Chris Henry’s Death Exposes Double Standard

Toxicology reports are back for NFL wide receiver Chris Henry. The results show that Henry died in Charlotte last December from a fractured skull and other head injuries, which occurred when he jumped or fell from a moving truck; his fiancée Loleini Tonga was behind the wheel. The story made national headlines and kicked off a media frenzy about Tonga’s innocence or guilt.

High-profile domestic disputes, especially those involving NFL players, aren’t new in Charlotte. Former Carolina Panther Ray Carruth murdered the mother of his child more than 10 years ago. And in 2003, Deidra Lane killed Carolina Panthers running back Fred Lane, alleging domestic abuse.

Folks took a particular interest in the Henry case because the athlete, who experienced some problems early in his career, had supposedly turned his life around, winning his spot back on the Cincinnati Bengals — a team that had previously dismissed him for bad behavior.

According to witnesses, Tonga was fleeing a domestic dispute with Henry at the couple’s home. Henry jumped into the back of the pick-up truck when Tonga drove off and, somehow, he was ejected from the vehicle. Authorities ruled the incident an accident, declining to press charges against Tonga.

When the accident first happened, comment threads surfaced on the Web calling Tonga a murderer. Some people said: “Had she just pulled over, he would be alive.” I thought to myself, “Had he been able to control his emotions and not chased her out of the house and jumped on the back of the truck when she left, he would be alive.”

I heard and read that Tonga was driving at breakneck speed, purposely making him fall off of the truck. Investigators found that Tonga was not traveling more than 19 mph. I thought perhaps Henry’s anger, adrenaline or superior physical condition contributed to his “jumping” from the truck. I remember trying to reserve judgment until more facts became available, even though in my mind it was clear that it was a dispute gone wrong.

But when trying to chat about it with friends, male and female, the same tone crept into the conversation: Tonga, who was called every name but a child of God (including “bitch,” “whore” and “gold digger”), was supposedly this venomous woman who plotted to trap Henry and purposely kill him. Really? It’s always interesting that people think athletes are so much better than the women they date. But I digress.

When I asked folks who spoke so harshly about Tonga what was driving their anger, many simply stated that they were giving Henry the benefit of the doubt. I thought to myself: “Why weren’t they willing to give Tonga the benefit of the doubt?” One friend said Tonga left him on the side of the road, which shows that she knew what she was doing. But Henry, who ran out of his house and jumped in the back of her truck, didn’t know what he was doing? Another colleague stated that if Tonga had stayed in the house or not driven off, Henry would be alive. I wondered aloud, “But would Tonga be alive?”

It was clear that very few people cared about this woman because she wasn’t an NFL player. In their minds, she was some “groupie” who bagged a professional athlete and killed him for no reason. Folks were blind to the facts that were coming out about the case. With all of that selective hearing and reading, it was determined that Tonga was a horrible person. I suppose if a woman isn’t a pop superstar, then it doesn’t matter if she’s involved in a volatile or abusive romantic relationship. But that’s another article.

The irony of the situation is that this type of thinking about women informs domestic violence. Women as evil temptresses who lead men to do dubious things is part of the world’s historical narrative in all aspects of society including religion, education and popular culture. It is communicated to us every day that women are objects of desire who cannot be trusted. When women try to escape this way of thinking, they are usually punished … much like Tonga. And it is not just men who think like this — it is also women, many of whom raise batterers.

With the recent findings that Henry was not intoxicated or on drugs during the incident, the hating on Tonga has resumed. The failure to address Henry’s role in the domestic dispute that cost him his life has resumed as well. While domestic violence incidents are present, real conversations about the problem are nonexistent.

This incident made me think about the countless number of domestic disputes that happen in Charlotte that don’t get national news coverage. Last year 617 women were admitted to Charlotte’s Shelter for Battered Women. More than 2,000 were turned away. So what are victims to do if there is nowhere for them to run?

A campaign is currently underway to build a larger battered women’s shelter, which is good and bad for obvious reasons. Unless we get a handle on this epidemic, clearly there will be plenty of high- and no-profile cases. As evidenced by the Henry case, no one wins when it comes to domestic violence.

Nsenga K. Burton, Ph.D. is serves as cultural critic for Creative Loafing. She is also an editor-at-large for, where she writes the Buzz Section and feature stories.


Is Going ‘Brenda Richie’ On Someone Ever Acceptable

Okay, unless you’ve been living under a rock, I’m sure that you’ve heard about the Tiger Woods debacle. Originally reported as a car crash in which his wife helped to free him, it has been alleged by TMZ that Woods suffered injuries prior to the crash and that actually his golf-club wielding wife went all “Brenda Richie” on his ass upon learning of an affair, allegedly.

I find this interesting because my sister and I had just talked about the Rihanna interview on 20/20 and how she never stated that she attacked Chris Brown, even though it has been widely reported that this is what happened. What she didn’t expect was that he would go O.J. on her and beat her like she stole something. I don’t believe that you should ever put your hands on someone, but if you hit someone in anger and sometimes in jest, you should expect to be hit back. Do I think that men should hit women? No. Do I think that women should hit men? No.

