Oct 05 2011

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NC: From 'Z' to 'A,' we're going backward on domestic violence

By John Railey, Winston-Salem Journal

One of the first stories I covered was that of Zsa Zsa Cotton, who was killed by her husband in Suffolk, Va., back in 1985.

I thought about Zsa Zsa on Monday as I read the lead news story in the Journal: A Walnut Cove man with a history of domestic violence was charged with fatally shooting his pregnant wife, Alicia Heath Bowman, while their 11-year-old son was in the house.

From Z to A. We’re going backward in regard to domestic violence. In the 25 years I’ve been in the newspaper business, I’ve seen attitudes change drastically toward drunken driving. That problem sure hasn’t stopped. But to a certain extent, it has been curbed.

I wish I could say the same thing about another problem that largely hinges on changing attitudes — domestic violence.

How many more women, children and, occasionally, men will have to be killed and maimed and traumatized before we finally start to seriously curb this problem?

Our editorial board has been hitting the problem especially hard for two years now this month, ever since a Winston-Salem police sergeant was fatally shot while running after a man who’d been harassing his ex-wife at her workplace. Sgt. Mickey Hutchens was a husband and father, and one of the city’s finest. The man who shot him, Monte Denard Evans, also wounded Officer Daniel Clark. Clark returned fire, killing Evans.

In the days and months after the incident, we reported on our editorial pages the terrible toll that domestic violence has taken on our county, region and state — more than 100 murders statewide some years, thousands of assaults annually in Forsyth County alone — and those are just the ones that are reported. Not to mention all the children who grow up traumatized, watching beatings in their homes. Some fail in school. Others grow up to be batterers themselves.

And nobody cares.

OK, many do care, especially the friends and family who lose loved ones. But most others either turn a blind eye to the problem, wink at it or blame the victims. It’s on them, I’ve heard countless people say, for not taking control of the problem. We all know the pattern. A woman swears out charges against her abuser, then drops them, then swears out charges, then drops them, then threatens to leave him, then goes back to him, etc., etc. etc.

Yes indeed, it’s enough to make you throw up your hands and say to heck with it.

But while we’re doing that, other hands are balling up into fists or grabbing knives or guns. They’re hurting the ones they supposedly love. And all too often, they hurt others as well — such as Sgt. Mickey Hutchens.

So I’ll repeat what we’ve been saying on this page for two years now: We need more community involvement in finding new strategies to fight domestic violence. That would include programs that get at the root of the problem, such as ones that show young girls and boys what healthy relationships are, and ones that help the battered secure financial independence so they can finally break free.

If we don’t take action, we’ll be guilty of what a wise man once called “a wicked silence.” And we’ll keep going backward.

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