City Hall

At the Mayor's Rally Against Domestic Violence, Big Promises and Some Mixed Messages

The couple started arguing on Saturday, around 3 in the morning, in a house near Fair Park. The man told the woman he hadn't forgotten their past arguments, all the times she had "disrespected" him. He shoved his palm hard against her face and forced her down against a desk. She fought him, pushing his hand away from her face. He struck her with the heel of his hand, hitting her hard in the ear. She managed to get away and ran out the door. She stopped outside and lit a cigarette to calm herself. A moment later, he appeared with a bag in his hand.

"If you're going to leave, don't come back," she told him, according to the police report. "Because I'm not going to deal with you putting your hands on me. I'm the mother of your unborn child."

In response, he put both of his hands on her shoulders and shoved her hard to the ground. He ground his foot against her cheek for a moment, then took it away and walked off, stopping in the middle of the street. She followed him. He turned around and punched her in the face. She demanded her phone back. He dropped it to the ground, stomped it to pieces, and ran. He was long gone by the time police arrived.

A few hours later, on a drizzly gray morning, on a temporary stage in the shadow of City Hall, Mayor Mike Rawlings surveyed the huge crowd before him.

"This is amazing," he said, "that the men of Dallas are this excited about something that's not about sports. Major things are happening behind closed doors, and we're here to say, enough is enough."

Weekends seem to be a particularly dangerous time in Dallas homes. In the blizzard of police reports that accumulate between Friday and Sunday nights, a theme emerges: If the complainant is a woman, and the incident is classified as an assault, there's an excellent chance that a woman is calling 911 to report being beaten by her partner in her home. Or in the car, or on the street, or sometimes all three, before she manages to get away.

As the day wore on, the clouds parted a little, and the mayor's rally against domestic violence drew several thousand men and more than a few women to City Hall, the reports continued to pile up with their usual grim regularity. A man came home around noon and got into a fight with his partner, who wanted to know where he'd been all night. After hitting her in the face, she told police, he grabbed her around the neck and choked her, stopping just before she passed out. She hit the floor anyway, where she stayed for a while. Around 5:30 in the evening, another man allegedly "stomped" his partner, causing pain and bruising. At the same time, a third started beating his wife or girlfriend in the car on their way home from the tanning salon, during a fight about his drinking.

It goes on and on and on like that, till the viciousness and the relentlessness becomes almost dizzying. There are 28 domestic violence reports in all from Saturday alone by my count, not including child abuse cases. Twenty-six involved men beating their partners (the other two were, respectively, a son striking his mother with a heavy stroller and a woman beating her sister). A disturbing number involved strangulation or threats with knives. No one was stabbed this weekend, though. And for the past several weeks, anyway, no one has died.

"You can call a man who hits a woman a lot of things," Mayor Rawlings said, meanwhile, back at City Hall. "But you can't call him a man."

That was a central theme of the rally: "Real men" don't hit women. Real men hold other men accountable when they witness abuse. Real men recognize women as "fragile, gentle, delicate" as Dallas Cowboy Brandon Carr put it, referring to his girlfriend and daughter, "gifts from God" that he, as a real man, is tasked with the care of.

There was a lot of flowery, indirect language like that. At one point, Donovan Lewis from the Ticket asked Carr a question about his former teammate Jovan Belcher, who Lewis said had been "involved in a highly publicized domestic violence incident."

Belcher murdered his girlfriend Kassandra Perkins before shooting himself. He was not "involved." He was the incident.

"A man, when you are confronted, will simply walk away," City Council member Dwaine Caraway said at one point, to some laughter and muttering. He was clearly referring to his own apparent experience as a victim of domestic abuse. He didn't elaborate; that's probably as close as he'll ever come to speaking about the incident publicly. "Real men" as victims of violence, or LGBT people, didn't quite fit into Saturday's conversation.

Despite the 1950s depiction of male-female relationships, and the things left unsaid, the rally was, at times, incredibly moving. Sportscaster Dale Hansen appeared to choke up as he recounted a memory from age 7 or so, leaving the house with his mother in the middle of the night, her face bleeding and her nose broken after a beating from his father.

"My dad was the strongest man," Hansen said. "Never has such a big man looked so small in the eyes of a little boy."

Police Chief David Brown promised to help continue aggressively clearing the city's 4,000 outstanding domestic violence warrants ("One message to those abusers: You can run, but you can't hide"), while state Representatives Jason Villalba and Royce West appeared onstage together. West promised that "DV is no longer tolerated in the Big D," while Villalba called abusers "cockroaches."

"Texas is gonna come after them," he added, to applause. He said he wants to create a registry for abusers, as well as what sounded like a three-strikes policy.

But for all this tough talk, it's useful to remember that Royce West is also an attorney; a few minutes earlier, one of his clients, Dez Bryant, had unexpectedly appeared onstage.

"I made a mistake," he mumbled, with the mic so far away that Rawlings had to ask him to bring it closer. "I just want everybody to know, it's not good to hit women. I challenge every man to just X all domestic violence up out your life." He made an X shape with both arms and disappeared offstage almost immediately. Two young guys standing next to me burst into shocked laughter.

Bryant was apparently referring to his July arrest for allegedly slapping and pushing his mother, Angela, as well as pulling her hair, ripping her shirt and striking her repeatedly But in his capacity as Bryant's lawyer, seven months ago, West insisted in a press conference that Bryant "did not commit family violence," right before his mother signed an affidavit of non-prosecution.

Does this new tough talk on domestic violence mean that pro athletes will be held accountable for their actions? How about politicians? Will Dallas be able to take this tremendous and incredible momentum and build it into more money for domestic violence shelters, as Rawlings urged? For school programs and community outreach? Can we shrink that omnipresent pile of police reports, and all the real pain and danger and trauma they represent?

Maybe. Let's hope that real men also follow through.

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Anna Merlan
Contact: Anna Merlan