Amidst the release of footage obtained by TMZ graphically displaying the Baltimore Ravens running back Ray Rice punching (and knocking unconscious) his then fiancé Janay Palmer on February 15, 2014, at the Revel Hotel and Casino in Atlantic City, there has been long overdue, and much needed attention being paid to domestic violence. ESPN has dedicated numerous discussions, debates, and special reports surrounding the issue of domestic violence, the NFL has been shamed into altering its policy of punishment regarding domestic violence, Dick’s Sporting Goods pulled Rice’s jerseys from its Baltimore-area stores, and even President Barack Obama released a statement through his press secretary stating that:
The President is the father of two daughters. And like any American, he believes that domestic violence is contemptible and unacceptable in a civilized society. Hitting a woman is not something a real man does, and that’s true whether or not an act of violence happens in the public eye, or, far too often, behind closed doors. Stopping domestic violence is something that’s bigger than football — and all of us have a responsibility to put a stop to it.
All of the focus on Ray Rice battering his then fiancé (now wife) has lead to ESPN’s First Take pundit Skip Bayless to declare that Mr. Rice is the, “face of domestic violence.” Other ESPN pundits, professional athletes and celebrities have echoed the sentiments of Skip Bayless. Seth Rogan tweeted, “I don’t know much about football, but I know that Ray Rice is a piece of garbage who shouldn’t be allowed to play it professionally anymore.” Former NFL player, and Super Bowl Champion Scott Fujita tweeted, “I’m glad no one this morning seems to care about yesterday’s games. This piece of shit needs to be out of the league. Period.” There was even a tweet from pseudo celebrity Nev Schulman (of Catfish reality television show fame) where he is in an elevator, and he takes a selfie, accompanied by a tweet that says, “Cowards make me sick. Real men show strength through patience and honor. This elevator is abuse free. #RESPECT.” This seems to be hypocritical, being that Mr. Schulman was expelled from Sarah Lawrence College for assaulting a fellow female college student. The assaulted student published a post to Facebook the day after the incident took place, which provides more details of the event. In the post, she says that on April 28th, 2006, Schulman began “pounding his closed fist into my temple about six times.” Needless to say, domestic violence is currently a hot-button issue, (to reiterate the sentiments of Skip Bayless), and Ray Rice has become the, “face of domestic violence.” The question (like many when it comes to issues surrounding race, class, gender, and violence) why now? Why Ray Rice?
What Ray Rice did to Janay Palmer was beyond the realm of reprehensible. Not only did he knock her unconscious with the force of a man that (based upon his NFL combine results) can bench press 225 pounds, 23 times consecutively, and drag her out of an elevator, dropping her to the ground on her face, while exposing her body for all to see, if you look closely, he also spit in her face twice. Fair or foul, athletes, actors, and musical stars are placed in the pop cultural pantheon of role models- of heroes. Kids and adults watch these stars on television and they aspire to be like them. They mimic their fashion sense, their moves on the field, and their songs on the radio. ESPN’s Mike Greenberg spoke of how his 11-year-old son’s favorite player is Ray Rice and how he had to explain to his son what Ray Rice did. Greenberg had to explain to his son how his gridiron hero (Ray Rice) has now and forever been transformed into a villain. I don’t know if professional athletes and entertainers should be held to a higher standard than the rest of society. I don’t think that professional athletes and entertainers are paid to be, moral compass wielding, law upholding heroes and role models. But the fact remains that in many cases they are. This has led me to think, what about groups of professional heroes in our society? What about “real men” in uniforms that protect and serve as role models in our society? How do police officers and men in the military factor into this national conversation surrounding domestic violence?
According to the Survivors Handbook on womensaid.org “The police are a key 24 hour agency for women experiencing domestic violence, and the first port of call in emergency.” But here is a question, what does one do when an officer of the law is the one responsible for the violence that one endures? What do you do, call the police on the police? Victims of domestic violence at the hands of police officers are trapped in a hyper-vulnerable space of existence. Diane Wetendorf, author of Police Domestic Violence: Handbook for Victims points out that if your abuser is an officer of the law, you may be afraid to:
• Call the police — He is the police.
• Go to a shelter — He knows where the shelters are located.
• Have him arrested — Responding officers may invoke the code of silence.
• Take him to court — It’s your word against that of an officer, and he knows the system.
• Drop the charges — You could lose any future credibility and protection.
• Seek a conviction — He will probably lose his job and retaliate against you.
