Law in Contemporary Society


-- By TashaStatzGeary - 26 May 2022

Cut Short

In 2018, I interned in New York before my final year of college. It was a profoundly lonely summer, the kind that a 21-year-old woman can both romanticize and languish in. I had the awareness that I was growing precisely because I was making mistakes, that I was lucky to be robbed in Bushwick and to learn from it. The present hardships were the building blocks of a wiser future.

On a brutally hot day, I wandered around Greenwich Village to pass time. Hot and bright days in the city always made me anxious: everything seemed louder and smellier. The skyscrapers felt extra claustrophobic. I was homesick and aimless. Craving a reminder of home, I opened Facebook, where I saw tributes to a childhood friend. She had been murdered by her boyfriend. My wistful depression suddenly felt laughable– while I sulked about the growing pains of adolescence, she was robbed of that privilege. She could never look back on this time. She was gone.

Brittany was a few years older than me. Both her parents were addicted to drugs when she was born, so her grandmother raised her. To escape the heat of Orlando, her grandmother would send her to Brittany’s older cousin in Massachusetts for the summer. This cousin, Tricia, was my nanny. Britt and I thus ended up as playmates every year.

Britt was warm and blunt, wise beyond her years but quick to smile. She was mischievous, convincing me to hide from Tricia so we could play longer. Britt would poke fun at me, as all big sisters do, but I saw my love for her reflected back to me in every eye-roll. She teased me because I loved her and because she loved me too– she just couldn’t verbalize it, a predictable result from her traumatic childhood.

Shyer and younger, I was content being Britt's shadow and listening to her stories for hours. As we got older, she taught me about training bras and boys. I have three older brothers, so Britt was a much needed ally. August was always clouded with the sad realization that she would leave soon, taking the sunshine and warmth and freedom with her. We took pictures to remember each other during the year. I still have disposable pictures of us in Tricia’s backyard, posing with peace signs and popped hips.

Once I outgrew needing a babysitter, I stopped seeing Britt. By then we had Facebook, which is where I learned she became a mother at age 19 and where I first saw her new boyfriend in early 2018. This boyfriend, in August of that same year, would brutally beat Britt to death while they visited his family in Detroit. August took Britt from me one last time.

On the Amtrak home, I arranged to see Tricia. She was like a mother to me, so we stayed close. We met for a solemn dinner. All evening she repeated, “This happened because Britt was desperate to feel loved and didn’t know what that looks like.” I swallowed back tears, wishing my childhood adoration could’ve sustained Britt until someone else earned her loving taunts.

No One Would Tell

Admittedly, I was uninformed about domestic violence before Britt’s murder. In high school health class, our teacher played a made-for-TV-movie called No One Would Tell, starring Candace Cameron and Fred Savage. The synopsis reads: “A teenager thinks all her dreams have come true when the school hunk begins dating her, but it's not long before the darker side of his personality rears its ugly head.” No one took this movie seriously. In fairness, it is objectively terrible, full of 1990s cliches ripe for ridicule by teenagers in 2014. I participated in the mockery, leaving class with my ignorance unchanged. If anything, our teacher trivialized intimate partner abuse by using a kitschy film as his sole lesson plan.

I remembered these teenage sneers during a torts lecture this semester. While discussing a case in which an abusive ex-boyfriend (Pugach) stalked his ex-girlfriend (Riss) and hired someone to throw acid on her face, our professor included additional facts not in the casebook. Each sentence was given its own slide for dramatic effect. “After being released from the hospital, Riss goes on a double date with Pugach.” The room giggled. After a few more slides, our professor reached the punchline: “Riss and Pugach get married.” The room exploded into laughter. Once the crowd died down, the professor recommended a movie made about the case. A male student offered his review: “One of the most entertaining movies I’ve watched.”

Cultural Competency

After this class, I thought of Britt. I thought of people laughing at her for staying with her abuser, amused that he psychologically manipulated her into believing he was her only option, the only person who could ever love her. I thought of Linda Riss, long deceased, being laughed at by a professor and classroom who could never understand what she experienced and why she married Pugach. I thought of how the most traumatic event of her life was distilled into a court opinion and used as an entertaining introduction to governmental immunity. We used her pain to learn and then discarded her humanity with our laughter.

I googled Britt’s name. The first result is the court’s decision in the case against her abuser. I read the opinion, recognizing the canonical cases, tracking how the court found sufficient proximate cause for second-degree murder. It is easy to imagine a law school class using this case to learn causation.

It goes without saying that every victim is more than what a court or casebook author writes. They are worth more than the educational or entertainment value of their deaths– they had lives and dreams and little sisters who thought they hung the moon and stars. The nuances folded into their humanity cannot be captured in a courtroom. Law school should teach its students this before licensing them to represent the Britts of the world.


Webs Webs

r4 - 13 Jun 2022 - 18:21:36 - TashaStatzGeary
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