Baltimore Ravens football star, Ray Rice, was recently suspended by the NFL for two games after a video showed him dragging his unconscious girl friend (now his wife) out of an Atlantic City hotel elevator.
Today the Ravens fired Ray Rice and the NFL placed him on indefinite suspension after a new video showed Rice punching and knocking out his girlfriend moments before he dragged her unconscious body out of the elevator.
I wondered how, in the first video, did the NFL and the Baltimore Ravens think she became unconscious and unresponsive?
This is the first of several pieces I wrote over the past decade about abuse.
PERSONAL ABUSE: INDIFFERENCE DENIES OUR HUMANITY
Once you dehumanize somebody, everything else is possible.”
I drove on the near-north side of Chicago on a Friday night many years ago. I was a young agent in the United States Secret Service.
As I turned the corner, I saw a woman cling desperately to a chain-linked fence that surrounded a dark parking lot on a side-street. Her husband or boyfriend beat on her body.
I pulled off the road, got out of my car, and told him to stop. He came at me. The smell of alcohol permeated the cool fall air. He kicked me in the right knee and tore my pants. I stepped away and told him to back up. He came forward, kicked again and missed. I broke his nose.
The police came. The man cursed them. They administered some street-corner justice of their own. I would not smart-off to the Chicago police.
Welcome to the world of personal abuse.
Many years later…
My senses felt assaulted as I listened.
As I recall:
The popular radio personality, his sidekicks, and callers to his show denigrated the agency that helps victims of personal abuse, the agency’s employees, and their dedicated volunteers—most young women. The host was loud, ferocious, and righteous.
As I listened to the anger, the issue they felt so upset about was not important to me. I listened–fascinated by the host’s melt-down. I stopped my work–riveted on his tirade encouraged by his comrades and callers. I felt embarrassed for him. I wondered what personal history it was that generated such anger within him.
He bawled, “They don’t want to help women; they are out for money.” He asked, “Who are those people” as if they were demons; he offered to take a female employee of the agency to lunch at Hooter’s restaurant. He thought his belittlement funny. I thought he sounded like Howard Stern. My wife stopped listening—sick to her stomach. I began to sweat like I would if he talked to my daughters with such hatred and derisiveness.
His sycophants hooted with laughter and righteous self-pity. They said they felt sorry for the husbands of these women—they are man-haters, hate women too, and by God, they’re extreme feminists and zealots. I felt sorry for the wives of those throwbacks.
The host’s bluster and bellows woke the pigs in his audience—poor victims of women all to hear them talk. They cackled as they congratulated him for abusing people they knew nothing of, and they talked about the sexuality of high school girls at fund-raising car washes, of women in the lingerie departments of stores, and how women dressed at the grocery story—women bear responsibility for their own dehumanization according to the wisdom of these atavists. The foolish chatter mocked the wives, sisters, daughters, and mothers of the community.
The talking head seemed to revive the freaks in his audience and for a moment I imagined they felt better about themselves because of his celebrity status. Perhaps they felt he was one of them. A soft-spoken caller disagreed with this man of the people. The personality screamed at the man and hung up. “I bet he wears a toga at home” the courageous host mocked. Disagree and you will pay a price. I thought of what a fascinating sociological and psychological study the callers and their hosts would make.
This moment in talk radio reminded me that sexism in all its destructive forms is alive and well in mainstream America.
A few days later…
My wife and I stopped at the local grocery. A tall, muscular young man ran past us in the parking lot. Outraged and out of control, he screamed profanities at a young woman in a car. He kicked the car’s door, pulled it open, and dragged the terrified woman to the pavement.
Much older than when a Secret Service agent, I wondered what I could do if he hit the defenseless woman. I imagined I would try to distract him and stay away from him.
My wife called 911. The operator asked, “What do you want us to do about it?”
The man got into the car and accelerated, tires squealing, past us. The woman walked away. He circled around and caught up to her, got out of the car, and ordered her to get in and drive away.
Twenty minutes later a police car drove by.
Another story at about the same time…
The August 23, 2007 Minneapolis Star Tribune newspaper reported that at least a half-dozen people witnessed a rape in St. Paul, Minnesota. One person tried to help. None of the others intervened or called the police. The lack of intervention in this case reminds of one in Minneapolis 10 years ago when a woman’s face was slashed down to the bone at a bus stop in the busy Uptown area. No one stopped to help or called the police.
The lack of intervention in the St. Paul case calls to mind the 1964 murder of Kitty Genovese, who was stabbed to death outside an apartment building in New York City. Although as many as a dozen people saw parts of the attack, no one stepped in or immediately called for help. Who bears responsibility?
As I write this essay, professional football player Michael Vick has pled guilty to committing violence against dogs. People feel understandably outraged—as am I, the owner of two dogs.
But what about the lack of outrage about 40 instances of alleged violence against women by professional football players since 2000, asked sports columnist Mike McFeely in The Forum of Fargo, North Dakota (animal abuse and child, spousal, or elder abuse often go together).
McFeely reported that experts believe violent incidents against women remain vastly underreported: for every assault where police get called, at least three or four go unreported. Estimates range from 960,000 to three million women annually who suffer physical abuse from an intimate partner. Emotional abuse magnifies these numbers beyond imagination.
The shadows of verbal and physical abuse of women and children by men hide a dark and dirty underbelly of every community. St. Paul, Minnesota Police Chief John Harrington said: “What affects one single woman out there…affects families, affects neighborhoods, affects the city, affects all of us.”
Many of us live in denial. Others shrink–afraid to speak up.
Many lawyers enable abusive men in exchange for money. Reputable companies profit from the dehumanization of women. Some judges choose to be ignorant of the dynamics of abuse. Some celebrities objectify women. All bear a share of responsibility for personal abuse.
Deep down many in all communities still blame the victims of personal abuse—maybe because many men see a little of themselves in the abusers and some women defend their abusers to deny or excuse the abuse they suffer.
Many see the results of abuse to the wives, mothers, daughters, coworkers, and neighbors in the community when others dehumanize them: the clergy, community leaders, the police administration, the doctors and nurses, the school administrators, the mayor and city council, the psychologists and social workers, and the judges and lawyers. Why do so many of them look on silently? Why do you and I?
We compromise our humanity when we look on indifferent to the abuse of those who suffer.
Holocaust survivor Elie Wiesel wrote, “I swore never to be silent whenever and wherever human beings endure suffering and humiliation. We must take sides. Neutrality helps the oppressor, never the victim. Silence encourages the tormentor, never the tormented. Sometimes we must interfere.”
How do we avoid indifference? We get involved and serve our communities. We serve the less fortunate. We will find it hard to be indifferent in the presence of people (and/or animals) in need.
To refuse to look this dark behavior in the face—to not confront evil–enables it, and we give up our freedom.
No man has the right to harm the body or spirit of women and children—never, ever.
Women and children are not responsible for men’s violence—never, ever.
We need to say “NO” to men who abuse women and children.