If Darrell Brooks Jr. had been behind bars, he wouldn’t have been behind the wheel allegedly driving an SUV that mowed down dozens at a Christmas parade in Waukesha, Wis., killing six people.
Three weeks before the tragedy, Brooks was arrested for driving his SUV over a woman in a Milwaukee County gas station parking lot. The woman was hospitalized, and Brooks faced numerous charges, including three related to domestic abuse. Yet despite a lengthy criminal record, including violence against women, Brooks was released on $1,000 bail just nine days later.
Last Sunday, Brooks, fleeing from what police have called “a domestic disturbance,” allegedly plowed his vehicle into parade participants and onlookers. The dead range in age from 8 to 81. More than 60 people were injured. Several children were sent to intensive care.
These are the dire consequences for a nation that refuses to take violence against women seriously.
Brooks was charged with intentional homicide and held on $5 million bail — a far cry from the amount that allowed Brooks out of jail after his previous alleged offense.
The Milwaukee County District Attorney’s Office has now launched an internal investigation into what it called the “inappropriately low” bail that Brooks received at that time.
When Brooks was arrested, authorities were quick to allay concerns that the Waukesha tragedy was an act of terrorism or connected to the Rittenhouse verdict two days earlier in Kenosha, about an hour south of Waukesha.
That overlooks the fact that a man with a history of violence against women should never have been in a position to allegedly ram his car into a holiday parade. Domestic violence is terrorism. More people in this country, especially women and children, are injured or killed in acts of domestic violence each year than in all terrorism-related incidents.
Yet too many courts do not offer victims the protections they deserve from dangerous offenders.
A few weeks ago, Lindsay Smith was ambushed and shot in the head while leaving her job in Salem. Her assailant was a man with whom she had lived in Hanover, N.H. In September, Smith was granted a 30-day restraining order against Richard Lorman, who she said had been physically and sexually abusive.
When that order expired, Polly Hall, the New Hampshire Circuit Court judge who had granted the original order, declined to reinstate it. She said, “The Court cannot find that the defendant’s conduct constitutes a credible present threat to plaintiff’s safety.” Weeks later, Lorman shot Smith; he later died by suicide. Smith survived and is recovering from her injuries. The New Hampshire Judicial Branch is investigating why Smith’s request for a restraining order was denied.
While such investigations are necessary, that same energy needs to be applied to believing and protecting domestic violence survivors before another preventable calamity strikes.
As witnessed in Waukesha, the grim ramifications of violence against women do not stop with the targeted victim. Domestic violence calls are considered among the most dangerous for law enforcement. According to Everytown, a nationwide gun safety advocacy group, many mass killers have histories of domestic violence or hatred of women.
Shannon Watts, the founder of Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America, told The New York Times in 2019 that those violent backgrounds are “an important red flag.”
A nation committed to protecting women and other domestic violence victims would pay heed to those red flags. And Republicans would rally to reauthorize the Violence Against Women Act. Instead of reauthorization, which the House approved again in March, VAWA been languishing since 2018 due to Senate GOP obstructionism. With so much else devouring the nation’s attention, VAWA is barely on the radar.
Yet the violence that Brooks allegedly inflicted on yet another woman and its tragic repercussions will be top of mind for Waukesha residents. They couldn’t gather in joy with family and friends for the Thanksgiving weekend. Some will pass those days sitting by hospital beds or planning funerals.
And many will wonder why a man who should have been in jail for domestic violence allegedly ended up turning the festive mood on their streets into unimaginable horror.