The RLD on DV: Introduction

The RLD on DV: Introduction

IMG_2825October is Domestic Violence Awareness month. In honor of a subject that I am very passionate about, I am doing a multi part series addressing this deadly issue.

Why?

Because as a prosecutor who specialized in domestic violence crimes for close to four years, and still continues to handle domestic violence homicides although I work in a different unit, I hear the same old stories.

What did she do to provoke it?

Many violent incidents happen behind closed doors, away from the public eye. The only people who know what happened are those in the room — or their children that witness it.  I have had witnesses tell me “he’s such a nice guy, I mean she must have done something to have made him do this to her

Meanwhile, the victim is dead.

Really?

Domestic violence is a family matter, to be dealt with quietly.

I had a victim who was beaten within an inch of her life with a weightlifting bar by her husband. He then took her from the house with the intention of disposing of her permanently.  It was only through a harrowing escape and the kindness of very frightened strangers that she survived to tell her tale.  The defendant’s family had the nerve to tell her in open court “if he was beating you, you should have come to us.  You never should have called the police. This was a family matter”.

I have never heard of a family that persuaded a husband to stop beating his wife.  If you have, please let me know.

She didn’t leave so she must have enjoyed it.

I have actually heard people say this, fully believing it is true. There are a multitude of reasons why someone doesn’t leave an abusive relationship. Over the next few weeks, I will feature some of the stories, so you can see for yourself.  But the reason is never “I liked being beaten“.

She hit him back so they just had that kind of relationship.

Yes, they did. It’s called an abusive relationship.  It’s not something that should be played down or minimized.  It is not acceptable or healthy. As friends and family members, we should be encouraging anyone who is in that type of relationship to end it, seek counseling, and find a better partner.  Once we as a society start to accept hitting as a new norm, we lose our humanity.

They were a passionate couple.

Let’s not confuse “passionate” with “messy“.  We look at certain celebrity relationships, with their ups and downs, as well as every “Real Housewives” franchise, waiting for the next plate to fly or the tea to spill.  No couple is perfect; however, a healthy relationship is based on mutual respect. Once the line is broken with physical abuse (which can be as simple as a push or a slap) or verbal abuse (you’re stupid, you’re ugly, no one will want you), then the line has been crossed from healthy to sick.

Men Can’t Be Victims.

Wrong.  This is about power and control.  The abusive wife derives power from hitting and humiliating her husband; the husband stays because he loves her, and hopes that she will change. Same pathology, different gender.

So For Now…

Here is an interesting article from the Huffington Post about the states in the US where women are most likely to die at the hands of men by domestic violence.  Sadly, African American women die at a rate of 2.5x that of their White counterparts; and if the abuser has access to a gun, the woman is eight times more likely to be killed.  Read the details here.

I hope you will find this series informative and thought provoking. As you will see, domestic violence does not discriminate. It affects relationships rich and poor, straight and gay, of all ethnic groups.

IMG_2824

As always, I welcome your feedback!

M.

StraightOuttaPR: Hip Hop, Violence Against Women & An Apology

StraightOuttaPR: Hip Hop, Violence Against Women & An Apology

Dr. Dre, the hip hop icon in the center of the movie “Straight Outta Compton” has issued an apology in the New York Times to “all the women he has hurt”. His apology refers to the social media backlash surrounding the revelations of his abuse of his former girlfriend musician Michel’le, music reporter Dee Barnes, and rapper Tairrie B.

Is he sincere, or is it an attempt to control the public relations angle of a highly successful movie? Where are we in the bigger picture of violence against women in the hip hop industry?

In truth, the abuse as detailed by the women occurred in the 80’s and early 90’s during the heyday of the gangsta rap group NWA. However, these allegations have been swirling around for years, only gaining traction as the movie “Straight Outta Compton” grossed close to $60 million in its opening weekend.

What is most perturbing is the acceptance of violence against women, and the reaction of those who heard the allegations prior to the release of the movie.

Earlier this year, 90’s R&B singer Michel’le (of “No More Lies” and “Something in My Heart” fame”) opened up about her life in an interview on the radio morning show “The Breakfast Club” with DJ Envy and Angela Yee.

  Michel’le is currently a cast member on the show “R&B Divas LA”. But the interview questions focused on her relationships with Dr. Dre and Suge Knight. She revealed that Dr. Dre used to beat her regularly, to the point that she sustained five black eyes and multiple broken ribs during the course of their relationship. Michel’le confirmed that she had heard a joke by a female rapper that the brand “Beats by Dre” was a reference to the beatings she sustained in their relationship. It was clear that her abuse was common knowledge in the rap community of that time.

It was a sad interview, with her telling her story in her distinct, baby like voice. What disturbed me was reading the Facebook responses her interview. Many folks commended her telling her story. But some (all of whom based on their profile pictures were African American women), said some pretty nasty comments. The comments ranged from “Why is she talking about this now?”, to “she’s just jealous and trying to stay relevant”, and “She’s trying to keep a brother down, she should keep this to herself”.

