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She Escaped An Abusive Relationship In Her 60s — & This Program Changed Her Life

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Ideally, home should feel warm. But for the 10 million people who experience domestic violence every year, home can be a scary and unsafe place. On average, nearly 20 people in the U.S. are physically abused by an intimate partner every minute. As COVID-19 continues to spread across the country, forcing people to stay indoors, that number may be growing. Estimates suggest that three months of quarantine could result in a 20% rise in intimate partner violence, according to the United Nations Population Fund. Although in some cities calls to hotlines have been less frequent throughout the pandemic, experts tell The Marshall Project they believe that’s because people have fewer opportunities to reach out for help. Their abusers may not be leaving the house to go to work, for instance, removing a critical window that could allow them to break free.During the “Night Of Solidarity,” a fundraising event on May 13 that helped raise money for domestic violence prevention organizations (full video here), survivors shared their stories. To bring more awareness to the issue, we interviewed Vondell West, a 67-year-old woman who credits DASH (the District Alliance for Safe Housing) in Washington, D.C., with helping her turn her life around after leaving an abusive partner. This is her story.My name is Vondell West and I’m 67 years old. I’m a native Washingtonian, I was born here, and a mother of three with five grandchildren and eight great-grandchildren. After completing the DASH program, I was able to get my own place. Here’s how it all started.I was in a relationship. We had known each other for about three or four years before we moved in together. But when we moved in together, things changed. He had had one of his legs amputated because he had diabetes, and he was receiving his disability and his retirement and I was working as a volunteer at the time. So one day, I asked him for bus fare to go to work and he told me he didn’t have any. Every time I began to ask him for something, he didn’t have it.One day I just came out and asked him what’s up, and he said, “I’m not giving you nothing.” So, that kind of threw me for a loop. From then on anything I wanted or needed in the apartment, I had to get on my own. That went on for a while.As we went along, there was no communication in the house, he didn’t want to talk about anything. I was on his telephone plan. And one day, my phone just didn’t work. He had taken me off the phone plan and had not told me. And when I asked him about it, of course, he lied. He lied about it.Then, it was verbal abuse every day. Nothing I did was right. Everything that went wrong in the apartment was my fault. All kinds of little crazy things. And this went on for a while. And then, one day, I was carrying groceries all the way from Northeast to Southeast on the bus and the train. When I stepped off the bus, he rode right past me with a woman in the car. It was so close I looked right in his face; I could tell you what she had on and everything. When he came home, I tried my best not to say nothing because I knew I was gonna get real angry. I asked him about it. Of course, he lied. He said he didn’t give nobody no ride. And I kind of lost it then. So, my eyes was wide open by then.She started coming to the house. I would go out in the morning, and the car was missing. I had gave him money — at this point, I was earning some. I had helped him to get a car because we had both needed transportation. So I had saved up as much as I could, and I gave him $500 towards the down payment — and yet I’m carrying groceries and I’m traveling by bus and by train, and he’s riding this person around. He would no longer pick me up from the subway when I worked. And if I wanted to go to the grocery store, I had to get up at 6 in the morning, ’cause he had other things to do. That was just too much. At this point, the neighbors started asking me who was that driving the car. Stress had started to build up. I’d try to sit in the house when I came home and not say nothing at all, because I was afraid things was gonna get out of hand.Then, one day, I had just had knee surgery and I came home and she was at the door. That day I think we both kind of lost it, things just flying around the house. He was hollering that I need to get out, the sooner the better, and all that kind of stuff. He even took me to court to get me out. I wasn’t making that much money, and I couldn’t afford an apartment on my own. So, it took me a minute — I couldn’t just leave.At the time I was working as an interim counselor, so I had helped refer people to different organizations for help. I went to one of these centers for my own problem, but they turned me away. I went back to work and I sat at my desk and was about to cry, and I guess the good Lord told me to go back over there. And that’s how I was referred to Ms. Zaneta Greene.She came to my office and we talked, and that’s how she told me all about the program for domestic violence. And it was such a blessing. She told me it is a process and I had to be as patient as I could. She asked me did I need immediate assistance and I thought I was okay. I was just going to trust the process, and thank God I did.When we went to court, the judge gave me 60 days to leave the premises, and the call came from DASH just after we went to court. So I was able to leave within my 60 days. And that’s how I got to DASH. I first started speaking with Ms. Zaneta during the summer, and I moved into DASH in January. I ended up living there for two years, until January 2020.One thing I hope people take away from my story is that there should be more laws protecting