“See? That’s why I’m gonna be a mermaid when I grow up.”
Last night, I was honored to be in the audience of an intimate performance by Felicia Moss-Eaton, cousin to Whitney Houston, at the 73 See Gallery on Pine Street in Montclair. As an utterly secular person with an appreciation for church and Gospel music, I had looked forward to the evening even before knowing how the week’s sad new items and political foolishness would drag me down. With a new album of songs to introduce, Felicia Moss-Eaton made sure the evening was uplifting, personal, and just what I needed.
With a handful of attendees at the start of the performance, Mrs. Moss-Eaton promised us Gospel, R&B, and a touch of Pop music to entertain us. She started with Anita Baker covers, and we also were treated to Stevie Wonder, an upbeat version of “I Will Always Love You” and more. Predictably, I got teary-eyed during Stevie Wonder’s “You Are the Sunshine of My Life” and I predict that her new single “Window to My Soul” will be a first dance choice at many weddings.
The 73 See Gallery on Pine Street in Montclair often has community events and presentations, and Felicia Moss-Eaton promised to be a return guest many times in the near future. The new album No More Tears has a fun combination of R&B, Pop, and Gospel that will entertain audiences from all backgrounds. Those of us lucky enough to be in attendance last night are grateful that the songstress performed despite a difficult couple of weeks after family trauma.
Listen to snippets of the new album No More Tears on iTunes.
We usually only hear about domestic abuse cases that result in maiming, murder, or public violence and outbursts. We don’t hear about the day-to-day insults, put-downs, hard grabs, shoves, threats, incessant text messages, punches. We don’t hear about the most common form of domestic abuse, financial abuse, which occurs in ~98% of domestic violence cases. But children living in these homes do.
There are no physical signs to going over bills and payments with a highlighter or demanding the change and receipts at the end of each day. There are no bruises when someone is told which shirt to wear and which buttons to close. But the children see it and hear it and process it.
So when I read about the horrific end results like the recent shooting of a mother of three by her domestic partner, I also think about what her three children (all six and younger) have experienced over the years. I think about how children living in abusive homes form ideas about relationships and how to treat family members and how to show love and how to learn to trust others and how to survive.
Those of us who can MUST speak up and scout resources and have information at the ready in case we are called on to share it. Those of us who can MUST stop looking away and being polite and brushing aside things that seem off.
Because it does affect us all. These children are in our schools. Our religious institutions. Our neighborhoods. Our grocery stores. Our homes. We all know someone who is living in a domestic violence situation. We all know someone who is an abuser. It’s a challenge to which we all must rise.
Please join me at the 5th Annual S.O.F.I.A. Walk Against Domestic Violence in Montclair’s Canterbury Park. Whether you’re a sponsor, a donor, a walker, a team leader, or help spread the word — you are appreciated!
We can get overwhelmed by news, events, horrors, anger, emotion. It’s difficult to realize that in the course of human history, we’re actually doing pretty well right now. Well, maybe except for the climate stuff.
But we see so much and surround ourselves in real time with accidents and hate and desperation and callousness and tragedy — and many of us feel compelled to act and respond and try to change it for the better. It will wear you down, my friend. And in that time, I ask you to stop and look for the helpers. Give time and attention to those who reach out to do Good.
And then take a deep breath and think about all the people in your life who have helped you along and held you up. The haters get far too much attention, don’t you think?
And if you’re really bad off, maybe look up an episode of Mr. Rogers Neighborhood, make a nice cup of tea or hot chocolate, put away the phone and iPad and laptop, and just immerse yourself in cardigans, feeding the fish, The Land of Make Believe, and unconditional acceptance. Do it as part of a Mental Health Day, or just because.
My reaction while watching the video of Sandra Bland’s arrest caught me by surprise. I wept. Ugly wept. I suppose I’ve been thinking about weeping like that since first hearing about her story and seeing hashtags like #IfIDieInPoliceCustody scroll by on my screen.
