I recently witnessed an episode of domestic violence through the eyes of a beloved friend. Her experience, a frightful one of her husband beating her in front of their young children, continued harassment and domination, was, sadly, one I’d heard about far too often from my female friends.
One early autumn day, I stood with her at the shelter as a lady in soft, neutral-colored clothing handed her a diagram illustrating the cycle of violence in domestic partnerships. The psychologist carefully explained the cycle of abuse, the psychological components of abuse, and that my friend, quivering in her terror and sobbing deeply, was the only person who could break the cycle. The abuser could not and would not do so.
As my friend told her story to the psychologist, I could hear the stress and panic in her voice. Because of the path I’ve been on for the last decade, I also heard other voices.
The panic and stress in her voice is the same I’ve heard in the voices of every farmer who’s been raided by the state. Her rapid, shallow breathing was the same as those who live on adrenaline because government agents had stalked them, taken their property – including land, food, and animals — who stalk them still, threatening their families.
In all of their voices, I hear the tension of waiting for the next attack, the next assault, and the fatigue of sleepless nights. I hear the same apprehension of the young black men I grew up with, their fathers and now their sons, looking over their shoulders helplessly wondering what might be next.
I hear the confusion of utter betrayal.
Sitting with her that day, I began to understand that her experience was shared by more than those documented in domestic violence statistics. It is our collective experience of government control and police brutality that is now systemic in our culture.
As my friend stood in the safety of the shelter, looking at the signs and symptoms of an abusive relationship, the parallels suddenly became abundantly obvious.
This recent parody gives the analogy of America as a “bad boyfriend.” Sadly, America has moved way past bad boyfriend into blatant abuse. Observe the signs of an Abusive Relationship (AR) and their parallels in Government Abuse (GA):
AR: Telling you that you can never do anything right
GA: Regulatory structure; everything licensed; micromanaging every aspect of daily life from building codes to how much water in showers and toilets; speed cameras
AR: Showing jealousy of your friends and time spent away
GA: Publicly funded subsidies and regulatory market controls in favor of certain types of industry; NSA spying, only government owning and in control of the data
AR: Keeping or discouraging you from seeing friends or family members
GA: Immigration, CPS, state custody of children, American Indian reservations, Medical kidnap, making it difficult to become a foster parent
AR: Embarrassing or shaming you with put-downs
Once a person or a business has been publicly accused, even if eventually proved inaccurate, very few will ever see or know of the retraction, if there even is one. The damage is done, and nearly impossible to undo in the court of public opinion.
AR: Controlling every penny spent in the household
GA: Federal income tax forms requiring the annual confession; civil asset forfeiture, taking everything you own with no indictment, no due process, no recourse
AR: Taking your money or refusing to give you money for expenses
GA: Excessive taxation, civil asset forfeiture
AR: Looking at you or acting in ways that scare you
GA: Police intimidation, regulatory enforcement, traffic check points, guards on street corners, street cameras watching your every move
AR: Controlling who you see, where you go, or what you do
GA: American Indian Reservations; requiring passports, revoking passports; regulations requiring compliance, “public” parks that require entrance fees, hunting, fishing, every kind of licenses and permits; controlling who you can and can’t do business with, where and when you can sell your products, how you have to package your products, how you have to be able to track them from seed, egg or birth to sale.
These actions, taken together, have the collective effect of squeezing out small, family-owned businesses in favor of multi-national corporations that can afford to absorb the requisite extra time, money and energy to comply.
AR: Preventing you from making your own decisions
GA: Regulations implemented in the name of public safety; permits and licenses for everything, war on drugs; laws against home birth, home school, vaccine exemptions, school choice, food choice: raw milk
AR: Telling you that you are a bad parent or threatening to harm or take away your children
GA: CPS removing children from loving homes for: getting second medical opinions; for home births, home school, foster care, marijuana use
AR: Preventing you from working or attending school
GA: Regulatory burdens that make it impossible to farm, zoning laws that keep people from gardening, zoning laws on private property, shutting down businesses for imagined offenses, regulations that keep people from starting businesses, banning lemonade stands
AR: Destroying your property or threatening to hurt or kill your pets
GA: Species specific legislation, destroying farmers’ animals, civil asset forfeiture, eminent domain abuse; children harmed in no-knock raids; pets killed in no-knock raids
AR: Intimidating you with guns, knives or other weapons
GA: Thousands of incidents of police brutality; all laws and regulations carry the threat of imprisonment and/or death; government monopoly on the “legal” use of force
AR: Pressuring you to have sex when you don’t want to or do things sexually you’re not comfortable with
GA: TSA searches; pat downs; assaults by police officers that involve body cavity searches; forced sterilization; laws regulating marriage
AR: Pressuring you to use drugs or alcohol
GA: Fluoridated water; vaccines required for school attendance; mandating psychotropic drugs for school children K-12; forced sterilization programs
If allowed to continue, domestic violence in a one-on-one partnership does not end well. All too often, it ends with either the death of the victim or a lifetime of gaslighting to the point where the victim has been so destroyed by the abuser, s/he has little personality left.
History proves that domestic violence perpetrated by governments follows the same pattern! A culture of domestic violence is not viable. It eventually implodes in a violent storm of oppression and terror. Dictatorships, democracies and oligarchies go out in a blaze of democide, erasing the untold stories of millions of people.
