Island men take a stand against domestic violence

More than 50 men stood on a Vineyard Haven seawall Saturday in a demonstration against violence towards women.

Men, and some women, stood along the beach wall on Beach Rd., Vineyard Haven. — Photo by Michael Cummo

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Over the course of Saturday morning, more than 50 men and several women stood along the seawall that flanks Vineyard Haven harbor on Beach Road in a highly visible public statement against domestic violence. The  demonstration was organized by CONNECT to End Violence, a program of Martha’s Vineyard Community Services (MVCS).

“It is by standing up for the rights of girls and women that we truly measure up as men,” said South African activist and Anglican bishop Desmond Tutu. His words were among the quotes held up on placards

by men participating in the 3rd Annual Sea Wall Event.

Many of those holding signs wrote the names of the women they were standing up for on their placards. As the line of men standing increased from a handful to more than 50, passing motorists honked in approval. Some pulled over and joined the demonstration. CONNECT volunteers manned a table next to the wall with water and pizza for demonstrators, who stood for as long as three hours. They also sold Sea Wall Event tee-shirts to raise money for the organization’s domestic abuse counseling program, which includes a 24-hour hotline (508-696-7233).

“Raised by a single mom, a cop who did a lot with domestic violence, I couldn’t not show up,” Danyon Russell of Edgartown, told The Times. Mr. Russell, stood for three hours holding a sign that read, “Those without a voice.”

Jeannie Pierson, of Oak Bluffs, decided women should stand as well. She explained, “Two years ago, my brother shot his wife in the head and took his own life. I’ll keep on telling my story until someone gets it. It doesn’t matter that he shot her and not the other way around. They both died because no one tried to stop domestic violence.”

Ms. Pierson collects old cell phones, which Verizon converts into untraceable cell phones for domestic abuse victims. She encourages people to drop off old cell phones in a box at the police department in Oak Bluffs, where she works.

James Craig, executive officer of the Island’s tactical response team and an Edgartown police officer, said he deals with domestic violence every day. “It’s probably the most common call,” he said in a conversation with The Times as he stood on the wall. “The Island has a lot of substance abuse, depression; those make every situation worse. We have to go back to the same houses over and over again. Today, I hope to inspire people to leave.”

Mr. Craig said domestic violence goes both ways. “Men are the primary aggressors, but I’ve arrested the husband one day and the wife the next,” he said. “We get weird cases too. I had one guy who didn’t let her sleep, because he enjoyed it because he was a miserable guy. It took a long time to realize he was keeping her awake, tormenting her with no sleep.”

Sterling Bishop, assistant superintendent of the Island jail, part-time DJ, football coach and father of two daughters, also took part in the demonstration. One of his daughters tagged along. “My mother was a victim,” he said in a conversation with The Times. “And now I have two young daughters. I stand for them.”

He estimated that 10 percent of the men he encounters at the jail are there because of domestic violence.

Charlie Laing of Scotland was staying in Vineyard Haven for the week. “I saw it in the calendar section of the Martha’s Vineyard Times and it’s a great cause and a great effort, so I joined,” he said. “I haven’t got a friend or family member affected, but that doesn’t mean anything. My daughter, Sophie, is in college. I’m doing it for her as much as anybody.”