You should watch it. You can do so here.
I started weeping when Sandra Bland made the choice (which wasn’t a choice) to leave her car. I recognized her voice and words and body language as someone who was scared for her life but trying to maintain her dignity in the face of a police officer who was trying to maintain his pride after being challenged. You can hear it in Sandra Bland’s repeated “for a fucking traffic ticket.” And you can hear it in the police officer’s “This right here says a warning. *YOU* started creating the problems.” Hopelessness versus Defensiveness. Helplessness versus Power.
When I worked as a Dean of Security, I was called a lot of things that attacked my gender, race, (what students thought was) my religion, and my body type. I had a lot of irritated teenagers (and teachers) talk to me with a lack of respect. I was threatened, glared at, stomped at, and there were a lot of eyes rolled and teeth sucked in my direction. Over five years as a Dean of Security in a Brooklyn high school, I lost my temper once with a student. But I didn’t put my hands on her.
Watching the full video of Sandra Bland’s arrest, I recognized the escalation. I can identify several times where the police officer goaded Sandra Bland into reacting. I can hear the fear in Sandra Bland’s voice come out as anger and rebellion. I can hear the despair in her voice. And the fear. So much fear.
As teachers we had to take the high road despite being taunted and dared because we were professionals. And human. It helped to have empathy for our students. It helped to know something about their lives and their dreams. But it wasn’t easy. And not all of the teachers or fellow Deans of Security were successful at finding that high road. It doesn’t feel good to be challenged or to have your plan for an organized and calm day to be disrupted by someone else’s behavior. We all have our lives and stresses and bad days and illnesses and crappy spouses and children and neighbors. But that’s living in a world with other people. That’s life.
Police officers have even more of a calling to take the high road. For one thing, they are armed. For another, they — quite literally — have the law on their side. The medical community’s mantra of “Do No Harm” must apply to officers of the law ten-fold. When it doesn’t, the personal biases and prejudices and hatreds and resentments cost lives and harm us all. This is not an issue that happens to someone else. If it happens to one, it is happening to us all. (And let’s not pretend this is only in Texas.)
We need to get past the point where Pushing the Envelope is demanding that people are treated as human beings. And that’s going to take those of us with privilege to stand up and risk some discomfort and strife. It’s going to take some in the police force and emergency services to stand up and speak out. If we say we believe everyone should be treated as a human being, there can be no tiered belief system. And we all have to swallow some pride and drop the defensiveness if we hope to move forward.
Rhiannon Giddens has had a wide and varied career, and her response to the Charleston murders shows that there is still more talent to explore. She’ll be in Brooklyn on Saturday. I found this video via NPR Music’s First Watch. Please take a few minutes to watch it. The imagery and symbolism and message are appropriately heavy-handed; this is no time for subtlety. And I appreciate the final message — literally spelled out for her audience. Know Your History. Know Your Mind. Speak Up. Be Loud. Because guess what? It’s been four weeks — just four weeks — since nine people were gunned down in their church. And while it seems like a lot has happened with flags symbolizing institutionalized hate and a President singing “Amazing Grace” and the illumination of a ridiculously irresponsible policy regarding background checks for firearms, our country is still awash in guns and scores of people are shot and killed every day. It’s been only two months since a teacher and mother was gunned down in front of her home by the father of her child. It’s also been only three months since 15-year old Armoni Sexton was shot and killed. He loved basketball. It’s been only four months since a store owner was shot and killed as he tried to help a girl move to safety during a gang fight. It’s been only five months since a son was shot and killed at his father’s liquor store. It was 4 PM on a Sunday. It’s been only six months since New Jersey’s first gun-related domestic violence murder of 2015. And then we’re into last year. And these were just a few of New Jersey’s gun deaths. And that’s from a state with the 5th LOWEST gun death rate in the USA. This list also doesn’t touch on things like an unarmed man shot by police or the mother of nine who made almost two dozen domestic violence calls over years before being shot to death by her still on active duty ex-husband. All this to say that Rhiannon Giddens’ call to action in her response to the Charleston murders is clear. And yes, Know your History. Know your Mind. Speak Up. Be Loud. Refuse to look away from the Ugly, and learn to appreciate Hope when it makes itself available. Honor those lost with Action. Stay Horrified. Stay Angry. Stay Inspired.