Every day, those in government abuse the people over whom they have assumed ‘authority.’ Through the magic of youtube and movies, we routinely look at abuses on a micro level: one farmer who is raided, one victim of police brutality, one story of civil asset forfeiture abuse.
But to gain insight into an inherently abusive system, we need to step back and see it as the systemic problem that it is.
Power structures in the U.S. are set up to covertly perpetuate and endorse violence. This violence is an inevitable consequence of glorifying conquest through abuse. It should be no surprise that incidents of domestic violence in American partnerships are so staggeringly high.
Likewise, the cases of Mike Brown, Eric Garner, Kelly Thomas, Samantha Ramsey, Jose Guerena and now Freddie Gray: these are all cases of domestic violence. They are the tragic consequences of a culture that sees the cycle of abuse, yet chooses to stay in the relationship… shamefully, many of us as onlookers.
Abuse is never the victim’s fault. Never.
Whether it is police brutality or American Indian tribes or my friend’s relationship, it is time for us to stop allowing abusers to be seen by anyone as “heroes who made a poor judgement call.” As the numbers of government abuses skyrocket, we must admit that this is a cultural problem. It is not isolated to one person, one incident, one race. It is a cycle of abuse that lays over us all.
Like all abusers, our government abusers are here to control us. They do not deserve our praise, our accolades, our loyalty, or our money. Our forgiveness and compassion, certainly, but not a free pass to continue the abuse.
It’s past time to stop seeing abuse, brutality and death as a terrible but acceptable consequence of a police action. We must accept the fact that all of us play a role in the cycle of violence, then we must work to end it. As my friend’s social worker pointed out: only we can end it. The abuser cannot and will not do so.
Abusers want control.
If they feel their grip loosening on their victim, they often tighten their grip, threatening even more extreme violence or, worse, finally acting out on previous threats.
With my friend, I saw how, over time, the abuse took its toll on her body and mind. I watched as my beautiful, spirited, headstrong friend was paralyzed by fear. She was hyper-alert, always on guard for the next terrible episode about to happen. She cried all the time. She learned to be paranoid of what was going on around her.
She had been afraid for months, and began to sink into that fear as her only reality. I could see the anguish in her face as she spoke of her children, of not knowing whether she would be available for them if the abuse continued. I could feel her pain and her fear, and a horrifying sense of desperation born of uncertainty whether her life would ever be ‘normal’ again.
I felt her sense of powerlessness. I felt the hopelessness created by, and cradled within, the deep terror of what her abuser would do to her if she left. It was tragic to witness.
Today, I see these same results in everyone affected by abuse. Not just by partner abuse, but by government abuse as well. And it’s not limited to the actual victims. More and more, it’s in all of us, to one degree or another.
The cycle of violence outlined in domestic violence is the same pattern on a cultural scale.
After the deep upset and protests over Mike Brown and Eric Garner, YouTube videos and news reports surfaced of officers taking food to families, or giving surprise Christmas gifts to people they had pulled over.
But none of that can bring back the thousands of humans killed by the police state. Nor can a burst of highly-publicized generosity undo the national tragedy of escalating systemic violence against peaceful people. The public lauding of uniformed cops who give presents to taxpayers, ignoring the horrendous acts committed beforehand, is like the abusers’ apologists who tell victims they shouldn’t worry anymore because the abuser said, “I’m sorry.”
In fact, when there has been no consequence, no re-training, no correction of the culture, the exact opposite is true: the victims best worry because too often an apology is a set up for further abuse. To the abuser, it is wiping the slate clean. A new start.
For us onlookers, merely accepting these “gifts,” seeing these “apologies” as a sincere step to de-escalating the violence is akin to taking a collective sigh and inviting our abusers back to bed.
The violence is not in the one person, the one episode. It is systemic.
As with any situation of domestic violence, the only way out is to recognize what is happening and choose to end the cycle of violence. We must reject this collective belief that another human, government agent or not, has authority over our bodies or our consciences.
In a world torn apart by war, hearts broken by violence, where can we focus our energy for a solution? The rage, the anger, the grief are all deep and justified. There are no words to speak to a grieving mother, wife, sister, brother, or child. We must resist the temptation to retaliate. Or the cycle of abuse will continue…
From the communal tears of a national tragedy as another momma loses her child, to the deep sighs of grief for lives that matter on every level, we are tasked with the important resolve of extricating ourselves from the abusive relationship and seeking the protective arms of true community.
Once we give up the belief that people in government somehow have the authority to abuse us, we can take productive action as we support each other through the survivor process. As my friend escaped her abusive ex, I saw her community come together to create a wall of protection for her and her children.
In that same way, with a focus on community involvement and nurture, we will create a world where people do not fear the heavy hand of oppression and terror from their loved ones or from their own government. Solutions appear on the community level anywhere that people take responsibility.
Alternatives to police, such as Peacekeeper and training groups, offer viable, community-based solutions to stop the violence, to nurture community. But more so than any one organization, we have the opportunity to turn towards each other, to build our interdependence and gain the freedom that comes naturally and only from the beauty of true community.
As my wise friend, Francisco “Cico” Rodriguez, said to me,
“Freedom will not come from independence but from hyper interdependence. Government breaks normal relationships and by isolating ourselves in ‘independent’ activities, we are powerless. But being connected through intense interdependence we are strong.”
Wherever you are in your personal journey toward clean living and local food, thank you for joining me in mine. I look forward to sharing it with you.