Say it was Domestic Violence

Yesterday, Dr. Tamara O’Neal was on her way to work at Mercy Hospital when she was murdered by a former partner. He went on to kill two more people.

In the aftermath of another senseless act of violence in our city and our country, our hearts go out to the families, friends and colleagues of Tamara, Dayna Less, a pharmacy technician at Mercy, and Officer Samuel Jimenez, a responding officer, and everyone returning today to a workplace where they may no longer feel safe.

Mainstream coverage has already begun minimizing the role of domestic violence in these deaths. In an NBC Chicago story, the relationship between Tamara and her killer is not mentioned until the sixth paragraph. The Chicago Tribune mentions the relationship by the fourth paragraph. USA Today gets there by the third. In every instance, the headline neglects it entirely.

Why does it matter to explicitly name this as domestic violence? We already know domestic violence is often a precursor to mass violence. It may not seem newsworthy that a man who was violent in public was also violent in private.

We must explicitly make the connection between domestic violence and the violence affecting our communities, if we are to successfully solve either.

First, we must pull domestic violence out from the shadows, where the size and scope of the problem can be obscured. In some of our neighborhoods, half of residents — women and men — have witnessed domestic violence. According to 2016 data from the Chicago Police Department, there were 1,673 reported acts of domestic violence per 100,000 women — an estimated 23,250 in total or 63 per day. Considering that the Bureau of Justice Statistics estimates 44% of domestic violence incidents are not reported to law enforcement, you can take that number and nearly double it.

Second, acknowledging the specific dynamics of domestic violence helps tell the full story, in all its complexity, and helps us understand how this tragedy happened. It provides important context for action from police, policy makers, and even journalists, who can challenge the norms of domestic violence through their language.

We must examine how our systems failed Tamara, her colleagues, our first responders, as well as Juan Lopez, the shooter. The system that allowed Lopez to purchase four guns and a concealed carry permit, despite a history of violence. The social support system that wasn’t able to help Tamara safely leave an abusive relationship. The police and legal system that wasn’t able to protect Tamara and her colleagues. And a mental health system that failed to help Lopez cope with his emotions.

Finally, we must actively challenge the deeply ingrained cultural belief that because this violence often begins in homes, it is private.

Domestic violence seeps into every aspect of our communities: in lost income to support a family; in health care costs; in policing (domestic violence calls are some of the most dangerous calls); in lasting trauma that leaves children vulnerable to depression, addiction and further violence; in a lost sense of safety in our neighborhoods. A 2010 study estimated the direct and indirect cost of a single aggravated assault to be over $107,000. And yesterday, domestic violence cost the lives of four Chicagoans.

Despite the scale and cost, we do not treat domestic violence as a collective urgency. Public and private funding for domestic violence services has decreased over the years. In 2017, during the state budget impasse, Governor Rauner cut $9 million from domestic violence programs (although later restored, many agencies are still recovering from the impact).

Publicly naming instances of domestic violence is a start to understanding the breadth of the problem, the ways it impacts all of us, and to building the will to address violence against women before it spills over into our neighborhoods, workplaces and communities.