Unlike most victims of domestic violence, those victimized by officers of the law are dealing with an abuser that possibly possesses a unique set of skills/tools that may be utilized to the detriment of those being abused. One of the most obvious (and terrifying) tools that the victims of domestic abuse at the hands of an officer of the law is the fact that those abusive hands always have accessibility to loaded firearms. Not only do the officers have access to loaded firearms, they are trained to use it with the intent to shoot to kill. Those same abusive hands (in many cases) are trained in some form of tactical martial arts for the purposes of self-defense while on the streets. What we now have is a domestic abuser trained to fire multiple types of firearms, that has a license to carry said firearms on there person at all times, that is also trained to be proficient in hand-to-hand combat. Law Enforcement officers beat their significant others at nearly double the national average. Several studies indicate that women suffer domestic abuse in at least 40 percent of police officer families. For American women overall, the figure is 25 percent, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. According to The Advocates for Human Rights Organization, studies indicate that police families are 2-4 times more likely than the general population to experience domestic violence. In a nationwide survey of 123 police departments, 45% had no specific policy for dealing with officer-involved domestic violence. In that same survey, the most common discipline imposed for a sustained allegation of domestic violence was counseling. Only 19% of departments indicated that officers would be terminated after a second sustained allegation of domestic violence. As disturbing as this information may seem, one should ask, why are we not hearing about this, particularly as domestic violence has been gaining media attention? The case of Bob Mullally may shed some light on this lack of discussion/association between domestic violence and officers paid to protect and serve.
In 1997 Bob Mullally, a well known bureaucrat with a background in government operations leaked confidential Los Angeles Police Department files to former KCBS reporter Harvey Levin, exposing a domestic violence cover up within the ranks of the LAPD that grew out of a lawsuit brought against the LAPD by the family of a woman killed in 1992 by her estranged husband, Victor Ramos, an LAPD officer with a known history of spousal abuse. Ramos used his service weapon to murder his estranged wife, and her male partner, before eventually turning the weapon on himself committing suicide. As reported by LA Weekly’s Jim Crogan:
Although Mullally’s whistleblowing failed to bring any officers to justice, some positive developments did occur. In 1997, after Levin’s televised report on the leaked files was aired, former L.A. Police Commission Inspector General Katherine Mader reviewed the handling of domestic-violence cases involving LAPD officers.
Mader looked at 227 cases investigated between 1990 and 1997. Her 1997 report found that in more than 75 percent of confirmed cases, the officer’s personnel file failed to mention or minimized the domestic abuse; 29 percent of investigated officers were later promoted; and 31 percent were accused of committing violence at home. Mader also found that 30 officers were repeat offenders.
Of these 91 allegations that were sustained by the department, only 4 resulted in a criminal conviction. That means that the LAPD itself determined in 91 cases that an officer had committed domestic violence, but only 4 were convicted on a criminal charge. Moreover, of these 4 officers who were convicted on a criminal charge of domestic violence, one was suspended for only 15 days and another had his conviction expunged. On the other hand, Bob Mullally, the man that brought the departmental domestic violence epidemic to the forefront, the man that many would consider a hero and a role model for his courageousness and bravery- he was convicted of contempt of court by U.S. District Judge William Keller and sentenced to serve 60 days at Oxford Federal Prison in south-central Wisconsin. To make matters worse (unlike the officers that he exposed) Mr. Mullally lost his job as a substitute teacher, and in a cruelly ironic twist, it all was rooted in a misunderstanding that he was an “abuser” and not the one exposing the abusers. Bob Mullally explains, “Kids were being beaten. Women were being beaten and raped. Their organs were ruptured. Bones were broken. It was hard cold-fisted brutality by police officers, and nothing was being done to protect their family members. And I couldn’t stand by and do nothing.”
While Bob Mullally’s illegal brand of heroism briefly shined a spotlight on the issue of domestic violence within a prominent police department, another section of the government generally abides by the, “Camouflage Code of Silence,” as described by Stacy Bannerman of Women’s e-news as the Armed Service’s refusal to acknowledge the war on military wives and women veterans, and instills fear to ensure that most domestic abuse is not reported. But also, this refusal to avow the social pestilence that is domestic violence is an issue of not wanting to disturb the heroic image/narrative that has become a patriotic/political norm surrounding American military soldiers. The heroic imagery and narrative construction of the troops have been hyperized since 9/11.
This year marks the thirteenth anniversary of the September 11th attacks. During the 9/11 observance ceremony at the Pentagon Memorial in Arlington, Va. President Obama said, “It has now been thirteen years. Thirteen years since the peace of an American morning was broken,” the POTUS continued, “Thirteen years after small and hateful minds conspired to break us, America stands tall and proud.” On September 20, 2001 then President George W. Bush declared that the United States was preparing for a “war on terror,” and on October 7, 2001, the “War on Terror” had begun in Afghanistan. While we are told to “Never forget” 9/11, we are conjointly never talking about the war on women in relationships with veterans of the ongoing “War on Terror.” As reported by Amy D. Marshall, Jillian Panuzio, and Casey T. Taft, In the United States rates of IPV (intimate partner violence) perpetrated by current or former members of the U.S. military is between “one to three times higher than rates found among representative studies of the general population.” According findings by the Department of Defense:
• Combat veterans are responsible for almost 21 percent of domestic violence nationwide.
• Frequency of domestic violence calls from people affiliated with the military from 2006 to 2011 more than tripled.
