Black women are still left out of larger discussions of domestic violence because society at large does not care about their lives.
This essay contains discussions of violence against women
Last week, Dr. Tamara O’Neal was gunned down by her ex-fiancé, along with two others in the hospital where she worked. It’s reminiscent of when Karen Smith was killed during a school shooting carried out by her husband last year. He was a beloved pastor, though former partners had accused him of domestic violence in the past.
Last week, Stefanie Vallery was stabbed to death by her estranged husband, and her sister and daughter were both severely injured while trying to protect her. So was Aisha Fraser, in front of her children. Her ex-husband, a former judge, had assaulted her so badly in 2014 that she needed facial reconstruction surgery. He served only nine months. Both of these instances harken back to when Jeannine Skinner was stabbed to death by her boyfriend last year. They had been dating a little over two months and he had a long history of domestic violence. She’d hoped she could help him.
In 1996, the Domestic Violence Offender Gun Ban, also known as the Lautenberg Amendment, was established to prevent accused and convicted domestic abusers from purchasing guns. However, this ban did not require them to turn over any guns they already owned. Since then, some states have rectified this, effectively closing this gap, but most states have not, and this isn’t the only loophole—the ban only applies to domestic and marital relationships and people who have children together, which leaves many people vulnerable within the “boyfriend loophole”.
Additionally, abusers have even gone to court in efforts to have their gun rights returned to them, as they feel they never should have been taken away in the first place. Lawyers arguing their case have insisted that there is a hierarchy of violence, where if the violence is planned, it should be considered as a reason to keep guns away from the abuser, but that impulsive violence shouldn’t—which intentionally ignores the millions of victims of intimate partner violence (IPV). A study about nonfatal gun use in IPVs found that almost one million women in the U.S. had been shot or shot at by their partner, and about 4.5 million reported that an intimate partner threatened them with a gun. There is too strong of a relationship between IPV/domestic violence and mass shootings for us to keep shuffling misogyny and patriarchy on the back-burner during our conversations and actions to end gun violence.
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Nearly half of the women in the United States who are murdered are killed by their partners, and when those rates are highest for Black and Indigenous women, it comes as no surprise that their deaths are ignored by government officials and lawmakers. When this nation was brutally created, it was certainly not with any intent to protect them, on the contrary, they became and remain the focus of systemic white supremacy and misogyny, constantly receiving the brunt of it. Our society reflects the ways in which Black women are actively pushed to the margins through a series of micro and macro forms of aggression. And although she was not shot, Aisha Fraser’s murder shows just how much abusers like Lance Mason are not only protected and championed, but awarded jobs and support. And now Fraser is dead.
The judicial system—inherently unjust and unable to address and dismantle white supremacy, misogyny and other forms of oppression—only amplifies violence against marginalized people. And so where are Black and Indigenous women supposed to go for help? The entire history of policing and law enforcement shows the ways in which police forces aren’t here for Black and Brown women—police forces have actively abused Black and Indigenous women because white supremacist patriarchy is what their jobs were built upon. And what happens when the domestic abusers are the police? The National Center for Women and Policing information sheet details how two studies found that “at least 40 percent of police officer families experience domestic violence, in contrast to 10 percent of families in the general population.” Police forces “typically handle cases of police family violence informally, often without an official report, investigation, or even check of the victim’s safety. This ‘informal’ method is often in direct contradiction to legislative mandates and departmental policies regarding the appropriate response to domestic violence crimes.” And on the rare occasion that cops are found guilty of domestic violence, they are, “unlikely to be fired, arrested, or referred for prosecution.”
There are direct links between white supremacy, misogyny, domestic violence/IPV, toxic masculinity and the need for abusive men to maintain all control over the women in their lives by using the threat of and actual lethal violence. If we are unable to properly address the ways in which boys are taught to feel entitled to women’s bodies, time and attention, then we will continue to perpetuate these cycles of violence and mass shootings.
Black women are still left out of larger discussions of domestic violence because society at large does not care about their lives. They are seen as disposable sites of white supremacist, sexist violence. The state will never be able to guarantee protections because it does not want to. Black women are born into a world that sees them as the antithesis of what is supposed to exist, and so women like Dr. Tamara O’Neal will disappear from the nation’s consciousness because she doesn’t matter—she’s a just another Black woman who died at the hands of her ex who couldn’t bear to see her exist without him. But we will remember Dr. O’Neal, we will remember Aisha Fraser and how the state failed her, we will keep pushing these discussions forward to highlight them and the millions of other Black and Brown women who were killed as a result of a nation too cowardly to confront its own truths and abhorrent structures.
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