Others rush to Winkie Mitchell’s defense.
As we’ll see, they offer solid reasons.
But Mitchell, an RN who has spent a career in Springfield working with physically and sexually abused children and the problems they tend to carry with them through life, won’t have it.
She won’t hide behind justifications.
As she tells her friends: “You didn’t have their eyes on you” — eyes that said, make that pleaded, “Help me.”
By doing nothing, she confessed, “I said no.”
That was decades ago, but it haunts her still.
In one way, the single act of violence in a laundromat is merely one instance in which one person, Mitchell, has a sense that she failed.
But she tells the story because “we turn our eyes from a lot of very clear things” that are signals of violence. “There’s many reasons we don’t choose to participate or get involved,” she said, among them personal safety.
“My big thing is,” she argued, “there’s a price for not getting involved,” too.
Not getting involved creates a space in which violence can continue to happen in a community, she said. It gives those who harm others the sense they’re entitled to do so in that space. And it can give their victims the sense they deserve the abuse.
Recent studies linking various kinds of violence to the other suggest tolerance for it sets up an incubator for community violence of the most serious sort.
That’s what Mitchell said can change and has to change in Springfield.
It’s why she’s among those inviting anyone interested in making that change to the “Louder than the Violence” event from 5 to 7:30 p.m. Thursday in the lower level of the North Building at the Rocking Horse Community Center, 651 N. Limestone St.
Early in her career as a mental health nurse, “a lot of my case load was children who had been sexually or physically abused,” she said.
“I saw a lot of resilient kids” recover, she said, “but not without scars.”
“A lot of the males become violent. And it may be small initially, but without intervention, it sets up that (sense of) entitlement,” she said. Because they sense that they can do it, “they do it.”
“There are more girls being violent now” as well, she said. More typically, females “get involved with people who are violent. They feel like they deserve it. They have a hard time trusting someone who’s being good to them.”
“It’s like creating ‘sleeping with the enemy’ in terms of the roles women are supposed to play. Women are supposed to be beaten and men supposed to be empowered,” she said.
In this kind of world, “We need to be responders after the fact,” she said. “but I think we need to establish caring norms” that don’t accept the behavior and squeeze out the sense of entitlement in the first place, she said.
“That’s in our community, that’s in our homes,” she said.
The question, she said, is “What do we want to see?” in the the community.
“And if that’s what we want, we need to start creating those environments. It’s not just the schools. This is our community,” she said.
“There’s no outcry, there’s no stopping and acknowledging what’s wrong here.”
And what was wrong that day in the laundromat.
She was there, waiting on the machines to finish, when in walked a squabbling couple with two children.
“I was sitting and reading, and the kids were playing” she said. “They were like 3 and 4. And I was enjoying watching them.”
“This guy comes up, and he just backhands them into the wall. It took me totally by surprise. He came up so fast and hit them, and I didn’t say anything.”
When she looks back on it now, “All I can see is (the kids) looking at me doing nothing.”
“To me, the message I gave them by silence was ‘you deserved it.’”
Sure, her friends were right when they told her if she’d spoken up or intervened, he might have attacked her.
“But I have recourse, the children don’t. He might have attacked me, but I could have called the police. They had to go home with him.”
Mitchell tells another story, too, this one about her friend who’d just finished work after a very long day and was headed to his car to go home.
“He saw a couple having trouble,” she said. And though he couldn’t see them clearly, “he kept kind of keeping an eye on them. Then he saw the guy kind of pull the girl off into a dark area.”
“All the while, he’s saying, ‘This is none of my business.’” Mitchell said. “But he finds himself walking in that direction.”
When he gets there, he startles the guy, who takes off, Mitchell said.
While bending down to check on the girl, he hears her say “Daddy, is that you?”
“It was his daughter,” Mitchell said.
“I want someone to stop when my son, my daughter, my grandchildren, my sister” is in danger, she said. Whoever the victim is, “it’s somebody’s daughter, it’s somebody’s son, it’s somebody’s sister.”
“We’re all responsible for that.”
Failing to take responsibility has a price that, for someone, is always personal.