It was not a good night. Not good because it wasn’t good. It was horrifying and tragic, and private. It was exhausting; emotionally and physically draining. It was a room full of victims and victim supporters with stories of abuse filling the air.
I haven’t attended this kind of event before Wednesday night, and although I disagree with parts of it, I look forward to participating in more.
I could hear the thank yous and introductions as I ascended the stairs to the rooftop of the Atlanta Chamber of Commerce. Darlene McCoy was beginning to sing as I entered the room. That was it for me. I was a goner. Tears, oh my, the tears. I haven’t spent a great deal of time crying over the last couple of years. I cried after my cousin’s wedding, but not tears of joy, selfish tears of anger at my loss of a marriage. I cried when I gave my children to an abuser.
I found a little hole in the people and propped myself up against the wall and breathed. A dear woman noticed and she went to get tissues. She handed me two and started walking through the rows handing out more. She looked back at me and returned to hug me. I accepted her hug. That is not like me. I have allowed so few people to touch me, but this felt so genuine I accepted her act of support, and then cried some more. I didn’t even feel like taking a shower after being touched by a stranger; I just wanted to wash the pain with tears.
After a beautifully sung song, the speaking began. Before the survivors were invited to the microphone, the Atlanta Police Department was honored for working to end DV in Atlanta with the creation of a dedicated Domestic Violence Squad. The squad became active January 2012 with one lieutenant, one sergeant, and eight investigators.
In these first 10 months “the unit has handled 765 total cases including: eight domestic rapes, 20 domestic robberies, 288 domestic aggravated assaults, 391 domestic batteries, 26 other sex offenses and 32 other offenses” (The Sacramento Bee). I hope this squad continues its work, and that it gains more officers; 10 is not enough.
Four survivors shared their stories. The first spoke of 10 years of progressive abuse. The second read the letter she wrote to herself on the first night she stayed in a shelter. The third spoke of the 12 hours of torture she endured after visiting a friend in the hospital, and her abuser’s threat to cut her into tiny pieces and bury her in the backyard. The fourth told her sister’s story. Her sister is Clara Riddles; she was shot and killed outside the CNN newsroom April 3, 2007.
Following the story of Clara, the candle lighting began. As one candle lit another the microphone was passed to read the names of women and children murdered by their abusers over the last 12 months. I’m not sure the exact number of names read aloud, but it was close to, probably over, 50 names. People ranging in age from 12 to 90. Fathom that: 12 – 90. A 12-year old murdered by abuse. A 90-year-old murdered by abuse. Little girls and boys, teenagers, middle-agers, elderly, murdered by abuse. Murdered.
Then it ended. The vigil was over and people began to leave. I stood for a few minutes and steadied myself. When I saw the police officers reach the back of the room, I slid in behind them and exited. So did another woman, and when we reached the outside she asked if we could walk together to the parking lot. I was grateful for the company, tho neither of us spoke.
I do appreciate this experience. What I did not appreciate was the privacy of the event. As I walked from my car toward the building, I looked around for a group of people. I couldn’t see any people, but I could hear a crowd. The crowd was on the rooftop terrace. No one who didn’t know this was going on could participate. I would not have found them had I not entered the building and asked where it was.
We were hidden from the public. I felt like all of our talk of getting out the word that domestic violence is real, is current, is everyone problem, was lost to the sheltering of the event. Portable PA systems have been available for years and there is a nice green field right next to the Chamber building. The weather that night was perfect. The temperature was in the mid 60s, the wind was light, and the moon was bright.
I also felt like we were ushered out. I wanted to connect with survivors and supporters here in Atlanta. I can’t say that this didn’t happen before the event; it was a few minutes after 7 when I arrived and the event had already officially begun. I didn’t feel encouraged to mingle, to meet, to share my story along with other stories. Event-volunteers were busy picking up empty water bottles and extinguished candles. When it was over, it was time to leave. Not a hint of an invitation to uplift and support each other.
It is also disappointing that cameras from a local news station and newspaper were present and filming, yet I can not find that anything was aired or published.
This was an exhausting experience. I had a headache and my body hurt when I left. I made two wrong turns going home and traveled an extra 30 miles.