The Power of Stories Retold

This week I once again heard two powerful and horrific stories about domestic violence in our community.  Both stories were difficult to listen to and comprehend.  They describe a world that I fervently wish did not exist.  Unfortunately, in this world, the strongest and most loving relationship between a couple is twisted into something incredibly manipulative and evil, sometimes even deadly.

This past Wednesday, I had a reunion with Connie Perry, my former assistant.  Her husband, retired Sheriff Sergeant David Perry, is on the Board at the YWCA of Pierce County and they invited me to sit at their table for the 36th Annual Celebration Luncheon (which raised over $167,000!). Author of the bestselling book “Maid: Hard Work, Low Pay and a Mother’s Will to Survive” and keynote speaker for the event, Stephanie Land was a powerful storyteller. Among other topics, she shared about how difficult it was to navigate well-intended government programs to support her. In fact, some of these programs actually became barriers to her moving to a brighter future.  But that wasn’t the story that demanded re-telling.

During the luncheon, they shared a very powerful video about a former client and her story. What started as a positive relationship turned ugly and then violent.  Two things jumped out to me as I watched.  First, when she described being shot by her ex-boyfriend, I was jolted.  It was like I could actually hear the gun shots.  Secondly, I was very thankful for the YWCA advocate who supported this client through a dizzying and daunting legal process and helped her get re-established.

My final take-away from the YWCA Luncheon was a statistic they shared about domestic violence committed in the presence of children and the unbelievably traumatic effect it has on them.

Which leads me to my other story, one that we must never forget. It describes one of the darkest points in our community’s history.

Some of you may know of Sean Robinson, former investigative reporter from The News Tribune.  He is a doggedly persistent journalist and performed a critically important service to our community for 18 years.  He was interviewed by Candice Ruud in a local podcast that I occasionally listen to called “Citizen Tacoma”.  Yesterday’s podcast interview was entitled a “Reporter’s Notebook Dump” which I found intriguing.

The first story Robinson recounts is David Brame’s horrific abuse and murder of his wife, Crystal Judson, in front of their two children exactly 16 years ago today, April 26, 2003.  This story is still difficult to comprehend. How could their relationship have been so abusive and dysfunctional?  How could he become the chief of one of our leading law enforcement agencies?  How could he commit one of the most notorious murders in our local history?  To listen to the podcast click here (warning there is some profanity).

Even today there are many unanswered questions.  But Crystal’s life and death demand that we never forget.  We must continually ask ourselves, “How can we prevent a future such tragedy?” and “How can we more effectively support and protect people trapped in caustic relationships?”  Crystal’s memory lives on with the Crystal Judson Family Justice Center where staff and volunteers provide survivors and their kids free services to begin anew.

Today, is “Domestic Violence Awareness Day,” in Pierce County.

Members of the Pierce County Council and Family Justice Center

So what are we doing in response to these two stories that demand both re-telling and action?

First, I am thankful for the important work that started in December with the passing of Resolution R2018-166s. Lead by Carol Mitchell for Pierce County and Linda Stewart for the City of Tacoma, both governments are bringing together providers like the Crystal Judson Family Justice Center, YWCA,  and other domestic violence agencies for a Strategic Alliance. They are charged with evaluating how we currently deliver services and challenged with recommending how we can more effectively deliver more services to more victims throughout Pierce County.  Everyone involved recognizes that traumatic violence extends beyond the intimate partner relationship but can also be broader family violence. I’m thankful for all the work and excited by the discussions that will strengthen family violence prevention services and improve coordination and delivery to victims in Pierce County.

Our second action recognizes that traumatizing children, through witnessing domestic violence, needs to be acknowledged and punished through our legal system.  Last month, Mary Robnett and I submitted a proposed ordinance to the Council doing just that.  Other jurisdictions have passed similar measures.  I look forward to the Council’s important work on this legislation. (see last week’s blog about the importance children in our community).

As I write this blog, a beautiful sunny day has emerged for Pierce County.  I hope these two stories, although coming from very dark places, motivate us to create a brighter future for those experiencing family violence.

I will close with my first ever blog-teaser.  Last night I attended a book club that was like none I had ever experienced.  I plan to share some of the astounding things I learned in next week’s blog, but here’s a brief video you might find intriguing.



Thanks for reading.

Bruce Dammeier