people who are not legally married. Just because you’re not married legally, no piece of paper, it seems like you have no entitlement. Because there are a lot of us.Leaving the relationship was very, very challenging. As an older woman, you would think that you could see things differently. You would think that two people at our age would know that communication is important and just to be able to deal with punches and not be so in a hurry to have things your way. I had stood by him through his surgery and his rehabilitation, and a long time even after that. I was expecting nothing else, just give me time to get out. It was also very, very challenging because it was at a time in my life when I really did not want to once again ask my family for help, at my age. I didn’t want to become another burden to them, because it’s somebody else’s mess. And it was challenging because I felt, probably just as much as he felt like he wanted to hurt me, like I really wanted to hurt him. But I knew at my age, I’m too old to go to jail, and I used to be a drug addict. I could not go backwards after all the hard work I had put in to change my life around and to be a better person.I was also in a position where I didn’t have a lot of money saved up. I had a lot of credit card bills. I had bought furniture when we moved in, trying to make the place nice and homey for both of us. > I don’t think I would have been able to survive if I didn’t have my advocate to talk to. She didn’t press me or push me to do anything. It was always at my time, when I was ready.> > Vondell WestI never saw the apartment at DASH until the day I moved in. And then, they took me up to the unit. The minute I walked in, I felt 20 pounds of relief leave me. The place was clean. It was freshly painted. It was a godsend. I was extremely happy. Because I like everything tidy and clean, the apartment just exceeded all of what I was looking for. I really, really felt blessed. The whole staff was so professional and friendly at all times. Somebody was at the desk when I came out in the morning to go to work and we would say good morning, and everything was good. Somebody was there when I came home in the evening and it was a joy to come home.We took all kinds of classes, like on financial management. I took every class they offered, because I wanted to get to meet the other residents of the building so we could better support each other. Because I already knew how important that was. Because you could get behind your closed doors and try to lock everything out, but that wouldn’t be helpful at all.The classes were so helpful because they inspired me, and it also reminded me that that was only a temporary spot. I was just passing through DASH. My goal was to get my own place.The first year, I signed up for every apartment waiting list there was. I spent my first year paying off bills, saving up my money, looking for a place. I also continued talking with my advocate. I don’t think I would have been able to survive had she not been available to me to do that. There were things that I wasn’t ready to talk about, and there were things I needed to talk about. And she didn’t press me or push me to do anything. It was always at my time, when I was ready.There were so many blessings in coming to DASH. I could walk to work, I was so close to my job. So for two years, I was able to not only walk to work to save money, but get exercise. I had got so comfortable there, I didn’t want to move out. And I felt like I had created a new family because somebody was always there for me. Always. Always there to listen or help me if there was something I need. I knew that I had to move out because it was a two-year program. But I felt that I was ready because it gave me all of the opportunities to work on my emotional wellbeing while I was there.I had already had childhood issues. My mom gave me away when I was an infant. So, I knew that I had abandonment issues. Anytime somebody goes through something like that, it’ll kick up instantly. I don’t care how long you’ve been clean, how well you think you’ve got everything under control, they just pop up instantly. So, you know, I felt like I was abandoned again. But then again, I had all that time to work on those emotions. Now, I’m living in a brand-new senior building. It is really nice. I wasn’t able to get my furniture yet because the stores closed down on me with coronavirus, but as soon as they open then I can go and make a couple of purchases. Other than that, God is still looking after me. I’m able to work from home, so I’m still getting a paycheck. I’m now a case manager at a substance abuse treatment center. I still keep up with my support group so if there’s anything that I need to discuss or get off my chest, I call somebody right away and we do that.I have been in D.C. all my life and I’ve worked with many organizations. But I have never, ever encountered an organization as great as DASH, all of its volunteers, the monitors, the advocates, the staff. They really put their heart into that program. 100%. They try their best to help you. Where can you go and live for two years and not pay anything, and it’s nice and clean? It’s absolutely beautiful, the love, and the people that contribute to it — they think about all of the residents. You can feel the love, the concern, the sincerity. Every day. It is a wonderful program. Absolutely wonderful.If you are experiencing domestic violence, please call the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-7233 or TTY 1-800-787-3224 for confidential support. This interview has been condensed for length and clarity.Like what you see? How about some more R29 goodness, right here?How To Help Combat Domestic Violence Right NowHow Coronavirus May Increase Domestic ViolenceI Was Abused By My Husband. Then I Was Arrested.



