Tag Archives: domestic violence

Why I Keep Talking About Janay Palmer

The longest walk: Rice and Palmer hold hands on the way to court.

The longest walk: Rice and Palmer hold hands on the way to court.

My mother taught me a basic moral imperative before I even entered Kindergarten: Unless you’re defending yourself from someone who continues to attack you, don’t hit people. Having said that, it should be clear why I was appalled at Ray Rice’s behavior in the recently released casino footage. He not only hit his fiancée twice, but once she was out cold, he also dragged her and prodded her body with his foot the way one might handle a neighbor’s dead Golden Retriever. None of his actions were based in self-defense, and many were quick to point out his unjustified viciousness. I fully support this.

I was struck, however, by the almost utter absence of condemnation for Janay Palmer, who is now his wife. She incontrovertibly engaged in physical violence with Rice that night, and she acknowledges it. Journalistic sources acknowledge it. It’s a matter of record. It’s there for anyone to see, and based on the basic moral principle I outlined above, I say her behavior is worthy of some outrage, too. My opponents disagree, and their dissent takes three major forms.

First, there’s the argument of moral superiority. Some say that though they were both wrong, Rice was tremendously wrong, thus Palmer’s behavior doesn’t deserve much, if any, scrutiny. The problem with this thinking is that it sets a post hoc minimum threshold for moral indignation based on the relative severity of participants’ actions. In other words, do anything you’d like to do to another person; as long as the stench doesn’t reach a level to be determined later, and the other person’s foulness rises even higher than yours, we’ll look the other way.

This is indefensible. We have the capacity to direct moral outrage at both participants in an altercation while simultaneously acknowledging that one participant may have acted worse than the other. Bigger wrongs don’t need to blind us to smaller ones.

And speaking of size, it’s also wrongheaded to hold men to a higher moral standard than women just because men are generally capable of causing more harm. That’s the essence of the argument from physical relativism, and it basically states that bigger adults have a responsibility to act more ethically than smaller adults. A variation of this idea relies on the same fundamental assumption about the impact of size and gender to accuse me of blaming “the” victim.

I categorically reject the notion of one victim here. Two people victimized each other, regardless of the fact that one’s savagery was more complete. Rice is larger than Palmer, and most men are stronger than most women. Unfortunately, self-control isn’t doled out in proportion to size and strength. At the same time, decreased potential to inflict as much harm as your adversary due to differences in stature, strength, or skill doesn’t negate accountability for your actions toward them. Solange deserved universal public humiliation for her attack on Jay-Z in that other infamous elevator incident, regardless of whether he was ever in any “real” danger; instead, Solange got a magazine cover and Jay-Z got mocked. While total physical equality between the sexes is a fantasy, total moral equality shouldn’t be. Men and women must be judged equally for the pain and suffering that they inflict or attempt to inflict upon each other.

Finally, we come to the most dangerous argument against my rebuke of Palmer, and that’s the argument from moral necessity. The thinking goes something like this: Calls for disapproval of Janay Palmer are morally irresponsible since they shift the focus away from Rice’s actions and distract the public from the larger issue of male-on-female domestic violence. It’s an attractive point of view, and its allure flows from the appeal of its core truth: domestic violence is horrible, usually perpetrated by men toward women, and only a villain would derail efforts to eradicate it.

But therein lies its perniciousness. I’m not obfuscating Rice’s guilt, nor am I painting Palmer in the worst possible light so as to diminish his foulness. I’m shining a light on the darkness of the entire situation, and I can do that without negating the sheer ugliness of what he did. Despite the fact that female-on-male violence almost assuredly happens much less frequently than its opposite, if a woman puts her hands on a man and she’s not in clear and present danger, she’s wrong. No amount of lamentation regarding the state of violence that women in the world endure can make the case against that any stronger. When a victim becomes a victimizer, it doesn’t negate their former status, it just adds more tragedy to their story.

My stance is an utter refutation of domestic violence in all of its forms. We must condemn Rice, vividly illustrating why what he did was so far beyond the pale of acceptable behavior. Simultaneously, we should condemn Palmer in a manner proportional to what she did. Women need to know that physical weakness cannot be used as a shield or as a weapon when it comes to domestic violence incidents in which they’re perpetrators or participants. If we don’t do that, we’re sending mixed signals regarding our views on brutality, and that’s irresponsible.

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Fists and Fury: Chris Brown and the Limits of Rage

Love...in a hopeless place.

