For most of this nation's history, domestic violence was considered a private matter, not warranting, or even permitting, a public response. The same ideology that refuses to grant a woman the privacy to make her own decisions about reproduction granted a zone of privacy in which a husband could beat his wife. To some extent, and despite the very great gains in recent years in confronting domestic violence, vestiges of that attitude remain: In Castle Rock v. Gonzaks, a case to be decided by the U.S. Supreme Court this summer, the Justice Department argued that "private parties"-in this instance women who have taken out restraining orders-may not enjoy an "entitlement to enforcement."
That reasoning is heresy to those who work with domestic violence cases, who know that the battering of one woman produces multiple victims, and that among those victims is society at large. "The longer I do this," advocate Patricia Prickett told reporter Sara Catania ("The Counselor," page 44), "the more I'm reminded that domestic violence is everybody's problem."
I can't read Prickett's words without recalling my sojourn last year in Tacoma, Washington. I'd come to report a simple travel piece about Tacoma's artistic and civic renaissance, but couldn't even skim the touristy surface of the place without stumbling into a barely submerged agony. Asked about the future of a Tacoma museum, a docent confided, "Our board's been in upheaval since the Brame tragedy." Asked if the city's light-rail system would be expanded, a civic leader mourned that the political will for large projects had collapsed "since the Brame tragedy." The new head of the opera, when I inquired if she'd been greeted by cultural ambassadors eager to discuss how her institution fit into the city's rebirth, told me no. Initiatives of that sort might have happened once, she said, "but that would be before the Brame tragedy."
The event that had left the city so stunned was by then a year old. In April 2003, David Brame accosted his estranged wife, Crystal, in a shopping center parking lot, shot her in the head with a .45, then killed himself, all while their two young children watched. Crystal lingered a week. The crime was horrifying enough in its details to provoke a national response. Senator Patty Murray (D-Wash.) invoked the Brame case when presenting the Paul and Sheila Wellstone Domestic Violence Prevention Amendment to Congress in March 2004. The tragedy's effects locally were all the more devastating because of who David Brame was-Tacoma's chief of police-and because of the slow-breaking revelation that many civic leaders had tolerated or covered up his violence and misogyny for years. Cleansing the good-old-boy infrastructure that had coddled David Brame required deep soul-searching on the part of the community, and eventually some hard action. …