These two families are examples of how the wheels of justice move too slowly | Jenice Armstrong
Who protects crime victims as they wait for the judicial process to unfold and do what it’s supposed to do? Court backlogs caused by COVID-19 have only made things worse.
You never realize just how slowly the wheels of justice can turn until you become a victim and find yourself waiting for the system to do the right thing.
Janelle Avant, through no fault of her own, recently found herself in that unfortunate position. On the afternoon of Nov. 14, she was on the third floor of her Germantown twin, recuperating from a surgery, when her 13-year-old came upstairs and asked if she had been expecting anyone. A stranger was banging on their back door and kitchen window. A registered gun owner, Avant immediately got out of bed and reached for her firearm. That’s when she heard a loud boom and the sound of shattering glass. Avant told her son, “I need you to call 911.”
She positioned herself at the top of her staircase and started yelling, “Get out of my house! Get out of my house!” Her son brought over the receiver to their landline, and as she was giving a police dispatcher her address, she saw a man she had never seen before climbing up the steps in her direction. She briefly made eye contact with him and then fired her weapon, striking him twice.
He retreated downstairs but was still inside when police arrived and forced their way in. After questioning Avant, they took the man into custody. Before they left, though, they confiscated her gun as part of their investigation and advised Avant to purchase another one the next day. She did.
No one could tell Avant why this stranger targeted her house in broad daylight while both she and her son were at home. Police told her the man had claimed it was his house — even though they could see he didn’t know how to unlock the front storm door. The suspect had a Dec. 2 court date but, according to court officials, arrived late and was given a continuance until Jan. 6.
Still, Avant, a single mother, is nervous that the man might return. She has since purchased another gun that she sleeps with, under her pillow. And as she does so, Avant can’t help but feel victimized, not just by the intruder but by the criminal justice system itself because the suspect was released on $50,000 bail after being charged with criminal trespassing and criminal mischief.
“Should I look over my shoulder? I feel like that’s what I have to do. I don’t know what his intentions were,” she told me last week. “If I was not armed, I’m not quite sure what the outcome would have been.”
“I’m glad I was ready, willing, and able to defend myself.”
Across town, another family is in a similar situation. Their daughter’s ex-boyfriend has threatened to kill their daughter on multiple occasions, they told me, and has shown up to their house and banged on both their front and back doors, trying to get in. Even though they’d cooked oxtails and other favorites for Thanksgiving, they were much too on edge to really enjoy the holiday.
I think about them frequently, worrying and wondering how they are managing, especially in light of other highly publicized domestic violence incidents that I know have been on their minds. I reached out to their councilmember on their behalf, who brought what was happening to the attention of the police captain in their district. (The man hasn’t been arrested and isn’t facing any charges.)
The daughter has since moved out of the family home and to an undisclosed location.
Last week, they were in court attempting to get a protection-from-abuse order. The young man didn’t show up and their request for an order is in limbo.
“We tried doing everything the legal way and it’s been one thing after another,” the father wrote me. “He’s still out on the streets, still harassing my daughter and her [new] boyfriend via social media.”
Two different scenarios.
Two parts of town.
Both dealing with potentially violent offenders.
I feel for all involved. They’re hardworking, salt-of-the-earth-type people. I’d been communicating separately with both families last week when it occurred to me that they both had become ensnared in similar bureaucratic red tape.
At a time when homicides are out of control, what happened to these homeowners might seem insignificant in comparison. But to the people who were impacted, this is major and scary. Who protects them and other crime victims as they wait for the judicial process to unfold and do what it’s supposed to do? Court backlogs caused by COVID-19 have only made things worse.
The way it’s set up, people are pretty much on their own. In these instances, both families felt the need to purchase weapons to protect themselves and their homes. Their cases are examples of how the system moves much too slowly and how more needs to be done to protect vulnerable people from dangerous situations.
“It really shouldn’t be like this,” the father told me.
But as I pointed out earlier, that’s the kind of thing you don’t think about until it’s you or your family who’s been victimized.