Hundreds of people participated in a walk to end domestic violence Tuesday around Pine Bluff City Hall, an annual event sponsored by the Pine Bluff Police Department. Signs bore the names of people who were murdered by family members and former intimate partners. Law enforcement officers and firefighters joined with citizens in denouncing domestic violence.
Officers urged victims to call 911 whenever they are being abused. Pine Bluff Mayor Shirley Washington welcomed participants, estimating the turnout was triple that of last year's walk. She condemned domestic violence.
“We have to do this because we have people in our midst who are suffering from domestic violence and many of them are suffering silently,” Washington said. “They are embarrassed to let anyone know. They don't know how to reach out and get the help that they need so it's important that all of us become educated so we can help them get the help they need. Everyone here today knows someone who has been a victim of domestic violence. … You may not realize that your neighbor, your family member, or a church member might be suffering.”
Pine Bluff Police Chief Ivan Whitfield agreed with Washington, affirming her message with a succinct “me too.”
Johnathan Young survived being a victim of domestic violence. He said people are surprised that men are also victims of domestic violence.
“I don't know anyone yet whose bodies are bullet-proof or stab-proof,” Young said. “Men and women, the more you speak up, the more lives you save.”
Young said he chose not to fight his female abuser to set an example for his son. Pine Bluff City Attorney Althea Hadden-Scott said her office is committed to aggressively prosecuting domestic violence cases and working with the court system. She said they protect victims and that her office created a pamphlet to recognize symptoms of domestic abuse.
“As our community becomes more aware of signs and symptoms of domestic abuse, we can achieve greater strides toward ending domestic violence,” Hadden-Scott said.
Jefferson County Prosecuting Attorney Kyle Hunter called domestic violence a problem from the National Football League to “our own homes.” He called domestic violence crimes the most dangerous calls from the perspective of responding police officers.
“Denise Howard in my office and I were discussing the cycle of violence and it's not as easy when someone is told to get out,” Hunter said. “There are many issues involved that we try to understand why it's hard for victims to get out. It's complicated. People have financial issues, there's love that is involved in a home, there are children, there are issues of support [and] there's embarrassment.”
“It is not a respecter of persons,” Hunter said. “It happens in the homes of the very rich to the very poor. We want our homes to be a place where our children have peace and where we have rest.”
Sharonda Thrower, coordinator of the Criminal Justice Program at the University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff, welcomed her students including Keosha Adams and Tiambria Malone. They represented their classmates in being aware of domestic violence.
“Domestic violence can happen to anyone regardless of race, age, sexual orientation, religion or gender,” Adams said. “Domestic violence not only effects those who are abused by family members, it effects the community at large.”
Malone said her classmates and faculty members take a pledge against domestic violence.
Committee Against Spouse Abuse [CASA] board chairman Simmie Armstrong said the organization provides a safe haven and crisis intervention for victims of domestic violence. Armstrong said his goal is seeing the day when domestic violence ceases to exist.
“We know that life as it is is very different,” Armstrong said. “We know that love does not have to hurt.”
Assistant Police Chief Kelvin Sergeant condemned domestic violence as an ill in society. He encouraged victims to seek help and told people to provide resources to victims.
Pine Bluff Police Officer Jasmine Womack recited a poem called “I Got Flowers Today,” which is about a female victim of domestic violence who was murdered. The victim stayed with her abuser because the abuser gave her flowers after abusing her.
CASA can be reached at (870) 535-2955 and operates a shelter on State Street in Pine Bluff.