This is a glaring issue in domestic violence — the fact that no one wants to talk about women jumping on men in many of these instances. It’s unpopular to discuss because then women’s rights advocates (I am one) often accuse you of blaming the victim. It is not about blame — it is about having an honest discussion about domestic violence. Battering men, even cheaters and batterers, is not going to stop domestic violence in any community. Just like it is never okay for men to hit women, it is never okay for women to hit men either.

Further, it is ridiculous that some women think that they can hit men without recourse because men aren’t supposed to hit women. Really. In the world that I grew up in, if you hit someone, you should expect to get hit back which is why I’ve never put my hands on a man. I’ve been mad, cheated on, mistreated, etc., but nothing has ever prompted me to put my hands on a dude. I’m not trying to fight a dude or go to jail for hitting someone because I exercised the same lack of control that he demonstrated when doing his dirt.

I just walk away, leave him alone and keep it moving. No man is worth publicly humiliating myself or going to jail over. Domestic violence is a two-way street and women attacking men is no laughing matter.

African Americans and Domestic Violence: The Real Cost to Our Community

Domestic violence in the African–American community must stop. It seems like an easy enough thing to say, but doing it seems like something else all together. We live in a society marked by violence. This country was founded on violent acts, many of which were against women, particularly Black women who were slaves. It would seem that having suffered such violence at the hands of former male and female slave owners, our cultural practices would demand that we respect and protect Black women from harm. It is truly sad, when the one thing that we can count on statistically speaking, is harm in the form of physical and emotional abuse from our intimate partners.

According to the study “When Men Murder Women: An Analysis of 2006 Homicide Data,” released by The Violence Policy Center, a national non-profit organization that conducts research on violence in the United States, 551 African American women were murdered by males in 2006. The study stated that there were 1,818 race-identified females murdered by males. While white women accounted for the largest total of those killed (1,208), African American women were killed at a rate nearly three times higher. How did most of the murders occur? Guns killed 305 of those women.

Intimate partners are literally blowing Black women away for a variety of reasons that include stress, mental illness, control, narcissism and pathology. Mothers, daughters, sisters, aunts, nieces and cousins are leaving this earth with wounded bodies and spirits and sadly enough the numbers are increasing, not decreasing. What does this mean for the black community?

It means that we have to do something to break the cycle of abuse and violence in our homes. If the majority of Black households are headed by women, what happens when those women are killed or injured? Talking about domestic violence hasn’t helped. High profile cases like those involving Chris Brown and Rihanna, Bebe Winans, Big Pun, Don Cornelius, Jennifer Hudson’s sister and Tyrese Gibson haven’t helped. Women offering testimony in church and on YouTube hasn’t helped. Men and women creating awareness campaigns during the month of October hasn’t helped.

If you turn on the television or read a newspaper, there is a very high likelihood that a woman murdered by an intimate partner is somewhere in the content.

We know that domestic violence breaks up families. We know that children suffer emotionally, financially and spiritually with the sudden loss of a parent. We know that it leaves irreparable mental and emotional scars on women and men. But do we know the economic costs of domestic violence to the black community? Let me break it down for you.

According to the National Network to End Domestic Violence, in the United States, the cost of intimate partner violence exceeds $5.8 billion each year, with $4.1 billion going towards direct medical and mental health services.

Victims of intimate partner violence lost 8 million days of paid work because of violence committed against them by current or former husbands, boyfriends or dates. That equals 32,000 full-time jobs and almost 5.6 million days of household productivity.

According to the National Funeral Director’s Association, the average cost of a funeral in the U.S. is $7,323 thousand each year. In 2006, Black families spent over $4 million burying African American victims of domestic violence.

According to the World Health Organization, the cost of domestic violence in the United States amounts to 3.3 percent of the gross domestic product (GDP). (read more)

This is an excerpt from an article that appeared on, where Nsenga serves as managing editor.

October Ends but Domestic Violence Continues

As I wrote in this space a few weeks ago, October is Domestic Violence Awareness Month. Now, the beauty of an “Awareness Month” is that important issues, like domestic violence, are highlighted and discussed in ways that do not necessarily happen during other times of the year. It is an opportunity to go all out to bring pressing issues to the forefront.

The danger of an Awareness Month, however, is that important issues, like domestic violence, get relegated to one month out of the year — when it is something that we should be working to end 365 days each year. Unfortunately, unless a major pop star gets beaten up by another pop star or celebrity (a la Chris Brown and Rihanna, Tommy Lee and Pamela Anderson Lee), then conversations and activism appear to reside in the margins of society as opposed to front and center, which is what it will take to end domestic violence.

Having said that, each time that Domestic Violence Awareness Month comes around, I endeavor to learn something about the issue that I did not previously know. Those of you who follow this column know that I am committed to exploring and exposing gender issues. Over the last year, I have written tirelessly about victims of domestic violence, mostly women. Although I never feel that I am writing in vain, I do wonder why it is so hard to get people to do the right thing.

