The two brothers believed to be involved in the recent Sacramento shooting, Dandrae and Smiley Martin, share something in common besides blood.
They both beat women – a harbinger of gun violence, researchers say.
In 7 of 10 mass shootings, the assailant (let’s face it, usually a man) either had a history of domestic violence or was targeting someone he had a relationship with. About 1 in 4 homicides in the United States is related to domestic violence and too often involves bystanders.
These statistics come from the new Johns Hopkins Center for Gun Violence Solutions and Lisa Geller, a researcher who has studied the issue for years.
She told me she wouldn’t be shocked if all of the shooters in the Sacramento attack (police believe there could be at least five) turn out to have histories of domestic violence.
Robert Spitzer, a recently retired professor from SUNY Cortland in New York and author of seven books on gun violence, told me the connection between gun violence and domestic violence was “clear as a bell, really.”
Examples are desperately easy to find.
Last year, a man who murdered nine co-workers at a Santa Clara County rail yard was accused by an ex-girlfriend of abusive behavior and sexual assault. In one of the most gruesome mass shootings in US history, when a man killed 49 people at Orlando’s Pulse nightclub in 2016, media reported he beat and strangled his ex-wife.
And last month in Sacramento, a man with a domestic violence restraining order against him shot and killed his three daughters and a visitation supervisor before killing himself.
There are many other examples, but I’ll leave it at that.
A solution advocated by Geller? Take violence against women seriously.
Right now, we minimize it at our peril, still bound by outdated mores that – even if we don’t say it out loud – violence against an intimate partner is a different crime than violence against a stranger. The heartbreaking, infuriating and unacceptable fact is that we do not treat crimes against women as seriously as those against men, especially if they occur in private spaces.
There are concrete reasons why it is difficult to investigate and prosecute domestic violence. Women, the predominant victims, may be too frightened or vulnerable to testify, or worry about the safety or well-being of children. They can imagine themselves in love. They may be financially insecure and socially isolated with no job or housing options – conditions abusers often cultivate. They may worry about their immigration status or their own past arrests.
Or they may be savvy enough to know that their abuser will likely be back on the streets soon enough.
I’m also going to add racism and prejudice to this mix, and give you the details of what the Martin brothers did – because too often what we label domestic violence is really about sex trafficking, and how black and brown women and girls are seen and valued. Despite the current conservative panic of packs of roving Democrats snatching children, sex trafficking is often a lone man preying on women in its orbit, often in communities of color.
Dandrae Martin has been charged with nine counts of assaulting a woman I will call TM
According to court records, Martin and TM were staying at a hotel in Phoenix with their 1-month-old and 2-year-old babies when Martin beat TM for over an hour because she refused to prostitute herself through advertisements Martin had put up. in place on the now closed Backpage website.
Martin “punched the victim all over his body” and face, according to records, before stepping on his neck twice, stomping on his hand and attempting to choke him twice. He also allegedly urinated on her – it all happens with the children present – according to a grand jury indictment. TM escaped the room and found help.
Martin reached a plea deal that dismissed all counts of aggravated assault except one for obstructing breathing, and was eventually sentenced to four years probation, despite TM having a restraining order. ban against him from a California court.
Martin did not avoid trouble and “ran away” from probation after his release, never fulfilling any of his conditions. In July 2018, he assaulted his mother. I will also leave his name out of this.
She told police she caught Martin rummaging through her purse, and when she tried to stop him he pushed her, then threw her to the ground and threw a rock through the window when she managed to lock him in. This case was downgraded to a misdemeanor and he was again put on probation. And again was released.
It wasn’t until police arrested him on a drug paraphernalia charge in 2019 that his probation was finally revoked. He went to prison in Arizona for a 2½-year sentence beginning in April, with credit for 202 days served.
Meanwhile, Smiley Martin, Dandrae’s older brother by a year, occupied the California courts.
In May 2017, Smiley Martin was arrested for attacking a woman I will identify as R. Doe – that he had previously been charged with pimping. He found R. Doe staying at his mother-in-law’s house in Sacramento and, according to a detective’s testimony, he broke into the house and beat her until her face was so bloody that a witness could not see R. Doe’s eyes. He then got her into his car and drove to a nearby park, where he punched her in the face and arm with his belt.
While incarcerated awaiting trial, he was recorded making jail calls telling R. Doe how to testify. On the stand, she denied involvement and said she had no recollection of the injuries and was dating Smiley Martin. He pleaded his case and was sentenced to five years, which was doubled to 10 years due to a prior “strike” offense of robbing a Walmart in 2013. (He also has a firearms charge fire in 2013, a burglary conviction in 2011, and a minor record that put him on the list of persons not allowed to legally own firearms.) He served less than five years in the R. Doe case due to credits earned for time spent before his conviction and in prison.
If these crimes shock and disturb you, we must confront how the justice system needs to change – not only to help victims of abusers, but to ensure that these men do not escalate their violence into the public sphere.
First, we need to be clear, this isn’t just a liberal California problem. Prop. 57 has caused it no more than progressive district attorneys like George Gascón or Chesa Boudin — despite current flashy headlines driven by some conservative politicians running for office on a tough-on-crime platform. This is not a soft-on-crime problem for Golden State.
Dandrae Martin’s domestic violence conviction took place in Arizona’s Maricopa County, home of ultra-conservative former sheriff Joe Arpaio and far-right politics, including the so-called election ‘audit’ intended to restore Donald Trump to power. It’s a conservative place, and yet the attack was classified as a “non-dangerous, non-repetitive” offence, making it eligible for probation.
It’s a problem with not believing women when they tell us about dangerous men, and falling back “into the realm of the old he/she said trope,” as Spitzer puts it.
Domestic violence is “an area where it’s difficult to file a complaint and where legal remedies are still incomplete,” Spitzer says. Whether it is a liberal or conservative state, we are lenient with this crime. We still treat domestic violence – even when it really is sex trafficking – as an offense where women must be complicit if not culpable in some way in their own victimization.
Second, when men like the Martin brothers are charged or convicted of these crimes, we do a lousy job of making sure they don’t have guns – legal or not – when they return to the street. Right now it’s basically an honor system for men without honor. Usually, it’s little more than criminals and abusers filling out forms acknowledging they aren’t allowed to have guns and ticking a box saying they don’t. Sometimes there is a database check to see if there are any legal firearms registered in the offender’s name.
This was the case of Smiley Martin, who had been arrested several times with illegal weapons. Court records from January 2018 include a “prohibited persons report” which shows Smiley Martin failed to complete the required form disclosing any possession of firearms.
That’s it. Want to tell us if you have weapons? Nope? OKAY.
The Martin brothers were so confident in their ability to carry guns without repercussion that they filmed themselves hours before the shooting waving guns and posted it on social media.
When people are convicted of domestic violence or authorities issue restraining orders and red flag orders – intended to take weapons away from unstable people – why don’t we send in law enforcement to take legal weapons and search for illegal weapons in the homes and cars of perpetrators? Why is this not common practice?
Let me help you here. It is true that our probation and parole services, the most likely to conduct such research, are seriously overwhelmed at the moment.
But we don’t prioritize gun confiscation in domestic violence cases, because toxic masculinity is alive and well. The nearly 400 million guns in America remain enshrined in false politics of freedom and might. But domestic violence is still a crime we despise or turn away from. Especially when it happens to black and brown women.
If we want to curb gun violence, we can start by believing women when they warn us about predators, and then making sure that predators don’t have incredibly deadly weapons.
Or we can continue to wait for these men to fire into a crowd and wonder once again how such a tragedy could have happened without warning.