A Different Kind of Terror

Cedric Anderson, a Navy veteran and pastor, walked into North Park Elementary in San Bernardino, Calif. on Monday and opened fire. Before ultimately fatally killing himself, he killed two children and teacher Karen Smith—who was also his estranged wife.

San Bernardino, still reeling from the tragedy of a terrorist attack that killed 14 less than two years ago, was left in shock once again. This attack, however, was different in that it was driven by domestic violence, revealing a sinister truth about intimate partner violence, especially against Black women.

Anderson and Smith had been married for only a few months when Smith filed for divorce. San Bernardino Police Chief Jarrod Burguan reported that Anderson had a criminal history of domestic violence, in addition to arrests for weapons and drug possession that pre-dated his relationship with Smith. According to the Washington Post, Smith had decided to leave Anderson over his “paranoid and possessive” behavior.

In the U.S., 57 percent of mass shootings from 2009 to 2015 targeted intimate partners or family members. Two-thirds of intimate partner homicides involve guns, and women’s risk of dying increases by 500 percent if there is a gun in their household. Women in the U.S. are 11 times more likely than their peers abroad to be killed by guns, and 4.5 million of those women alive today have had an intimate partner threaten them with a gun. (And yet, guns remain readily available to abusers.)

What’s more, the Violence and Policy Center found that Black women “are disproportionately impacted by fatal domestic violence”—in 2014, Black females were murdered at a rate of 2.19 per 100,000, more than twice the rate of 0.97 per 100,000 for white women murdered by men. One of the leading causes of death for Black women 35 and under is homicide, and the majority of these women are killed by someone they know.

Incidents of terrorism that fuel a narrative of Islamic extremism tend to be amplified by GOP politicians and by the media. Conversely, murder-suicides prompted by domestic violence don’t seem as newsworthy. By Tuesday morning, Smith’s story had receded in the headlines. It appeared the country had moved on. This was a marked difference from coverage of the 2015 terrorist attack in the same city, which was believed to be an act of religious extremism.

“Black women suffer under the weight of both racism and sexism,” said Britni Danielle, EBONY’s entertainment and culture director, “so we are often not blonde enough for the nightly news and not male enough for our community to rally around.” She discussed the media’s failure not only in covering Smith’s case but in covering the cases of former Oklahoma City Officer Daniel Holtzclaw, who was convicted of sexually assaulting more than a dozen Black women while on duty, and the “Grim Sleeper” Lonnie D. Franklin, who was sentenced to death for killing nine Black women over two decades.

Make no mistake, the latest San Bernardino shooting was an act of terror. It was, in fact, emblematic of a far more common and deadly kind of terrorism altogether: that which women, particularly Black women, face in abusive relationships.

Alexa Strabuk is an editorial intern at Ms. and has worked as a writer, editor, graphic illustrator and editorial intern for magazines including ELLE, YES!, The Student Life and Mochi. She was recognized by the Asian American Journalists Association for her work as an up-and-coming reporter. Alexa is pursuing a B.A. in Media Studies at Pitzer College with a minor in Asian American Studies.

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