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Thursday, September 11, 2014

Why I Refuse to Watch #RayRice

Have you seen it?

The Ray Rice video?

The one where he knocks out his then-fiance, now-wife?

You should know about this, they say.

You should see this, they tell me.

I haven't.

#RayRice is one of the most popular trends on Twitter today. People can't get enough of the video. That video.

I typed Ray Rice into the YouTube search bar and the site finished my thought for me:
Ray Rice ... (knocked out fiancee).

The top three hits: all various footage from that now-infamous night at a casino in Atlantic City, N.J. More than 5 million views.

Ray Rice and his fiancee, Janay Palmer (now Rice), arguing. He punches her in the face. She is knocked out, cold. He then drags her out of the elevator, face-down. His expression is blank.

First down. No lost yards.

Rice and Palmer were both charged with simple assault. No injuries reported.

A month later, things change. Rice is charged with third-degree aggravated assault. Palmer's charge is dropped.

A day later, Janay Palmer marries Ray Rice.

Two months later, a press conference. Ravens tweet:
"Janay Rice says she deeply regrets the role that she played the night of the incident."

The Incident.

Often we use words to cover up ugliness we'd rather pretend didn't exist.

The Ravens would have rather imagined that Ray Rice, who was trained to be violent on the field, was a lamb off of it. That he didn't physically abuse his fiancee and even knock her out.

That his abuse wasn't so complete, so mental as well as physical, that she was compelled to hold herself responsible for the punch that knocked her out.

That our society isn't complicit in violence against women.

"She must have done something to deserve it."

"He wouldn't just punch her like that."

"This is a private matter. Let them handle it."

And so children grow up and watch their fathers beat their mothers.

Ray Rice's monster touchdown on Sunday excuses him from the fact that that body, honed in preseason workouts with top-notch trainers and equipment, was a machine designed not just to terrify tacklers but also to terrify the woman who loved him.

His hands were not just built to cradle a football but also trained to destroy whatever stood in the way of his needs, of his desires - not just on the field but in the elevator. I used to cover professional sports. Athletes have special rules. It's not cheating when you're on the road.

Athletes are used to getting their way. This girl doesn't want to have sex? Someone else will. Get in line.

The same impulse that says Michael Brown of Ferguson was equally at fault for his death at the hands of police officer Darren Wilson is the same impulse that says Janay Rice-Palmer is equally at fault for her lost consciousness at the hands of Ray Rice.

There's a power differential here.

Whites are not losing their lives or their freedom in altercations with police officers of another race.

Men are not losing their lives or their freedom in altercations with their female partners.

The numbers in both situations aren't even comparable. There is a power differential: between a white police officer and a young black man; between an NFL running back and his wife.

Some statistics:
A woman is more likely to be killed by her male partner than by any other person.
About 4,000 women die each year due to domestic violence.
About 75 percent of those women were killed as they left the relationship, or just after leaving.

So have you seen it?
You should see the video.
Millions of others have.

I haven't seen it. I won't watch it, for the same reason I won't watch the YouTube video of a woman being stoned for adultery. Of a woman being forced to marry her captor. Of "rape porn."

We're sickeningly fascinated by violence.

Each time somebody watches the video, Janay Rice-Palmer loses a little bit of her humanness.

Punched, passed out, dragged out.

Can you believe she's Tweeting anger at the media?
Is it about money? Does she really care that much about money?

Domestic violence is about power and control. Ray Rice exerts that power and control over Janay. It's no surprise that he got her pregnant. Pregnancy is often another way of exerting power and control.

Imagine if 5 million people watched a video of you being knocked out by your husband.

Her voice has been taken from her yet again. One more time. It's not about the money.

When I lived in Las Vegas I took a three-month course on domestic violence offered by SafeNest. Part of the course involved a simulation of the choices offered to abused women. We moved from station to station; each station had a card with two choices on it. I chose to go see my Pastor.

He told me to Pray. That Jesus said women should be submissive to their husbands. That Jesus said divorce was against God's will.

My next card showed me back with my abuser. In the hospital with a broken collarbone.


We are failing women every single day.

When you watch that video with a sick fascination. Then turn on Monday Night Football.
"What a hit!"

Churches are failing women every single day.
"Wives, submit to your husbands."


Biblical traditionalists often forget to mention that the language of submission in the Bible is grounded in mutuality. For each instruction to women, Paul has an instruction to men as well. Relationships, love, is meant to be sacrificing, loving, and kind. Violence, vengeance, of any kind - is condemned from the Old Testament to the New. Vengeance is mine, says the LORD in Deuteronomy 32.

Jesus himself says this, in his first sermon: "The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me ... to proclaim liberty to the captives ... to set the oppressed free," (Luke 4:18-19, quoting Isaiah).

Jesus died so that no person might lose her personhood. So that no one would be controlled, manipulated, and abused. The love Jesus practiced and preached was a love that lifted up those who were brought low; a love that set people free from the roles society gave them and left them identified by an eternal life, an eternal light that could never be extinguished.

Domestic violence puts out that light. As Janay Rice-Palmer crumples to the ground in that video, she is reduced to something less than human.

She tries to reclaim her identity with a Tweet. I do have power. I am loved. That wasn't me.

So, out of respect for Janay Rice-Palmer, a woman, a wife, and a mother just like me: I won't watch that video.

But I will advocate for tougher domestic violence laws.
I will fight against police departments and policies that tend to slap both the man and the woman with a charge, while women die.
I will listen and watch for any opportunity to be an advocate for women in my life.
I will put Jesus where he belongs, standing between Janay and Ray: protecting her and keeping her from her abuser.
Jesus isn't neutral. His forgiveness isn't free. He stands with Janay, and he encourages us all to do the same.

Don't watch the video - watch yourself and those around you. Stand against domestic violence and support women today, so Ray Rice's daughter, Rayven, won't think that love = power, control, and being punched in the face.

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