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Embattled at Home, Trump Finds Himself Isolated Abroad, Too

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BRUSSELS — With U.S. cities burning and the coronavirus still raging, killing more people than in any other country, President Donald Trump also has growing problems overseas. He has never before been so isolated and ignored, even mocked.In Europe, after years of snubs and U.S. unilateralism, America's traditional allies have stopped looking to him for leadership, no longer trust that this president will offer them much and are turning their backs on him.That was evidenced most obviously this week by the decision of the German chancellor, Angela Merkel, not to attend the Group of 7 meeting that Trump wanted so badly in Washington this month to show that the virus was behind him and the world was returning to normal.Merkel cited the lingering threat of the virus, but a senior German official who spoke on the condition of anonymity made clear that she had other reasons to decline: She believed that proper diplomatic preparations had not been made; she did not want to be part of an anti-China display; she opposed Trump's idea of inviting the Russian president, Vladimir Putin; she did not want to be seen as interfering in U.S. domestic politics.And she was shocked by Trump's sudden, unilateral decision to pull out of the World Health Organization.The divide between Trump and European allies was widening even before U.S. cities were convulsed by rioting. But the chaos on American streets, viewed from abroad, has only reinforced a sense that the conflicts that Trump seems to sow have caught up with him.As Trump threatens to call in the military against his own citizens, he has become a president that some of America's closest allies prefer to keep at arms' length, unsure of what he will do next and unwilling to be dragged into his campaign for reelection."Leaders in allied nations now think that criticizing Trump is to their advantage," said Marietje Schaake, a former Dutch European legislator, especially now with the unrest in U.S. cities and demonstrations supporting those protests in many European cities, including Amsterdam.Even the European Union's foreign policy chief, Josep Borrell Fontelles, felt bold enough Tuesday to say that Europe is ''shocked and appalled" by the police killing of George Floyd. He condemned an ''abuse of power" and "an excessive use of force" and urged the United States to act "in full respect of the law and human rights."On Monday, as if to underline the U.S. president's isolation, it was to the Russian president, Putin, that Trump placed a call, in which the two men discussed the virus, trade and "progress toward convening the G-7," the White House said.Trump invited Putin to the meeting, according to the Kremlin. But if it happens at all, there are doubts that Putin would accept being invited solely as a guest, having been kicked out of the club for his annexation of Crimea and support for insurrection in eastern Ukraine.Trump also called President Jair Bolsonaro, the hard-right leader of Brazil, on Monday."It all shows just how out of touch Trump is with allies," said Julianne Smith, a former Obama official now with the German Marshall Fund in Washington. "This is a man isolated at home and abroad. He is trying to find friends in other places, knowing that relations with traditional allies are bad. But there are serious strains even with the authoritarians he admires, like Xi Jinping and even Putin."Trump "continues to believe allies can be abused and mistreated and that he can order them around and at the same time count on them," Smith said. "He doesn't understand that while the U.S. is powerful, it doesn't always call the shots."Merkel's refusal to come to Washington "says a lot about how fed up multiple leaders are around the world, who have seen how little return they've gotten on the investments they made into a relationship with Trump," she said.With the virus and the riots, she added, "now there is a sense of America's weaknesses being exposed, and a feeling that the emperor has no clothes."The threads unraveled quickly. As late as Thursday, European and U.S. officials say, Trump's plans for a Group of 7 summit meeting in Washington were being negotiated with member countries and looked likely to go ahead. Then, Friday, Trump suddenly announced that he was pulling the United States out of the WHO, more than two weeks before his own stated deadline for the decision.As so often in the past, on issues like unilateral U.S. withdrawal from the Iran nuclear deal or the Paris climate accord or the Open Skies treaty or the sudden ban on air travel from Europe, Trump ignored the views of