Jul 7, 2014
The following is from an April 6 presentation in Baltimore at a Spark public meeting after the showing of the documentary “Crime after Crime.”
There are no words that can fully express the magnitude of injustices on top of injustices heaped on Debbie Peagler. Unfortunately, she is not alone.
Women in the U.S. are twice as likely to suffer domestic violence as breast cancer. Far more Americans have been killed in the last dozen years at the hands of their spouses or partners than in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Most were women.
No, Debbie Peagler is not alone, not only because she was violently abused, but because she was tried, convicted and imprisoned for defending herself. Ninety percent of the women in jail for murder I, murder II or voluntary manslaughter were trying to defend themselves from a husband’s or boyfriend’s violence. A study conducted by the Michigan’s Women’s Justice Clemency Project found some very revealing statistics about defendants who were victims of domestic violence. One is that domestic violence victims who killed their spouse had higher conviction rates and longer sentences than all others being charged with homicide, including men with histories of violent crimes.
In one case in Baltimore County, a judge sentenced Kenneth Peacock to 18 months – for killing his unfaithful wife.
The very next day, in the same county, a different judge sentenced Patricia Ann Hawkins double that for killing her abusive husband in self-defense. And what do we learn from this? It is OK to kill your cheating wife. It is not OK for a wife to defend herself against an abusive husband.
Many times, as it was in Debbie Peagler’s trial, no judge allowed the history of abuse to be shown during the trial. In the U.S., killing in self-defense is not a crime: however for most women, neither the laws of self-defense nor evidence of battering are allowed to give a complete picture of the situation. This is the picture: a woman dies every eight hours from domestic violence. And yet courts dare to repeatedly send women to jail for killing their abusers.
In a Florida case, Marissa Alexander was convicted in 2012 on three counts of aggravated assault with a deadly weapon. One count for each of her two children and one for her husband. And sentenced to 20 years in prison. Was anyone hurt or killed? No! She fired a warning shot when her husband threatened to kill her and charged at her. And he was in violation of a restraining order. But she’s the one going to jail!
Once in prison, women are often subjected to sexual and physical abuse from the guards. A Department of Justice report showed rising abuse of female prisoners and corrections officers easily getting away with rape and other violence and abuse. Pregnant women are routinely shackled during the birthing process in 32 states including Maryland. Here female prisoners are shackled while giving birth!
The police can’t, don’t, won’t enforce all the restraining orders all the time. A restraining order is only a piece of paper – it rarely protects an abused or threatened woman. Courts continually demonstrate that they oppose women defending themselves.
It is too pervasive and systematic to be simply bad cops, bad prison guards, bad prosecutors, bad judges, illegal incarceration. What these stories and statistics add up to is not just the legal system but an entire society that enforces and condones violence against women.
Even though it happens behind closed doors in intimate relationships, hidden and secret, domestic violence is absolutely a social problem that requires a social solution. It’s not just a question of some violent men. It comes from the way society is organized. Domestic violence, like rape and most violence against women or children is based on the organization of society into social classes and on the development of the family as we know it today as the basic economic unit.
That organization still makes most women and their children dependent on an individual man for their support. And the exploitation to which both women and men workers are subjected often leads to the violence that explodes within families.
The history of violence against women today bears out the truth in Marx’s observation that the oppression of women in any society is the measure of how oppressive overall the society is.