Although most of the programming and resources about domestic violence are geared toward women, because we are the main victims and survivors of this community disease, men are also victims of domestic violence. How many little boys witness domestic violence incidents against their mothers? How many men have been on the receiving end of an intimate partner’s physical or mental abuse? According to Battered Men, an organization that helps male victims/survivors of domestic violence, intimate partners batter 835,000 men each year.

This is clearly an issue that affects us all, so why do we only confront it as a nation once a year? According to the domestic violence prevention group SOAR, intimate partners in the United States physically assault 1.5 million women annually. Since many women experience multiple victimizations every year, an estimated 5.9 million physical assaults are perpetrated against U.S. women annually. More than 1,500 women are killed by intimate-partner violence each year. That means that each day, more than three women are killed by an intimate partner.

Domestic violence has become so normalized that we rarely flinch when we hear about such stories on the news. These stories are reported every day of the year, multiple times, yet and still, the number of incidents increase each year.

One-third of all 911 calls are related to domestic violence incidents. According to EHS Today, domestic violence costs businesses $7 billion per year in lost wages, sick leave, absenteeism, non-productivity and direct medical care costs. (more)

This is an excerpt from an article that originally appeared on Creative Loafing where Nsenga serves as cultural critic.

Love Turns Deadly: Domestic Violence Hits Home Again

Nikki McPhatter is dead.

You may have been following the story about a young, African-American woman (30 years old) who had been missing since May 6, 2009. Unfortunately, her body was recently discovered in Richland County, S.C. in her car. Police believe that she was shot in the head and then burned beyond recognition. The police are attempting to locate her dentist in order to identify the body by her dental records. If not, identification could take weeks, even months because of the condition of the body.

Allegedly, she met her former boyfriend Theodore Roosevelt Manning IV online and began a relationship. McPhatter had gone to South Carolina to break things off with him because of his reportedly controlling ways when she disappeared. Manning was arrested in connection with her murder. Where was he found? In the safety of his home.

My heart is heavy as I write this, thinking of yet another young woman, senselessly murdered. If Manning is responsible, one has to wonder: “When did breaking up have to end in death? What happened to going our separate ways? What’s up with men and women who would rather kill their spouses, than leave or be left?”

Domestic violence is an epidemic that must be eliminated. More measures need to be taken to protect people from batterers. While there has been a lot of awareness about domestic violence, especially in recent months with the high-profile cases of celebrities like Jennifer Hudson, Chris Brown, Rihanna and Phil Spector, the laws have not changed to better protect victims or survivors.

Case in point — Heather Thompson, whose husband held her hostage for 15 hours and beat her within an inch of her life. Thomas Price Jr. was sentenced to 10 years in prison, but spent an additional five years in federal prison for making threats to his wife and children while in prison. What were the threats? He wrote in a letter, “… I can’t wait to see the fear in your eyes … Before I kill you!!! All three of you will die by my hands!” as reported by The Charlotte Observer.

Price was scheduled for release from prison on Friday, May 29, 2009 — but was not ordered to stay away from Thompson and her children. How do you release a man from prison who was sent there for trying to kill his wife, continued to threaten to kill her and their children from jail, and not make staying away from her a condition of his release? That is a major oversight, which will undoubtedly have real consequences.

Thompson had to take out a restraining order against Price and go to the media for protection, which of course makes her look like the agitator/aggressor to someone clearly off-center like Price is alleged to be. Thompson is being victimized yet again and must fear for her life. How ironic is it that the man who attempted to kill Thompson is free, while she is imprisoned by the real threat of violence against she and her family?

Domestic violence has really become a normalized part of our society, and it is unacceptable. We have to decide as a community to rebel against it. There are some in the community fighting against domestic violence. United Family Services Domestic Violence programs and the Mecklenburg County Women’s Commission Domestic Violence services have joined forces in a collaborative effort to reach a wider audience by forming the Domestic Violence Speakers Bureau. Their goal is to reach more of the community by sharing resources and eliminating duplicate efforts in addressing domestic violence issues. The idea is that with more awareness, people will be more inclined to get involved in helping to stop domestic violence matters.

How many of us know someone who is mentally or physically battered? How many of us have lived next door to someone he or she heard being abused and done and said nothing? A friend of mine was actually considering moving from an apartment complex because she couldn’t stand to hear the violence that was happening next door. She had not reported the incidents to the management at the apartment complex, nor had she contacted the police, which is the least that someone can do. If you can’t stand to listen to it, imagine how the other person must feel who is actually living it?

What if it was you? If someone saw or heard you getting beat down by your partner/lover/spouse, would you want him or her to ignore it or turn away? You would undoubtedly want some help. A lot of times, victims of domestic abuse suffer in silence because they do not think that they can get help. Sometimes they don’t know what’s in store, as was the case with McPhatter. Domestic incidents sometimes start as mental abuse, controlling behavior or small incidents of anger and violence that can escalate to someone killing or maiming you or both.

Nikki McPhatter is dead. Heather Thompson is praying that she won’t be next. We need to pray for McPhatter, Thompson, victims and survivors of domestic violence. Most of all, we need to pray for ourselves if this is the best that we can do as a community in the fight against domestic violence — because if this is it, we’re all in trouble.

This article originally appeared in Creative Loafing, where Nsenga serves as Cultural Critic.