allies or did not consult them at all.The WHO decision was a surprise to allies, and Merkel quickly said that she would not attend the proposed summit meeting.Since then, both Prime Minister Boris Johnson of Britain and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau of Canada have come out publicly against bringing Russia back into the Group of 7."For the British and Canadians to say no publicly is highly unusual," given their closeness to the United States, said Carl Bildt, the former Swedish prime minister. "They might disagree in private, but I would have thought they'd be the last to take issue publicly with him on something he cares about."As for Merkel, he said, given the lack of preparation, "the Germans suspected it was just a photo op with Trump in the White House."Despite allied concerns, the Group of 7 matters, and plans for the meeting were going ahead given a general desire to come up with strong positions on Hong Kong and to try to influence Washington's policies on the virus, said Thomas Wright of the Brookings Institution.But after the WHO announcement, Merkel decided that "if you're going unilateral, I'm not going to be there to support you," Wright said. "The allies all think he's all over the place and they'll try to avoid him."Ulrich Speck, a German analyst, said that "Merkel has given up any pretensions that she as a German chancellor has to work with an American president no matter who it is." Merkel is a multilateralist in her soul, Speck said, "and she's been hurt by him often, they don't get along and they disagree on many policies," including open confrontation with China.Merkel remains committed to European engagement with Beijing. With Germany taking over the European Union presidency next month, she is trying to strike a European investment deal with China and wants to preserve an EU-China summit scheduled for Leipzig in the autumn."The G-7 is a Trump show, with no negotiation," Speck added. "The old G-7 is gone. For Trump it's not multilateral in spirit but unilateral, just a meeting to serve one purpose — his reelection."President Emmanuel Macron of France has a more traditional French view, especially toward building an improved relationship with Russia, despite Crimea, given its proximity to the European Union, said Thomas Gomart, director of the French Institute of International Relations."In France toward Trump is a mix of sadness and anger," Gomart said. "Our main ally refused to exercise leadership during the corona crisis and is every day more provocative toward its allies and is creating divisions that are very actively exploited by China."After nearly four years, Trump has no diplomatic accomplishments, Gomart said, listing failures on North Korea, the Middle East, a deterioration of relations with China and no improvement of relations with Russia. Instead, Macron believes that Trump has damaged European security through his unilateral abandonment of the Iran nuclear deal as well as nearly every arms control agreement with Russia."Macron, to his credit, has at least tried with Trump," said William Drozdiak, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution who has just published a book on Macron, based on a series of interviews with him, called "The Last President of Europe." But he is not trying so hard now.To have "an American leader rejecting all these international institutions and agreements is outrageous for Europeans like Merkel and Macron who have multilateralism in their DNA," he said.Merkel has traditionally avoided trips to the United States after April in presidential election years, Drozdiak noted."She knows that any event," he said, "Trump will spin as if the others are implicitly endorsing him, and that's the last thing she wants to do."She was so uncomfortable, Drozdiak said, that she told. Macron, "Be my guest, be the interlocutor, I don't want to be in the room with the guy."This article originally appeared in The New York Times.(C) 2020 The New York Times Company



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Thousands in London Chant ‘Black Lives Matter’ While Joining Worldwide George Floyd Protests

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(LONDON) — Thousands of people demonstrated in London on Wednesday against police violence and racial injustice following the killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis, which has set off days of unrest in the United States.

Chanting “Black lives matter,” thousands gathered in Hyde Park, central London’s biggest open space and a traditional protest venue. Many of them passed through barriers at the park and marched through the streets, blocking traffic. There were no signs of violence, although some sprayed graffiti on walls.

