When Eric Pope began serving with the Clinton Police Department in the early 90s, he would rush to help domestic violence victims whenever he was called.
It frustrated him. One of the questions he asked himself was, “Why doesn’t she just leave?”
“It’s the same house, time after time after time,” Pope said about his days as a young officer.
Pope is now a captain with the Sampson County Sheriff’s Office. Over the years, he learned that it’s not easy for a lot of victims to just walk away. During a Domestic Violence Vigil, hosted by U Care, Inc., Pope spoke about how everyone plays a part in the problem.
“With age comes wisdom, with wisdom comes education,” Pope said Monday to the audience inside Graves Memorial Presbyterian Church. “When you sit back and think about the dynamics, people think about domestic violence and the general consensus is ‘Why don’t they just leave?’”
But Pope said people don’t consider the psychological, emotional, financial and dependency factors involved in domestic violence. When dealing with domestic violence cases, he stressed that it’s important to search for the signs for the problem and mentioned training methods officers are involved with.
Officers also work with organizations such as U Care, Inc., the county’s domestic violence and sexual assault program. According to the organization, more than 500 adults and 800 children have been served from July 2016 through June 2017. With so many cases in Sampson County and throughout the United States. Pope asked how did society get to this point. He brought up times when murders were talked about for weeks in the county.
“Now, 15 seconds in the news and it’s over,” Pope said about such incidents.
Domestic violence starts at home, but Pope mentioned how it’s a societal problem that effects everyone. He said the work can’t be put on one agency, organization or group.
“Until we as a society, set the standards of what behavior we will and will not accept, we can only continue to see horrific acts …”
Going forward, he challenged people to get more involved, by picking up the telephone and calling 911 if they witness domestic violence.
“We live in a society of people who do not want to get involved,” Pope said. “We need to change that. Until we all get involved, we’re still going to be meeting every year.”
One suggestion involved putting more pressure on the court system, which may reduce or dismiss punishment for domestic violence. From a law enforcement perspective, officers take people to jail. But when it gets to court, it falls into the hands of attorneys and judges. Pope said it’s disheartening, to see lesser charges for people who hurt victims. He continued to stress the importance of people following up on cases and getting involved.
“You are the society,” he said. “You are the ones that put pressure on the judges and the attorneys. You set the standard for the community.”
As an example, he mentioned Pitt County and a number of dismissed Driving While Intoxicated in the 1990s. Pope said MADD (Mothers Against Drunk Driving) sat on the front row for months collecting names of lawyers and judges. They wrote to newspapers and television stations. Their work made a difference and resulted in more conviction rates.
“Citizens of Pitt County along with MADD put pressure where it needed to be put,” Pope said.
He continued to emphasize how community members need to make the issue the “squeaky wheel” to help law enforcement and society.
“When one of your friends ends up dead and we have a suspect that has broken the chain of intervention, how are you going to live with yourself?”
The event also featured remarks from supporters and U Care board members such as Perry Solice and Dr. Eric Bracy, who said the event is a wonderful opportunity to show support for victims and survivors of domestic violence. While talking to the audience, Bracy mentioned how 3 to 4 million children are exposed to the problem each year. More than 90 percent of cases involves women.
“Often times, children witness these events,” said Bracy, superintendent of Sampson County Schools. “It’s important to have evenings like tonight where we show our support.”
His remarks were followed by prayers. Along with words of hope and the reading of a poem titled “The Cycle,” a candle lighting and moment of silence was held for the victims.
U Care Director Pam Gonzalez was pleased with the turnout, which coincides with Domestic Violence Awareness Month. Monday’s vigil also featured a walk through portions of downtown Clinton, with some men wearing women’s shoes. The purpose of the activity is to bring awareness to domestic violence and borrows from the “Walk a Mile in Her Shoes” concept.
“We had the rain and it was looking stormy,” Gonzalez said. “But everyone came through and it was a real nice event. Maybe we can make it even bigger next year and get some more men out there in high heels.”
Reach Chase Jordan at 910-249-4617. Follow us on Twitter at @SampsonInd and like us on Facebook.