The comments revealed tendency of some in the African American community not to believe domestic violence victims (especially celebrity ones), assuming they want to “tear down a good black man”, “doing it for fame”, or “trying to get something out of it”

Let’s look at some of the arguments given point by point.

Why now? 

Maybe she’s ready now. Maybe the emotional scars have healed. She’s been in therapy, and clearly is a stronger person. Maybe she knows that neither Dre nor Suge can harm her or her career. She’s also older, and wiser. This occurred in her early twenties; she’s sharing a cautionary tale about the perceived glitter of getting with a baller and the dark side of hip hop. In listening to the interview, DJ Envy was very direct in his question about her relationships with both men. Was she supposed to lie to protect her abusers? To what end?

And, more importantly times have changed. DV is a bigger topic of discussion, especially with recent high profile cases in the NFL such as Ray Rice. This was not the case in the past.

She’s just trying to tear a good black man down. 

Why is it hard to believe that the leader of a gangsta rap group that glorified violence, who referred to women as b$&@’s regularly, who was sued for beating the living daylights out of rap reporter Dee Barnes in 1991 could have beaten his girlfriend? A billion dollar deal from Apple doesn’t change his past.

What’s she doing this for? 

What struck me is that she isn’t looking for an apology. Michel’le clearly said in her interview that even if he apologized, it wouldn’t matter since it was so long ago. She already has a show. Michel’le was quite clear that she has been working with a therapist to break destructive patterns, and make sure her life goes on a positive track. She has written a book, and is focusing on her role as a mother to her children. So quite simply, Michel’le was just telling her story. In sharing her story, she is letting other women in abusive situations know that they are not alone, they can leave, and there is life after an abuser.

She should just keep this to herself. It’s their business. 

We all need to get out of the dark ages, especially those of us who embrace hip hop. Domestic violence is not ok. It must not hide in the shadows as a private secret, to be endured. The question is never “what did she do to deserve it”; the answer is not “that’s just what men do”, or “that’s what you have to deal with as a woman”. If we all demand more of our men (respect, love, fidelity) we will receive more. But it starts with us, by respecting ourselves, and respecting other women.

Abusers love to say “no one will believe you” . For a long time, and still in certain circles, they are right! All of us need to really take a long hard look on where we are on the issue of violence against women. We have advanced to the point that we find it unacceptable in our sports stars, but in hip hop, it seems to be “part of the game”. A man must never put his hands on a woman. Realize that just as quick as you as a man would “go to the death” to defend the honor of your mother or sister if another man laid a hand upon her, what entitles you to do this to another man’s sister, mother or daughter?

Director Ana Duvernay made an incredible statement on Twitter recently “To be a woman who loves hip hop at times is to be in love with your abuser. Because the music was and is that. And yet the culture is ours”.

I grew up in New York, and watched rap music evolve into hip hop.  I loved the message music that it was initially, the fun party beats that made you dance, and the call to action that made you stand tall.  There are artists that still use hip hop to uplift, inspire and talk about real issues. But for too many artists, it is about glorifying violence, misogyny, and crime. Hip hop has moved from the days of reporting the destruction on the streets to glorifying the destruction. What happened to Queen Latifah and Salt n Peppa rapping about how ladies are queens? Public Enemy rapping about the response times of ambulances in NY, and shining a light on a real issue at the time?

It is not impossible to return to this era. We just have to remember that music is an industry — a business. Our dollars speak volumes. If we support misogyny and violence against women through supporting those artists and movies, then we will not see a change. Dr. Dre’s apology shows that he (or someone in his camp) realizes the business aspect.

Which means we, as consumers, should realize this as well.

Here’s a throwback of positivity circa 1989..

Looking Back to Move Forward…

Looking Back to Move Forward…

20140323-142740.jpgSo, as we wait for election results, there’s no better time than now to be reflective.  My blog, The Resident Legal Diva, has recently had its one year anniversary.  Ironically, I took on a 30 day Blogging 101 challenge…because why not? Nothing like a challenge to step up your game! In the next 30 days, you will see a lot of posts from me covering a variety of topics (which remain a mystery to me at this moment)!

The first assignment was to talk about my blog.  Why am I writing publicly instead of writing a personal journal? Who do I hope to connect with? What is the end goal a year from now? And what’s the story behind my tagline?

Whelp, let’s get started.

Why am I writing publicly instead of writing a personal journal? If you’ve been reading my blog you know that I am a prosecutor. (If not, welcome!) I love the law.  The law brings equality; the law brings change; the law brings justice. Often, the media gets it wrong (ratings are king). Often citizens get it wrong (due to just not knowing).  Sometimes the system gets it wrong. Facts and details get lost in the struggle between passion, history, and confusion as to how the system works.  My goal is to educate people about how the system really works, and what goes into the decision making process in cases.  Also, I want people to know what their rights are, and what remedies are available. This can only be done in a public forum.  With the internet reaching more and more people every day, what better way to educate the world?

Who do I hope to connect with? EVERYONE! My blog is not just for legal professionals (who are always welcome by the way). It’s for the students, the curious, the old, the young…anyone who cares about the world we live in and how the law governs us.