Some protesters converged on Parliament and the nearby office of Prime Minister Boris Johnson at 10 Downing St. Others headed south of the River Thames.

“Star Wars” actor John Boyega, who was born in Britain to Nigerian parents and grew up in south London’s Peckham neighborhood, pleaded tearfully for demonstrators to stay peaceful.

“Because they want us to mess up, they want us to be disorganized, but not today,” he said.

Boyega recalled the case of Stephen Lawrence, an 18-year-old black man from southeast London who was stabbed to death in 1993 as he waited for a bus. The case against his attackers collapsed in 1996, and a government report cited institutional racism on the part of the London police force as a key factor in its failure to thoroughly investigate the killing.

“Black lives have always mattered,” Boyega said. “We have always been important. We have always meant something. We have always succeeded regardless and now is the time. I ain’t waiting.”

Police appeared to keep a low profile during the demonstration and the ensuing marches.

Earlier, the U.K.’s most senior police officer said she was “appalled” by Floyd’s death and “horrified” by the subsequent violence in U.S. cities. Floyd died May 25 after a white Minneapolis officer, Derek Chauvin, pressed his knee on the handcuffed black man’s neck for several minutes.

“I do want to reassure people in London … that we will continue with our tradition of policing, using minimum force necessary, working as closely as we possibly can with our communities,” Metropolitan Police Commissioner Dame Cressida Dick told the London Assembly police and crime committee.

“Met officers and staff are highly professional, they’re very well trained, they’re very restrained and they’re also very, very highly scrutinized, something we don’t flinch from at all,” Dick said.

While the London protesters expressed solidarity with Americans protesting Floyd’s death, many also pointed to issues closer to home. “Racism is a pandemic,” said one placard at the London demonstration.

Other protests are taking place around the world, including in Cape Town, South Africa, and in Reykjavík, Iceland.

In Cape Town, about 20 people gathered at the gates of the parliament complex and held up signs with the slogans of “Black Lives Matter” and “Justice 4 George Floyd and Collins Khosa.”

Khosa is died a month ago after being confronted by soldiers and police in Johannesburg’s Alexandra township. Family members say he died hours after he was choked and beaten.

A South African army investigation cleared the soldiers of wrongdoing, but lawyers for Khosa’s family say they will challenge those findings.

The London demonstrators appeared to ignore coronavirus social distancing guidelines in the U.K., where people have been told to stay 2 meters (6 feet) apart.

Some of them carried placards saying “Justice for Belly Mujinga,” a 47-year-old railway station worker who died of coronavirus in April, weeks after an incident in which she said she was coughed and spat upon by a customer who claimed to be infected.

Her death has come to symbolize the high toll the virus has taken on ethnic minority Britons and front-line workers — and, for some, social injustice. Police did not bring charges against the man accused of confronting Mujinga, saying an investigation had shown he did not infect her and there was no evidence to substantiate a criminal offense.

The coronavirus outbreak has exposed divisions and inequalities within the U.K. A government-commissioned report Tuesday confirmed that ethnic minorities in Britain experienced a higher death rate from the coronavirus than whites.

Figures from London’s Metropolitan Police also show that black and ethnic minority Londoners were more likely than their white counterparts to be fined or arrested for breaking lockdown rules barring gatherings or nonessential travel.

Metropolitan Police figures show that black people received 26% of the 973 fines handed out by police between March 27 and May 14, and accounted for 31% of arrests. They make up about 12% of London’s population. People from Asian, black, mixed and other backgrounds received more than half of the fines and arrests, but account for about 40% of the city’s population.

The police force said the reasons for the discrepancy were “complex.” But Owen West, a former police chief superintendent, said racism was a potential factor.

“The U.K. police service has massive issues with discrimination … and I really do think now is the time to confront it,” he told the BBC.





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‘Dangerous:’ Around the World, Police Chokeholds Are Being Scrutinized

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LE PECQ, France — Three days after George Floyd died with a Minneapolis police officer choking off his air, another black man writhed on the tarmac of a street in Paris as a police officer knelt on his neck during an arrest.

