Deadly patterns: History will keep repeating itself…

Houston Chronicle

How do you end a history of violence?

Good souls want to think that nobody could have predicted that David Conley would murder Valerie Jackson, her six children, including his own son, and Dwayne Jackson. Experts in domestic violence know better. Conley’s pattern of domestic assault followed a path that often leads to jail, hospitals and even death. This cycle of violence is passed down from generation to generation. And when women try to do the right thing by leaving a violent man, that’s when they face the greatest danger.

Newspapers have to write about these sad stories all too often. A report by the Texas Council on Family Violence shows that 119 Texas women died in domestic violence killings in 2013, and 114 women in 2012.

So how do you end this history of violence?

Our criminal justice system responds to death with death. Harris County District Attorney Devon Anderson has said that this case is a “no-brainer” for the death penalty.

“No-brainer” is exactly right. It takes little thought to go with our gut instinct of revenge, but bragging ex post facto about our ability to punish Conley now is a cheap answer to the hard question of justice.

Real justice would be if Conley had been ready for the responsibility of a civilized world after he last left jail. Real public safety would be if we’d saved these kids before they were killed.

A functioning criminal justice system would work to keep everyone safe long after criminals reenter society. Our institutions had total control over Conley for his five-year sentence in 2000, and they released him just as broken and dangerous as he was when he first entered.

Our courts have begun to embrace the idea of reparative justice. We have drug courts that help addicts kick the habit and veteran courts that help soldiers reintegrate after a life of trauma in the battlefield. Harris County jail even operates programs that help new mothers behind bars learn the skills they need to care for their babies.

So where is help for those who need it the most?

Society suffers at the hands of men who commit evil, but we give up on the idea of retraining their souls. Instead we lock them away, as if isolation will somehow heal their sins.

Then again, it is nearly impossible to convince a violent man that he’s broken when every other force in society says that his violence is strength. From professional athletes whose domestic abuse goes excused to politicians who treat guns like playthings, there’s little shame to be found in the language of violence – the only language that Conley seemed to understand.

We will learn more about Conley as the process unfolds, but he seems a man with a convoluted mind. He feared the disrespect of children and responded by beating them, but had no fear about becoming a child abuser or a murderer. In a jailhouse interview, he referenced the Bible’s commandment for children to respect their parents, yet ignored the commandment against murder.

It is clear that he lacked the emotional self-control that all people must learn – a failure of self, family, schools and society. We failed those children, too.

Harris County state District Judge Glenn Devlin returned them to a violent household after a quick respite in a foster home more than a year ago. Devlin said that he was never told the children would be in danger, yet the pattern still played out to its predictable end.

All across the state, we’re doing something wrong. Texas is second-worst in the nation for child abuse and neglect deaths, according to a 2012 report by the Every Child Matters Education Fund. In 2010, 222 children died from abuse and neglect.

Until Texas refuses to tolerate our history of violence, it will continue. Just last year, four children and two adults were shot to death during a domestic dispute in Spring. And unless something changes soon, we will mourn again when history all too likely repeats itself in a few more months.

Originally published August 12, 2015 Houston Chronicle