 19 years.

I used to think that the only way to deal with the terrible and tragic thing that happened was to forgive the person who did it. My partner’s brother murdered his wife, then called our home and engaged us in a conversation that twisted and turned between reality and delusion for 45 minutes before he abruptly hung up and killed himself.

boyholdingheartIt was indescribably traumatic. Of course, I can only speak to my own experience of it.

I’ve heard lots about the healing that comes from forgiveness. The Archbishop of forgiveness himself, Desmond Tutu, who knows about atrocity, says, “To forgive is the highest form of self-interest. I have to forgive so that my anger and resentment and lust for revenge don’t corrode my own being.”

And I get that intellectually. But forgive? Forgive has not worked for me. Some acts are just unforgiveable. And he’s dead, so there is nobody to forgive.

Dead or not, I found myself spending a lot of life energy keeping the hell in my imagination fully staffed, and molten hot for one lone inhabitant. I could not let go, replaying the scenario ten thousand times over in my mind trying to work out an alternative to the reality—an increasingly distant history—that would not budge.

Enter meditation practice and some ancient (but new to me) advice about what to do when forgiveness is beyond reach. Over the course of the past four years, I’ve attended retreats and spent many hours cultivating a wiser way.

I discovered that I am far from alone. The more I explored my interior landscape, and the more I heard from teachers, the better I understood the universal nature of this kind of struggle.

The trauma blew a hole in my heart—and I could not come wholeheartedly back to my life without mending the wound. I found out it was not necessary for me to forgive, but rather to wake up to other thoughts and actions that would relieve the pain.

First among them: putting it down. Simply, carefully, putting it down. I do not have to struggle, repress, or resolve anything. Time has passed, things have worked out in quite miraculous ways—some of which I had a hand in, most of which I didn’t. Any time I even begin to think about the pain, I recognize that I can just let it go. If I find myself way down memory lane thinking sad or scary thoughts, I retrace my steps and get on a healthier path of more fruitful thoughts.

No forgiving necessary.

Simply, put it down.

Dodging bullets

I’m just talking about me here. My experience. Not what I think happened to you. Or what I think you, or your town, or our nation has experienced on the whole. I’m just talking the highlights of my own life. With guns. And it’s all bad.

Gun #1

Photo by Geraint Rowland
Photo by Geraint Rowland

It’s eerie that I had this post almost done when I caught sight of the picture and story on the front page of the New York Times. This could very well have been about me or one of my siblings in the 1960s. The loaded gun my dad kept in his dresser drawer—artfully hidden a few layers down in his handkerchiefs and boxers—was like a magnet to us kids. We knew we were not supposed to go anywhere near that dresser, never mind the gun. What is it about children’s can’t-stay-away-from-it-because-it-scares-us-so-much? My brother told me he got that gun out and handled it once or twice.

Gun #2

When I was in my mid-20s, several friends and I went through a cowgirl phase. Hats and a six-shooter. We drove out to the Capitol Forest outside of Olympia, with some guns we owned or borrowed, and fired at targets on a hillside. I had some kind of semi-automatic handgun. I was baffled by how hard it was to pull the trigger and the kickback was fierce, but the shocker came when I was lowering the gun. About halfway to the ground, the tiny pressure of my finger on the trigger from the weight of the gun fired it again. I remember feeling like I had a bomb in my hand. “Amateur” you think—but check out this story from Christine Gentry (via This American Life), who was a teenager who knew better.

Gun #3

This is the story of a domestic violence murder-suicide that happened in my immediate family. I don’t know if I will ever be able to write about it. It would be traumatizing to tell, and to read. And in many ways, recounting the details of this particular story is unnecessary because the story has been told over and over again.

