For Women Who Predict Their Own Deaths
BY BECCI ROBBINS
Not guilty. The verdict came back as a slap to those convinced he did it. The eerie jubilation that followed only added to the sting.
"For once justice is on our side," the happy crowds said. "The system finally worked for black people."
The sad truth, of course, is that the system doesn't work for black people not really. It "works" for black people with lots of money. Most black people, though, are no closer to justice than they were before the circus started.
And the price for this sense of vindication has been high. The Trial of the Century fanned so hot the flames of race hate that the smoke obscured the real victims, turning what began as a murder case into something else entirely in the public consciousness.
Post-trial analysis spun into ponderous examinations of race, with talking heads trying to decipher what it all means for "Black and White America," as they kept putting it. Lost in the debate was any serious analysis of how the system fails to protect women in this country.
The trial should have sparked a national debate about violence in the home. With one in three American women battered at some point in their lives, it would seem that the numbers ought to command more attention than they do.
While nobody can deny that racism poisons America at every level, it at the very least is a problem acknowledged and grappled with, a problem given over to serious debate, discussion, study. Black history has become a standard part of public education.
The same cannot be said of issues that affect women, whose problems still carry less weight. It is telling that most kids will have to wait until college to be exposed to women's history or feminist philosophy, and even then will have to seek it out themselves in elective courses.
Little wonder, then, that when it comes to understanding the plight of women in this country really coming to grips with their powerlessness and what that means most of us are clueless. We've never really given it much thought.
We hear a lot about how the system economic, political, judicial is stacked against African Americans. We hear next to nothing about how the system fails women, who pay with lives every bit as real.
Nicole asked for help from those who were supposed to protect her. Eight times the cops came to her home and found her beaten.
Although she must have felt it, Nicole is not alone. Four million men in this country will beat the women in their lives this year. They will murder about 1,500 of them. On average, the dead women will have called police five times before the final, fatal assault.
Some of them will try to fight back. Some will leave, increasing their chances of bodily harm. Experts estimate that 75% of women killed by their spouses were in the process of trying to flee when the murder occurred.
Women who fight back the hardest, who kill their spouses, pay dearly. The average sentence served by women convicted of homicide is 15 20 years, while men serve an average 2 6 years for the same crime.
And even if he didn't do it even if the same cops the defense painted as being too incompetent to handle the evidence of the trial were somehow clever enough to mastermind an elaborate conspiracy even if that were true, there seems little reason to celebrate the outcome of this trial.
That a wife beater has been elevated to hero status is disturbing. That he has been put there in part by African-American women is ironic, considering how hard he tried to play the white boy's game, with his whitebread address and pale-skinned, model-perfect women.
The only comfort in all this is that perhaps Nicole may emerge as something of a hero, too. A martyr for battered women, someone suggested.
Nicole's sister has said she's received hundreds of letters from women trying to comfort her with the knowledge that in death her sister is saving lives. "Your sister gave me the strength to leave," women write. "Because of your sister I am alive."
Nicole is an unlikely hero. After all, it is hard to identify with a woman who, if she didn't have it all certainly had the tools to bargain for the rest.
And it might be a stretch to call her a martyr, which would seem to require more than simply getting killed.
On the other hand, maybe martyrdom is a function more of need than reality. Maybe we need a symbol of what it means to be a woman in America even young, privileged and beautiful. To be a woman is still to be a possession. To matter less.
Nicole is a metaphor for women everywhere who sacrifice themselves, literally and figuratively, in large ways and small, for false promises of love and safety.
For Nicole, for all the women who make those frantic 911 calls, the women who prophesize their own deaths, let's stop looking the other way. Let's start taking them seriously and give them the tools to fight back.
There will be no riots. Let there instead be quiet revolt.