One death is too many

Leslie D. Rose

It is Aug. 14, 2014, just under 100 people joined together on the steps of the Louisiana State Capital for a candlelight vigil in memory of Aleria Cyrus Reed – a woman who was murdered by her estranged husband, just months before an Aug. 1 legislation was passed to better support domestic violence victims, survivors and their families.

Cyrus-Reed, a member of Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Inc. brought the topic of domestic abuse to the forefront of her sorority’s awareness goals that year. Just a little more than one year after the legislation’s passing, a Geismar woman – Monica Johnson – another sorority member, is slain by her estranged husband, leaving Louisiana at the top of domestic violence homicide statistics.

Louisiana has domestic violence rates two to three times higher than the national average, according to Louisiana Coalition against Domestic Violence (LCADV) executive director, Beth Meeks,.

LCADV – the agency that provides domestic homicide tracking for the state – shows that in 2013, there were 2400 requests unmet by domestic violence agencies in Louisiana, because the needs far exceed the means – there are also 45 parishes that have no access to that type of support at all.

“We did not have enough advocates, we did not enough beds, we could not get to where they were,” Meeks said. “We have a long way to go. We had a good year, but this is only the start. We simply cannot pretend to be a state that supports family values and stand by quietly while women are murdered at this rate in our nation.”

IRIS Domestic Violence Center in Baton Rouge notes that domestic violence is the single major cause of injury to women with a woman being battered in the United States every 12 seconds and 30-33% of women homicides being committed by the victims’ husbands and boyfriends.

“Our record on domestic violence is abysmal,” Meeks said.

At the 2014 vigil, Meeks cautioned that the eyes of the nation would be on the state as Louisiana, as the blueprint for which other states seek to follow in regards to ending domestic violence.

“One death is too many,” she said. “To the women in the audience, no one is going to do this for us. You’re going to solve this problem because you’re going to rise up and demand something better. That’s how every civil rights action that succeeded in our nation’s history has made it.”

In what is now deeemed a controversial statement, Ascension Parish Sheriff Jeff Wiley also encouraged women to solve the problem of domestic violence, by advising victims to arm themslevs and be prepared to use the weapon.

In the now-infamous interveiw with WAFB, Wiley said: “Ladies, learn how to safely handle a weapon, learn how to safely store a weapon and when you’re in a situation like this, shoot him in your backyard before he gets in your house. Drop him.”

Domestic violence support groups responded critically to Wiley’s comment, saying that the message he delivered could potentially prove dangerous to women, already in threatening situations.

Wiley, who spoke to the Donaldsonville Rotary Club on Aug. 13, stands behind his comments.

“In response to the comments made by the [domestic violence] support groups, first I would ask them to fully read and digest the case facts before passing judgment on the history of this case,” Wiley said.

“In December 2014, my office responded [to a call] and arrested the [alleged] murderer (David Johnson) on felony domestic violence – the victim, [Monica] Johnson was non compliant at the scene and through the prosecution phase she formally requested the charges be dropped. June 2015, he was seen in her neighborhood one day after having moved out earlier and she called 911 and deputies responded. There was no restraining order at that time, and in fact, it was the sheriffs office that assisted her in obtaining one after that call. There were never any reports of him violating this [temporary restraining order] – I reiterate this because there is an assertion made by this group that the system failed Ms. Johnson.”

While Wiley said that he welcomes critique, he fails to see where there was any omission by his office regarding the Johnson case.

“Now as to the notion of victims shouldn't be protecting themselves – you bet I stand behind my point that abuse victims can and have a right to protect themselves from bodily harm, and Louisiana law states that explicitly,” Wiley said. “By the groups own admission, it is stated that [temporary restraining orders] are not the total answer – surely this case attests to that, so, frankly I am a bit taken aback by groups that exist to serve abused victims reacting so harshly to a simple assertion that victims have options. And one is to get a hand gun, get trained with it and when the abuser – at 11 p.m. climbs a six-foot wooden fence from the woods in the back, and the victim sees him, and easily identifies him as the man who tried to strangle her – she can, and should use this weapon before he breaks the glass back door and enters and bludgeons her to death.

We differ fundamentally here.”

David Johnson, Sr. was arrested around 1 a.m., Aug. 10 following the Aug. 9 death of his estranged wife, Monica Johnson. He was booked in Ascension Parish Jail and charged with first degree murder, aggravated burglary with a weapon and violation of protective orders.

According to LCADV, there were 178 domestic homicides in Louisiana from 2010 to 2012 – many of which temporary restraining orders were in effect.