Special Reports

Brame tragedy creates a climate for a domestic peace initiative

The line between second-guessing and learning from experience can be hard to spot in the first days after an event as shocking as Tacoma Police Chief David Brame's attempted murder and successful suicide.

It's later, when we decide whether to change for the better or fall back into what we were before, that the line either fades away completely or develops into a useful divider between action and blather.

Examination and talk are how we process shock, how we get our brains to accept an unacceptable new reality: We don't want an event to be true, so we cling to denial.

That's the first step in the grieving process.

Talking a subject into the ground banishes that natural disbelief and moves us on.

Blame is a messy, but, for most of us, necessary element in that first step. It makes us angry, it aims us at targets, it gives us energy for the second step.

It's time for that step, looking at the systems that failed, seeing what can be done to fix or replace them.

To their credit, the city of Tacoma and local law enforcement agencies already are at that point.

Tacoma's experts on domestic violence are working on ways to make access to help easy, available and free of recrimination. They know the people who need the help most are those least likely to ask for it. They know employees in some departments and at some levels of management resist admitting they have a problem and getting help for it.

There's an element of the good ol' boys club in that and a whiff of the notion that one department or one level of stature can play by different rules.

Right now, the experts are trying to assist a police department full of officers who are deeply angry at Brame for his betrayal.

That help might include counseling, meeting with chaplains or a welcome reintroduction to the the city's employee assistance program.

But why stop with the city?

This community is at what parents like to call a "teachable moment."

We have passionate, organized experts in the field of domestic violence.

You can't brush by one of these people without ending up with a pamphlet, an offer to do a training session, a stack of resource lists.

If any community were ever ready to focus on the causes and symptoms of domestic violence, if any community were ever ready to get it straight on when and whom to call for help, it's this one.

Once we get the basics, the actions, down, we can move on to step four, the internal work.

As a nation, we know certain things - racism, ageism, sexism - are wrong, and we are growing the courage to challenge them when we encounter them.

It's time to add domestic violence to that list. And here's the hard part: to maintain civility while we do it.

A caller objected to my Monday column.

Didn't I realize that, in putting her husband's abusive treatment of her on the record in their divorce, Crystal Brame had ruined his career?

I swore and hung up on him before he could get to the next step: that she got what she deserved.

It's hard to believe, but we've heard a lot of that sort of thing this week.

I handled it badly.

If I could go back, I would agree, politely, that we must develop a system in which a batterer, a threatener, can get help and not be punished for it.

And that no one deserves what Crystal Brame got from her husband.

When we can all agree on that, we'll have moved past the blather and made real progress.

Kathleen Merryman: 253-597-8677