Gun #4

This took place ten years ago. My two teenage neighbors poached a deer in the woods by my house. It was out of season, so they confessed to their dad. But they said that they shot the deer in the Capitol Forest (yes, the same). Aw, shucks, Dad. But that was the wrong confession. My next-door neighbor heard the shot, and another neighbor saw one of the boys bloodied from the deer. It was clear they shot it in our neighborhood. I was mad, not about the deer but about them shooting guns near my house. And I was unimpressed by the dad’s response, which seemed to be belief that his naughty boys (wink wink) shot the deer in the Capitol Forest. I called on the phone and asked the boys to come over and talk to me. They came over and sat at my kitchen counter. I said, I know and you know that you shot the deer next door, and I know you’ve duped your family with that Capitol Forest story but it’s not true, so let’s just move on. I love you two and I love all my family and everyone around here who wanders around in the woods. And I would not be able to live with myself if I did not talk to you about NOT shooting guns around here. What if you accidentally shot someone? I would just die if that happened. So don’t shoot guns around my house. Heads hang—okay. Hugs all around. Now go.

Gun #5

And we’re back full circle to my dad’s loaded guns. Fifty years later and these guns were still lying around loaded. He kept one next to his bed. Even as he became blind from macular degeneration, and demented from age and alcohol, he still insisted that he had to have these guns to protect my mom. I knew that if I took them away, he would freak out and might muster enough brain cells to buy another. One day, when my mom had him out for the day, I arranged with a gunsmith to meet me in my garage, where I brought the guns. He disabled them. People always say “oh, he took out the pin,” like there’s a pin. Maybe there’s a pin. I don’t know and I don’t care—what I watched him do was take the guns apart and, with a tiny little rotary saw, cut an internal mechanism so the guns would never fire again. I returned them to where I found them.

The day came when my dad broke my heart, along with his hip, and left his home in an ambulance never to return. He had never noticed that his guns were dead. Which is the best this daughter could do for her beloved mom and dad.

When I really stop and think about it, I realize I’ve been dodging bullets my whole life. How about you? Just for a moment, stop talking about laws and theories and rights. Just stop. Wait. Think about it. Your own experiences—not “I heard about a guy,” or “I saw on the news today…” but what actually happened in your life with the guns around you. Let’s start a conversation there.

Other people’s business

Two of Ariel Castro’s neighbors are being held up as heroes for helping Amanda Berry escape his house after being imprisoned for over a decade. Not to take anything away from these guys, but seriously. When a woman is screaming for help and trying to break down a locked door, it doesn’t take a hero to recognize that the situation calls for action.

What’s heroic is taking action when the situation is not so clear. We’ve now heard that over those years other neighbors saw disturbing signs and called police. So why didn’t those attempts lead to their rescue?

I know from my work studying domestic violence murders that a call to the police is often not the solution. Many of the police calls prior to these murders played out just like what Ariel Castro’s neighbors described. Cops show up to a scene, knock on doors, ask questions. They don’t find evidence of a crime. Maybe they suspect something more is going on, and maybe they don’t. Maybe they write a report, and maybe they don’t. Maybe they follow up later, and maybe they don’t.

There is plenty of room to criticize the police response. But we cannot let that be the whole story. It is naive to think law enforcement can protect us from every evil, and it is dangerous to suggest they should try. Do you really want armed agents of the government empowered to break down your front door because the neighbor saw something suspicious?

The answer is much more complicated, and requires more from all of us than a 911 call. When you see a woman pounding on a window looking like she needs help—go ahead and call. But don’t stop there. Better yet, don’t start there.

Domestic violence murders have something else in common with the horror that unfolded on Seymour Avenue: deep roots. Ariel Castro had a long history of brutality against women and was apparently a victim of sexual abuse himself. His violence had scarred generations even before the kidnappings. Charles Ramsey got it right, talking about his decision to run toward the screaming and the locked door: “It’s just that you got to put that—being a coward, and ‘I don’t want to get in nobody’s business’—you got to put that away for a minute.” Getting to the roots of this kind of violence means putting those attitudes away for good.