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Vigil Launches "Blue Ribbon Campaign"

Vigil Launches "Blue Ribbon Campaign" image
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ANN ARBOR - On Oct. 16th, about 250 women, men and children gathered at the Federal Building to observe the sixth annual Candlelight Vigil in honor of battered women who have died at the hands of their abusers, and in celebration of those who have survived.

"Battering, when left unchecked," said Domestic Violence Project/SAFE House volunteer Mildred Henderson, "ends in homicide." Domestic violence activist, Moe Fitzsimons, named one-by-one, 24 Michigan women who have been killed by their assailants since last October. Fitzsimons told the audience that organizers are bringing attention to the legal system's accountability for some of those homicides by carrying out the "Blue Ribbon Campaign." 

The campaign was launched by friends and relatives of Lisa Bianco. Bianco was a battered woman whose assailant, her husband Allan Matheny, was imprisoned. During his imprisonment Bianco became the director of her local shelter for battered women. On March 4 Matheny was let out of prison on furlough without Bianco being notified. (One of the conditions of the weekend furloughs was that Bianco would be alerted when her husband was to be let out.) Matheny went straight to her house and murdered her.

The Blue Ribbon Campaign was begun to remember Bianco and women life her, and to call for enforcement of domestic violence laws already on the books. The campaign is calling for Michigan police to arrest batterers when they see signs of battering. "State-wide," said Susan McGee, Director of SAFE House, which is coordinating the campaign locally, "most police are not arresting batterers despite the fact that a crime has obviously been committed and the state criminal statute law gives them the option of arresting without a warrant."

"In Washtenaw County where mandatory arrest practices have police arresting at a much higher incidence," added McGee, "we're beginning to see a drop if recurrence of battering."

The campaign is also demanding that police comply with state law which requires them to hand out shelter cards to survivors of domestic violence when they respond to domestic violence calls. McGee said there is not uniform compliance with this requirement.

The campaign also hopes to see SB583 be made state law. The bill mandates that batterers be held in jail until arraignment. As it stands in Ann Arbor and many other Michigan communities, batterers are often released from jail within an hour of their arrest.

Fitzsimons told the crowd that the legal system has in some cases begun to recognize that women kill batterers in self-defense. She congratulated Circuit Court Judge William F. Ager, Jr. for allowing testimony by a shelter worker in the case of Esther Wallace. Wallace was charged with the June 18 murder of her abuser in Ann Arbor. It was the first time a non-psychiatrist was used as an expert witness in a domestic violence case in Michigan. On Oct. 14, Wallace was acquitted of the charges on the basis of self-defense.

During the program domestic violence survivors were asked to come forward and tell their story. Young people were especially encouraged to make a statement. One survivor, Margie, said "We suffer from post-traumatic syndrome...a certain smell, or touch. We have flashbacks like vets." Another survivor, Kelly, proclaimed, "Domestic violence runs in my family but it's going to stop with me."

The program ended in the tying of blue ribbons on the county courthouse. "The ribbons are here," said McGee "to remind us of the change in attitudes and practices in the entire criminal justice system that we're working toward."

To get involved with the Blue Ribbon Campaign write Michigan Coalition Against Domestic Violence, 2766 W. 11 Mile Rd., Berkley, MI 48072, or call 1-547-8888, or contact the Domestic Violence Project/SAFE House at 973-0242.


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Esther Wallace