Opinion Columns & Blogs

Why should we be shocked by the Ray Rice video?

The infamous video of former NFL star Ray Rice assaulting his then-fiancee, Janay Palmer, is disturbing. The image may be grainy, but the action is clear, swift and brutal.

Chances are you’ve seen the tape. So what did you think? Were you shocked when Rice’s arm lashed out, delivering a punch so vicious that Palmer collapsed to the elevator floor like a sack of flour?

If so, then you must not have seen the previous video showing Rice as he drags Palmer’s seemingly lifeless body out of the elevator like luggage. You must not have heard him later admit that he had assaulted the woman who is now (as unlikely as it seems) his wife.

But if you did see the first one, then how, pray tell, could you be shocked by the second?

If nothing else, the viral release of the elevator video has raised questions about our collective take on domestic abuse. Like the three monkeys with hands clasped over eyes, ears and mouth, we seem to move through everyday life unwilling to imagine, let alone face, the violence which afflicts so many victims and their families. That is the only explanation for this national intake of breath.

We were all innocent at one time. As a rookie cop, I arrested my first domestic abuser when his wife answered the door with a black eye. But it was not until I walked into the middle of an attack, where a large man was hitting his pettite girlfriend with a baseball bat, that I finally understood how those awful bruises were made.

And then there is that whole “cycle of violence” thing. That would be the often misunderstood phenomenon where the victim – like Janay Palmer – defends her abuser.

Sometimes that defense is physical. I was hit several times by a victim after handcuffing the man who had nearly strangled her minutes before.

Experience and time taught me the truth, however. For more than a year, I watched a strong young woman become a doormat for her abuser. It began with yelling, escalated to hitting, and ended when he put a shotgun slug in her stomach. Badly wounded, she still refused to help us arrest him.

These are the realities in the bedroom, behind the curtain, inside the elevator. Domestic violence is brutal. It affects body, mind, spirit.

Yet it can be fought. As a board member of the Tacoma-Pierce YWCA, I have witnessed the incredible goodness that can be accomplished when community leaders, politicians and survivors come together. Creating a haven for abuse victims and their families is just the first step. Educating the public, raising awareness of the prevalence of domestic violence in our society and changing perceptions of organizations like the NFL is an ongoing battle.

Though the National Organization for Women has joined the dialogue, it is important to note that domestic violence is not just a women’s issue. As columnist Leonard Pitts Jr. so eloquently pointed out from his own wretched experience, victims can be young boys. But whether victims are women, men, boys or girls, they all share a common trait. They are being abused by someone in whom they have placed their faith and love.

So now that the elevator video is out there, now that the brutal nature of domestic violence is visible for all to see, only one question remains to be asked.

What more do you need to know?

The answer is nothing.

Brian O'Neill, a Gig Harbor resident and former South Sound police officer, is a former reader columnist. Email him at btoflyer@comcast.net.