What is the end goal a year from now? I hope to have (and continue to have) great dialogues with folks from all walks of life.  My eyes have opened to issues as a result of discussions started on my blog.  I love to teach, but I enjoy learning as well.  The exchange of ideas is the only way our world will get better — it is the way to promote understanding.

And what’s the story behind my tagline? The Resident Legal Diva…I’m your in house legal expert.  And I love the word “Diva”.  I’m on a mission to reclaim the word from the negative connotations that come from reality television.  A Diva is a woman who is well spoken, well put together, and who carries herself with grace and elegance.  Most of all, a Diva is successful from her own intelligence, hard work and merit.  Notice there are no temper tantrums, outbursts, or generally “acting a fool” in that definition. What I described is the definition of a “hot mess”…which does not deserve air time (not on this blog anyway!).  And the rest “My Collection of Thoughts About Real Life and the Law”…is just that.  My thoughts…my opinions…but always open for discussion!

Looking back, the last year of blogging has been fun, uplifting, emotional, and really enlightening.  Here’s to many more!!

M.

Why Be Angry Over “Angry Black Woman?”

Why Be Angry Over “Angry Black Woman?”

Shonda-Rhimes1
Shonda Rhimes

Which would you rather be called?

A b&$%!, or an angry black woman?

If you said neither, you’d be on the right track.

If you asked “aren’t they the same thing”?, then you would have hit the heart of the matter.

Folks are wondering why Alessandra Stanley’s New York Times Article about Shonda Rhimes is causing such an uproar. Stanley wrote an article about television writer Rhimes (of “Scandal”, “Gray’s Anatomy” and “How to Get Away With Murder” fame), and while complimenting her success, focused largely on Rhimes’ ability to get away with being an “angry black woman”.

For the record, Rhimes has not been known for any publicized rants or bad behavior; her characters are the furthest you can find from angry black women; yet somehow, the article focused on this aspect.

For African American women, the stereotype of the angry black woman is parallel to the struggle that White women have had with the word “bitch”. Some women embrace the word “bitch” to mean a tough, aggressive, no-nonsense woman that threatens men on their own turf in the corporate world. The majority of women view it by its actual definition – a female dog, and a derogatory term that has no connotation of respect. Women of all races have fought for the right not to be called that word (including the ongoing battle in the music industry).

The image of an “angry black woman” conjures up that of an angry ghetto chick, snapping her gum, screaming at someone for no apparent reason, and making a scene “just because”. It embodies that of a bitter nasty woman who you certainly would not want to be friends with, much less date.

It even justifies (in some people’s minds) domestic violence (well of course he had to hit her…you know how those angry black women are). This becomes even more relevant in the current discussions of the recent arrests of NFL players Ray Rice and Jonathan Dwyer.

The last image that comes to mind when one says the term “angry black woman” is an educated, polished professional woman, who is the top of her career, has great credit, is a pillar in her community, and is a loving family member/friend (which all of Shonda Rhimes’ characters are in some way or form). But from a quick reading of Stanley’s article, Rhimes, as well as her body of work, is reduced to a simple stereotype.

That’s the dangerous thing about stereotypes – it paints all with a very wide brush. This is not to say an African American woman can’t be angry. But there is no “angry White woman” syndrome, or “angry White man”….so why make such a big deal about how Shonda Rhimes defied the odds and is NOT an angry black woman? If we were not sure before, reality television certainly has shown us that EVERY race, gender and sexual orientation can be good, bad and downright ugly. Why not characterize the individual by how they behave, instead of by some perceived stereotype that you believe is the standard?

Stanley has since stood by her article, saying that she “complimented” Rhimes for defying the stereotype. To draw another analogy, it’s like calling the female CEO of a major corporation  “a smart bitch with a heart of gold”, and as folks recoil in horror, saying “but I said she was smart!”
As we explore Stanley’s description of Viola Davis’ character in “How to Get Away with Murder”, she discusses how she is not classically beautiful due to her dark skin (!!) but has a sexy but menacing quality. Menacing, angry…common theme? Certainly not the way any woman would want to be described.

In truth, Stanley does chronicle the television evolution from the “uh uh-ing” maid, to the beloved Claire Huxtable from the Cosby Show, to the characters we see today. But she gave, and took away at the same time.

In summary: happiness comes from within, no matter what race you are.

So here’s a hashtag for you: #happyblackwoman.

Or better yet: #happy.

Weigh in with your thoughts!

M.

Charges Dropped…So is Zimmerman’s Girlfriend A Victim or a Fake??

Charges Dropped…So is Zimmerman’s Girlfriend A Victim or a Fake??

zimmerman again

Prosecutors came out yesterday and announced that charges against George Zimmerman will be dropped.  These charges were in connection with a domestic violence incident with his supposed girlfriend, Samantha Scheibe.

SO the burning question is…did this really happen, or did they make this up for attention?

See my article published on theLaw.tv below…

http://thelaw.tv/news/2013/12/11/victim-or-fake-zimmermans-girlfriend-wants-charges-dropped/