Immobilization techniques where officers apply pressure with their knees on prone suspects are used in policing around the world and have long drawn criticism. One reason why Floyd’s death is sparking anger and touching nerves globally is that such techniques have been blamed for asphyxiations and other deaths in police custody beyond American shores, often involving non-white suspects.

“We cannot say that the American situation is foreign to us,” said French lawmaker Francois Ruffin, who has pushed for a ban on the police use of face-down holds that are implicated in multiple deaths in France, a parliamentary effort put on hold by the coronavirus pandemic.

The muscular arrest on May 28 in Paris of a black man who was momentarily immobilized face-up with an officer’s knee and upper shin pressing down on his jaw, neck and upper chest is among those that have drawn angry comparisons with the killing of Floyd on May 25 in Minneapolis.

The Paris arrest was filmed by bystanders and widely shared and viewed online. Police said the man was driving under the influence of drugs and alcohol and without a license and that he resisted arrest and insulted officers. His case was turned over to prosecutors.

In Hong Kong, where police behavior is a hot-button issue after months of anti-government protests, the city’s force says it is investigating the death of a man who was immobilized face-down during his arrest in May by officers who were filmed kneeling on his shoulder, back and neck.

Police rules and procedures on chokeholds and restraints vary internationally.

In Belgium, police instructor Stany Durieux says he reprimands trainees, docking them points, “every time I see a knee applied to the spinal column.”

“It is also forbidden to lean on a suspect completely, as this can crush his rib cage and suffocate him,” he said.

Condemned by police and experts in the United States, Floyd’s death also drew criticism from officers abroad who disassociated themselves from the behavior of Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin. He was charged with third-degree murder after he was filmed pushing down with his knee on Floyd’s neck until Floyd stopped crying out that he couldn’t breathe and eventually stopped moving.

In Israel, police spokesman Micky Rosenfeld said “there is no tactic or protocol that calls to put pressure on the neck or airway.”

In Germany, officers are allowed to briefly exert pressure on the side of a suspect’s head but not on the neck, says Germany‘s GdP police union.

In the U.K., the College of Policing says prone suspects should be placed on their side or in a sitting, kneeling or standing position “as soon as practicable.” Guidance on the website of London’s police force discourages the use of neck restraints, saying “any form of pressure to the neck area can be highly dangerous.”

Even within countries, procedures can vary.

The thick Patrol Guide, hundreds of pages long, for the New York Police Department says in bold capitals that officers “SHALL NOT” use chokeholds and should “avoid actions which may result in chest compression, such as sitting, kneeling, or standing on a subject’s chest or back, thereby reducing the subject’s ability to breathe.”

But the so-called “sleeper hold,” where pressure is applied to the neck with an arm, blocking blood flow, was allowed for police in San Diego before Floyd’s death triggered a shift. Police Chief David Nisleit said he would this week order an end to the tactic.

Gendarmes in France are discouraged from pressing down on the chests and vital organs of prone suspects and are no longer taught to apply pressure to the neck, said Col. Laurent De La Follye de Joux, head of training for the force.

“You don’t need to be a doctor to understand that it is dangerous,” he said.

But instructions for the National Police, the other main law and order force in France, appear to give its officers more leeway. Issued in 2015, they say pressure on a prone suspect’s chest “should be as short as possible.”

Christophe Rouget, a police union official who briefed lawmakers for their deliberations in March about the proposal to ban suffocating techniques, said if officers don’t draw pistols or use stun-guns then immobilizing people face-down is the safest option, stopping suspects from kicking out at arresting officers.

“We don’t have 5,000 options,” he said. “These techniques are used by all the police in the world because they represent the least amount of danger. The only thing is that they have to be well used. In the United States, we saw that it wasn’t well used, with pressure applied in the wrong place and for too long.”

He added that the “real problem” in France is that officers don’t get enough follow-up training after being taught restraints in police school.

“You need to repeat them often to do them well,” he said.





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