• Domestic abuse in the Army from 2003 to 2010 rose by 177 percent.
In 2009 Stacy Bannerman notes:
In the past five years, hundreds, if not thousands, of women have been beaten, assaulted, or terrorized when their husbands, fiancés, or boyfriends got back from Iraq. Dozens of military wives have been strangled, shot, decapitated, dismembered, or otherwise murdered when their husbands brought the war on terror home. These women are as much casualties of war as are the thousands of troops who killed themselves after combat.
Interestingly an intersection between domestic/intimate partner violence, the military, and the National Football League had taken place on July 20, 2013, but little attention was paid to it. This incident involved Arizona Cardinal’s cheerleader, Megan Welter, and her boyfriend.
In the incident of intimate partner violence that had taken place between Arizona Cardinals cheerleader Megan Welter and her boyfriend, the perpetrator was arrested for alleged assault, disorderly conduct and criminal damage. Similarly to the case involving Ray Rice and Janay Palmer, the disturbing incident was caught on camera, but unlike the surveillance footage that caught Rice knocking Palmer unconscious, the victim in this case was able to film this disturbing moment with their cell phone, and the perpetrator was fully aware of the fact that this violent assault was being filmed. In the footage (lasting 2:13 seconds) captured between the cheerleader and her boyfriend, the military vet displays all of the classic signs of an abusive partner. The video shows the aggressor displaying jealousy, controlling behavior, hypersensitivity, verbal abuse, and physical abuse. As is the case in many domestic violence cases, the victim came to the defense of the abuser. In a statement made post the incident, the victim is quoted as saying:
People make mistakes, no one is perfect. I honestly want the best for her and I hope that this doesn’t take away from the good things that she has done for both the NFL, as well as the service to our country. People seem to only remember the bad and it is easy to point fingers while standing on the outside. Now with that said, violence is never the answer and I honestly hope that this can be a learning experience for her and everyone else.
Yes, in this particular case, the cheerleader (Megan Welter) is also the war veteran that served a 16-month tour in Iraq, who is also the abuser- the boyfriend is the victim.
ESPN never featured this story on Sports Center, First Take, or Mike and Mike in the Morning. When Terry O’Neill, the president of the National Organization for Women, issued a statement saying that, “NOW continues to ask for Roger Goodell to resign, and for his successor to appoint an independent investigator with full authority to gather factual data about domestic violence, dating violence, sexual assault and stalking within the entire NFL community — not just regarding the Ray Rice incident,” I am not sure if she had Megan Welter in mind. Megan was not suspended indefinitely from her job with the NFL, and on her current bio on the Arizona Cardinals website, it does not mention the footage of her verbally and physically abusing her partner. According to the National Intimate Partner and Sexual Violence Survey released in December 2011, within said year an estimated 5,365,000 men and 4,741,000 women were victims of intimate partner physical violence. This would mean that (based on this research) in 2011 more men than women were victims of intimate partner physical violence. The same way that we were not exposed to the whistle blowing by Bob Mullally, exposing the domestic violence epidemic that was taking place within the LAPD, or we never discuss the war on women taking place within the military, we were also not exposed to the NFL cheerleader (who happened to be an Iraq War vet), that was caught on tape beating and verbally abusing her partner for at least 2:13 seconds. Anyone can be a victim of domestic violence, and conjointly, anyone can be an abuser. Abuse occurs in all age groups, social or economic classes, races, religions, educational levels, geographic locations and sexes.
It’s unfortunate, but it seems as if the only time that America is willing to have public conversations about domestic violence is when prominent Black entertainers are the ones serving as the center of attention. I’m thinking of Ike and Tina Turner, Mike Tyson and Robin Givens, Orenthal James “O.J.” Simpson and Nicole Brown-Simpson, Bobby Brown and Whitney Houston, Chris Brown and Rihanna, Chad Ochocinco and Evelyn Lozada, and now, Ray Rice and Janay Palmer. It’s never a national conversation when for example, Charlie Sheen is arrested for choking his wife, or Sean Penn assaulting (his then wife) Madonna, or when Internet mogul/ RadiumOne CEO Gurbaksh Chahal whose home security footage reportedly showed Chahal beating and kicking his girlfriend 117 times during the 30-minute attack. This brings us back to ESPN’s Skip Bayless’ observation/proclamation that Ray Rice has become the, “face of domestic violence.” Domestic violence has no face. And if there were a face of domestic/intimate partner violence, it would be that of one of its countless victims. And if there were a “face of domestic violence,” it probably would not want to have footage of said face being punched, and spit on being played on repeat, on TMZ, 24 hour news networks, blogs, Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, and Youtube. That person behind that abused “face of domestic violence” would probably ask to not have to relive the nightmare publically. The person behind that abused “face of domestic violence,” would probably want to have their wishes granted when they publically plead for people to refrain from playing footage of them being knocked unconscious in an elevator, forcing them to relieve the worst moment of their life in HD- well at least those are the sentiments of Janay Palmer-Rice.