When I began my journalism career as a police reporter in Burlington in the early 1980s, I was extraordinarily naive. Each morning I'd go to the Alamance County Sheriff's Office and Burlington Police Department to collect arrest reports from the previous day. And each morning I'd see the same warrants over and over: assault on a female, indecent exposure ... the number of domestic violence charges and other abuses, mainly targeting women, was staggering.
I had no clue. I had been sheltered in an easygoing middle-class family that rarely talked about such things. Few people not directly affected by domestic violence and other such abuses were talking about them. Even those affected often kept quiet, for fear of being hurt again or re-traumatized by a system that didn't take them seriously.
That was more than 30 years ago and little has changed in terms of the staggering number of cases. But two things have changed: 1) I am no longer surprised when I hear horrendous stories of violence and abuse, and 2) we all, as a society, are now talking about it — a lot. Violence and harassment against women are not getting swept under the carpet today. Women across the country and world are standing up and saying #MeToo.
As Charlotte women gear up for this week's anniversary of last year's remarkable Women's March on Charlotte, there are many more discussions to be had and much more to be outraged about. The #MeToo movement has put the issue of sexual harassment in the workplace front and center. The president's offensive comments in an Access Hollywood clip unearthed during the 2016 election continue to resonate with each new outrageous and demeaning thing he says about other groups of people.
In the news section this week, we present the first in our series of stories focusing on domestic violence, which continues to rip apart families and result in violence — often deadly, and most often against women.
According to the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department numbers that news editor Ryan Pitkin looks at, 23 of the 86 homicides in the county last year were the result of domestic violence, and that's an increase from the year before. And now, just two weeks into 2018, we've already seen four domestic violence-related homicides — two against children, one against a woman and another against a man. What's more, two of the perpetrators committed suicide afterwards — one man (suicide by cop) and one woman.
That's a total of six people dead in Charlotte as a result of domestic violence. And that is outrageous.
What's equally outrageous is that Charlotte police respond to about 100 domestic violence calls a day. Sgt. Craig Varnum, supervisor of CMPD's domestic violence unit, tells Pitkin in his story that domestic violence is "one of the most — if not the most — underreported crimes. Those ones we do know about, we can probably double those numbers easily."
Fortunately, Charlotte has a strong community of advocates who tirelessly work with victims of domestic violence, and soon the city will partner with several organizations to build a Family Justice Center — a model that, in other cities, has resulted in an increase in convictions of domestic abusers and a decrease in the bureaucracy that often sends victims back into the hands of their abusers.
I was naive when I began reporting on crime in Alamance County, but I'm no longer naive about the problem of domestic violence. None of us are, nor should we be. We can't afford to when our wives, husbands, children and friends continue to be abused and often murdered by family members.
On January 20, I will be back in Uptown Charlotte marching beside my sisters in this city, and I hope to see many of you there, too.
In more pleasant domestic news, I visited Louis Beeler and his girlfriend Karen Butler at Beeler's home near Northlake Mall twice recently for this week's cover story. A little over a year ago, the couple launched an online video series called Tiny Stage Concerts, in which they've documented the Charlotte area's rich singer-songwriter scene with performances from more than 80 artists, which they've videotaped in their living room.
The plan, Beeler tells me, is to get every talented singer-songwriter in the Charlotte area — from Americana musicians to soul singers and others — onto his tiny stage to perform a handful of their original tunes.
Modeled on NPR's Tiny Desk Concerts, the idea for Beeler and Butler's production came after they got frustrated with not being able to hear the songs when they went out to see local musicians at bars and breweries.
We offer you domestic bliss at the Beeler home and domestic violence across the city — all in one issue. Because we can't appreciate the former without acknowledging and fighting against the latter.