And yet, there is a persistent fantasy, wholly unconnected to data or the cycle of abuse, that putting a firearm in the hands of a woman in the midst of a domestic violence situation will make her safer. The gunslinging fantasy of the liberated and angry woman having her say before kicking her abuser in the balls and then shooting him dead is just that: a fantasy. (A fantasy with jail and children in state care, by the way.) Sure, we can spend lots of time getting red in the face with anecdotals and what-ifs, but the data won’t change: When a gun is present in a domestic violence situation, women are more likely to be killed. We see evidence of this all too often, including when the gun belongs to the victim.
New Jersey’s Governor Christie recently directed his Attorney General to file a new regulation expediting permits for firearms to victims of domestic violence and other violent crimes. I am certain that this candidate for POTUS did NOT consult with any legitimate domestic violence advocates on this directive. As a friend who works in a shelter said, this is “toxic to the safety” of those in domestic violence situations. And it shows a complete ignorance of the financial, privacy, and grooming reality in which most victims live.
So there’s that. But Governor Christie has YET to sign legislation on his desk that takes a more sensible approach by adding a layer of safety. Assembly Bill 4218, which passed the State Assembly and Senate with bi-partisan support, is waiting for a signature. It makes sense. It makes sense. IT MAKES SENSE!
- Require domestic abusers to surrender their firearms while a domestic violence restraining order is in effect, or when they are convicted of a domestic violence crime or offense;
- Require an abuser’s firearms purchaser identification cards and permits to purchase a handgun to be suspended during domestic violence restraining orders;
- Require an abuser’s firearms purchaser identification cards and permits to purchase a handgun to be revoked if the individual is convicted of a domestic violence crime or offense; and
- Require cross-referencing of records to assist in determining whether an alleged domestic abuser owns a firearm in order to assist law enforcement’s ability to ensure that an abuser does not have access to firearms.
Those who claim the process is already in place, have a(n incomplete) point. New Jersey has some solid laws in place regarding firearms and domestic violence. However, as we see time and again, it’s not enough.
This bill, A4218, can help victims of domestic violence feel safer and be safer while not infringing on law-abiding citizens. So why did the NRA and its New Jersey lobbying arm send representatives to testify AGAINST this bill, even as they called domestic violence complaints “annoyances”? More importantly, why hasn’t Governor Christie already signed this bill? He has time to attempt to (some would say un-state-Constitutionally) loosen the gun laws in a state with some of the LOWEST gun deaths in the United States. Surely he can find time, even while on the road, to sign a bill supported by domestic violence advocates, law enforcement, and both sides of the aisle in the State Legislature.
For other posts related to this topic:
War is Hell, no matter how we commemorate the anniversaries. Read about one horrific and sad anniversary here before we celebrate the birthday of the United States of America in two days. Click on the image to view the entirety of a moving, haunting sculpture that Marie Uchytilová created to commemorate the children of Lidice, a small village in what was then Czechoslovakia, lost to World War II in 1942.
Now that the Montclair Farmers Market is back in full swing, the crowds are back and the vendors have their complete selection of wares on display. It’s always a thrill to see Tassot Apiaries with their honey sticks and beeswax candles. But my favorite item from Tassot is the raw honey with walnuts. Just seeing the jars brings me back 15 years to traveling in Spain, in Las Alpujarras. At many of the turn-offs to small villages in the mountains, you could stop and buy jars filled with honey and walnuts.