A Fighting Chance


It’s an all-too-familiar story. We saw her, maybe picking her kids up at school or at the supermarket or church. She was wearing dark glasses or heavy makeup to try to hide the bruises. Maybe we watched briefly before getting into our cars as she and her man argued in the parking lot, saw as he raised his hand. Loathe to put ourselves into someone else’s business, we didn’t do anything. We sat by. Or maybe we screwed up our courage and asked if she needed help, and then accepted her dismissal. Then one day she was gone, her exit marked by the yellow police tape strung across the door of her home.

When it comes to domestic violence, it is hard to live the ideal that we all share an obligation to our neighbors. But what should be beyond dispute is that the police must protect the citizenry, and particularly the most vulnerable among us. That’s why Emily DePrang’s story, “See No Evil” (page 6), is so shocking and what she reports so disappointing. DePrang’s three-month investigation uncovered a Houston Police Department that has grossly underfunded and understaffed its domestic violence units. Houston police officers often do the bare minimum because that’s all their department’s policy requires. If suspects flee the scene, they will likely escape prosecution. The extra step-seeking a warrant-is seldom taken. Women who make it to the police station to file charges can watch their cases languish for months. Obtaining a protective order can require long visits to the district attorney’s office. And because the Houston criminal justice system fails in its most basic obligations, some women die.

It doesn’t have to be this way. Dave Mann’s story, “The Safe Place” (page 16), makes that clear. In Austin, law enforcement personnel, the district attorney, judges, and advocates work together to prevent domestic violence. Resources are available. They’re never enough, but they allow women a fighting chance. This is what it looks like when a community makes a commitment on behalf of its citizens and government functions properly.

In Washington, D.C., under an incompetent administration, government has long since ceased to function properly. If we’ve learned anything in the past seven years, it’s the foolishness of hiring people who don’t believe in government to run it. Melissa del Bosque’s “Selective Enforcement” (page 12), details yet another disturbing example of the Bush administration’s willful disregard of the law. Congress overwhelmingly passed the Violence Against Women Act, twice. Included in that law is a fix for the terrible catch-22 that occurs when an undocumented woman is battered by a husband who is a U.S. citizen or permanent resident. The ability of these women to stay in the country depends on their abusers. Often such couples have children who are U.S. citizens. The law Congress passed-and Bush signed-allows these women, after a long and detailed administrative process, to stay in the country legally. Now that the Bush administration has found it politically convenient to play tough on border enforcement, it has rejected many of these women’s independent appeals for legal status and put the rest on indefinite hold, trapping women in abusive relationships that are hard enough to leave without the threat of deportation.

Accompanying our Houston and Austin stories is information about resources available to victims of abuse in both communities. On our Web site, www.texasobserver.org, we have posted a list of similar resources in cities throughout the state.

Here at the Observer, we take our responsibilities-as journalists and members of the community-as a sacred trust. It’s our hope that this issue might help make a difference in the lives of those who need a helping hand, not more hurt.