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What’s the stupidest thing you’ve ever done?  Maybe you had one, two…maybe two more drinks than you shoulda had before whippin’ the front of daddy’s S-Class into the back of a K-Mart.  Perhaps Alex from Finance caught you fudging the numbers just a tad on that expense report from the last convention in Vegas.  You know, the one when you and Rick snuck away from the group to hit up Peppermint Hippo and he told you he left his corporate card back at the hotel…after ordering two bottles of Armand de Brignac and putting like 7.6 lap dances on credit.  Or maybe you did something that was a whole lot worse.  Maybe your biggest mistake was not only stupid, but also despicable.  If so, you’d be rolling in the deep with Breezy himself, Mr. Chris Brown.

Unless you’ve been sleeping under a dude sleeping under a rock in the Mariana Trench, you know that Chris was accused, plead guilty to, and was convicted of assaulting his ex-girlfriend Rihanna.  For this offense he was sentenced to five years of probation and six months of community service.  More importantly, he was rightly strung up by the public and the media and forced to endure a well-deserved gauntlet of castigation and ridicule.  Oh, and he was unofficially banned from the Grammys, which is widely touted as the biggest night in music.

That Grammy embargo was lifted this year along with the lid on Hell, apparently.  I mean, muthaphuckas was UPSET.  For many folks, dude’s appearance on that stage was like bringing a pork chop sandwich with melted cheese into the Holy of Holies…on a Saturday.  In their minds, Chris Brown should remain persona non grata for the remainder of his life, and anything less is a (gulp) smack in the face to women everywhere.  They would have us accept the view that the stain of domestic violence is one that cannot be erased from the abuser’s hands.

I believe in the primacy of justice in a good society.  Therefore, I cannot do that.

Think back again to that stupidest and/or darkest deed of yours.  Now imagine that instead of it being someone’s moderately embarrassing  joke on Thanksgiving, or a grimy spot blessedly obscured by the sands of time, it occupies a massive stage, leering at you beneath an ever-blaring spotlight.  While this description fits Chris’ situation perfectly, it also applies to those of hundreds of thousands of other African-Americans who made mistakes big enough to put them in the grasp of the grinder that is the American criminal justice system.

According to the Independent Committee on Reentry and Employment, up to 60% of the formerly incarcerated in New York State alone are still unemployed one year after they make it home.  On top of that, many states don’t allow those with felony convictions to vote, thereby denying these individuals of the very essence of citizenship.  Once you consider the fact that black males are incarcerated at a rate that’s seven times higher than white men, the Instagram I’m sending should be hittin’ the top of your goddamned feed.  One man described his utterly pitiful situation this way: “You can’t get a job. You can’t vote. You can’t do nothing even 10 or 20 years later. You don’t feel like a citizen. You don’t even feel human.”  This is changing, but not nearly fast enough.  Whether it’s due to a warped sense of morality or a willing indulgence in vengeance, too many people refuse to give these individuals a second chance, and that ain’t justice.  That’s just bigotry wearing a self-righteous mask.

I am in no way suggesting that we should just toss homeboy’s offense into the sea of forgetfulness and pretend that it never happened.  While none of us were there and as such cannot know exactly what went down, we know that Chris admitted to wrongdoing.  And since he’s a celebrity, what HE should know is that his personal life will always be somewhat public.  (Sorry, kid, but that’s the cost of doing business.)  As such, I have no problems with reporters asking him questions about the incident and its aftermath or comedians taking the piss out of him during routines.  But banning him from any public appearance?  Blowing up Twitter, Facebook and the blogosphere with rants that suggest his Grammy appearance and win were like, the equivalent of Bull Connor hosting the BET Honors and winning an NAACP Image Award?  I think notly.

Dude is trying to pick up the pieces.  Keep in mind that he was 19 years old when this went down and that he’s still only 22, attempting to deal with the onslaught of a force that won’t take “I’m sorry” for an answer.  Take a second and reflect on how befuddled thou were in thine own mind at that age, then give Chris Brown a similar chance to learn from his mistakes and become a better man.  Yeah, he occasionally has verbal and electronic outbursts, or breaks a window or two, but this is to be expected from a still maturing human.  As long as he keeps his hands on a mic and not on a woman, we should let this man live.  Odin knows, none of us are without sin.  So back away from the stones, or don’t be surprised if that glass house of yours suddenly gets a little draftier.

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