By now many of you have probably read about Chris Brown and his arrest Sunday night on criminal threat charges. The latest reports on the matter allege that Brown assaulted his girlfriend, R&B singer Rihanna with a deadly weapon. Rihanna was hospitalized, and Chris Brown faces a potential nine-year prison sentence. This is a tragedy, to be sure, but does it have anything to do with us?
This is tricky territory. While this is a heinous crime, it raises some interesting questions regarding our treatment of these issues as a larger culture. Since I certainly have more questions than answers, I figured I would list out some of the things I've been thinking about this case and hope for insight from all of you. (Dodai Stewart already asks some good questions in this Jezebel post about what might happen to the Rihanna and Chris's relationship, so be sure to check that out as well.) Here are some of the issues I have been struggling with since reading about Brown's arrest:
Should this crime be getting so much media coverage? Chris Brown committed a serious act of violence and that has consequences, but much of the focus of the coverage has been on Rihanna and I don't think she should not have to be in the spotlight on something like this. N.O.W. has a great article on this topic that points out that while the couple in question are major stars, domestic violence occurs thousands of times a year in this country. Coverage like this can only be helpful if it motivates people to speak out against this type of violence when it comes to all people, not just celebrities.
Would this get the same kind of attention if the couple in question were famous for a different reason? What if this case involved two musicians from a different genre, like Zac Effron and Vanessa Hudgens from High School Musical? The teens in question are roughly the same age and appeal to the same age groups. Does the fact that this violence took place within the hip hop community (which has been criticized for normalizing domestic violence in the past) make a difference?
Why is Brown being brought up on criminal threat charges instead of domestic abuse?According to this Miss Info post, "Law enforcement sources tell us they typically book a suspect for the most serious crime they can be charged with – it's then up to the D.A. to file any additional charges. Given there were allegedly visible injuries, the crime of making criminal threats is punishable by up to nine years in prison. Domestic abuse is four years." What I want to know after reading that is, Why are criminal threats taken more seriously than domestic abuse? That doesn't seem right. (You legal experts out there, please let me know what is up with this.) There are more questions we could ask here, to be sure. Should Brown's past (he allegedly grew up in an abusive household) be taken into account? What about his age (19)? What is the appropriate response from other members of the hip hop community? (Kanye West spoke out against Brown's actions; T.I. shared words of support for him) Do the opinions of other celebrities even matter here? What might this mean for the hip hop community and its (especially young) supporters? So many questions, so few answers. But honestly, I am saddened and confused by this news and I'd like to hear from all of you. What do you think? What questions does this issue raise for you? Let's discuss.