I spent the last week watching the 30 for 30 documentary series “OJ: Made in America.” I have to admit it was intriguing, if not way, way, way too long. It’s been more than 20 years since the first O.J. trial and a time in which people like Marcia Clark, Kato Kaelin and Lance Ito all became nationally known names. For me, it was a bit like opening a box of stuff I found in the attic: It brought back memories, but didn’t provide me with a lot more than that on the whole.
The one thing that it did provide me, however, was a look into the life of Nicole Brown and the constant cycle of abuse she endured at the hands of O.J. At the time of the trial, we didn’t really have the Internet as we know it now, nor did we have a ton of talking-head journalism, so we really got only one real stream of content. Granted, we got it non-stop, but we didn’t get a more diverse set of understandings when it came to all the angles of this situation. Furthermore, domestic violence was still on the fringes of society. Much like everything else that made us feel uncomfortable back then, we marginalized it or ignored it.
The sheer volume of calls to the Simpson house and the 9-1-1 calls and the Polaroids of a bruised and battered Nicole brought to bear a sense of how horrible he had been to her. At the time of the trial, most of that got lost in the discussion of “If the glove don’t fit, you must acquit” and Mark Fuhrman’s “N-word-palooza and framing shop.” The escalation of abuse clearly showed she lived in constant fear for her life and that any reasonable person in today’s day and age would not have difficulty seeing that murder could be a logical denouement.
For O.J., however, it was always just a “situation” that “happened” because she was doing something wrong.
A cycle of abuse is easy to see only when you’re not the abuser, something our beloved legislators should consider. Over the past half-decade, the abuse the Republican majority has heaped upon the educational system in this state has shown little regard for the men and women who work there. Legislators like Scott Fitzgerald see nothing of the sort when they talk about education. Instead, they paint the “situation” more plainly: If you just did what you were supposed to do, we wouldn’t have to hit you so hard.
Case in point: In the wake of troubles with the Milwaukee Public Schools, Fitzgerald issued the following “Bitch, don’t make me hit you” statement:
Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald (R-Juneau) said Republicans were so frustrated with MPS they may push for dramatic changes to how the state’s largest school district operates.
“Unfortunately, I think the only hammer is, ‘Listen, if you’re not going to participate, if you’re going to try to work around the law and we’re going to end up in court over this thing, then you’re probably going to see some significant reduction in revenue for MPS schools related to the opportunity schools.’ And I hope it doesn’t come to that, but I can see already that it’s kind of being teed up that way,” Fitzgerald said Thursday in an interview on “UpFront with Mike Gousha” on WISN-TV.
Some people may feel the comparative between domestic violence and the legislature is a bridge too far or that it demeans one or the other of the situations. I understand that, but before you dismiss this out of hand, unpack that statement carefully:
- He uses the phrase “the only hammer.” The idea of a hammer is just hit them harder until they submit. It’s a blunt tool and it doesn’t lend itself to nuance. The old line of “If at first you don’t succeed, hit it with a bigger hammer” comes into play here.
- The approach: “Listen, if you’re not going to participate…” The “listen” notion conveys power imbalance. The “if/then” moment conveys threat.
- The “don’t you dare call the cops” moment: “…if you’re going to try to work around the law and we’re going to end up in court over this thing, then you’re probably going to see some significant reduction in revenue for MPS schools related to the opportunity schools…” In other words, if you attempt to do something other than what I want or avail yourself of another option (courts), you are going to get hit hard.
- The power dynamic: The schools rely on the state for money. They can’t get it anywhere else. They can’t leave, they can’t fight (thanks to Act 10) and they can’t afford to do what the state wants. Fitzgerald knows this. So do the schools.
- The conciliatory conclusion: “I hope it doesn’t come to that” is a statement of false hope. It’s the one that has people in abusive situations thinking, “Maybe if I don’t burn the roast next time, he won’t hit me” or “Maybe I did look at that man when I shouldn’t have.”
I have not personally experienced the violence of an abuser, but I have studied it as a scholar and from an outsider’s point of view, the elements aren’t all that dissimilar. Even more, this is the latest in a long line of public beatings educators and the state’s educational system has taken. When I read this, I cringed the same way I did when I watched that film series. It was the same way I cringed when I read the cycles of abuse and destruction on the “Art Is Survival” site. It’s the same way I cringe when I see people at the store that I KNOW are in bad situations and the man says or does something like this and the rest of the family just freezes.
It all comes back to that one common thread:
“Please don’t hit me.”