When gun violence and domestic violence intertwine: Overhaul a culture of disdain and disrespect

November 17, 2021 12:01 am

A memorial at Young Terrace in Norfolk, site of a shooting this November that killed three women and wounded two others. (Roger Chesley/ For the Virginia Mercury)

Weep for Nicole Lovewine, 45; her longtime partner, Detra Brown, 42; and Sara Costine, 44. All three were gunned down, and two other women wounded, in a spasm of rage that Norfolk law-enforcement authorities say was linked to domestic violence.

I could’ve said “three women” to start this column. But that trite anonymity tends to make them nameless, mere statistics. They were people whose lives mattered. 

Lovewine and Brown were a couple for more than a decade. In their free time, they loved to dance and sing karaoke. Costine still worked, even though she had battled cancer several times

Yet they were extinguished, in a society where women are too often treated as property, deemed “second-class,” and viewed based on their sexuality. 

If you live outside of Hampton Roads, you might not be aware of the horror that enveloped a Norfolk public housing community Nov. 3, just as the sun was setting. It was another example of the nexus between guns, domestic assault and homicide in the commonwealth – and the nation, too.

“Real sad,” a man said last week, while cycling past a memorial at Young Terrace, the scene of the shootings. 

I saw balloons, teddy bears, religious candles and images of the victims at the site. “You were an angel on earth and you got your wings,” said one message.

Here’s what Norfolk police, published reports and court records say happened the evening of Nov. 3:

As a dozen children played nearby, a car stopped. A rear door opened, and Lovewine’s 19-year-old daughter jumped out. A man left the front passenger side and began firing. After the first woman was shot, the others were struck down while trying to help her.

It’s bad enough the shooter targeted the 19-year-old, with whom he reportedly was dating. The fact he then fired at the others was senseless. Why were they deemed expendable? How were they a threat to him?

When the shooting finally stopped, Lovewine, Brown and Costine were dead. The 19-year-old and a 39-year-old woman were injured but are expected to recover. 

Police arrested Ziontay B.R. Palmer, 19, of Virginia Beach. He faces several counts of second-degree murder, malicious wounding and using a firearm during a felony. 

Spokespersons for the police and Norfolk Commonwealth’s Attorney’s Office declined to answer my questions about whether Palmer had faced criminal charges previously. They cited the ongoing case and the Virginia State Bar’s Rules of Professional Conduct.

“We will dedicate the resources necessary to seek justice and accountability in this case and all cases of gun-related violence,” said Ramin Fatehi, Norfolk Commonwealth’s Attorney-elect and a current member of the office. “To honor those values and our ethical obligations as prosecutors, we must limit our comments to those we make in the courtroom.” 

My search of online criminal cases in the seven major Hampton Roads cities turned up no charges against Palmer, except for carrying an open container of alcohol this year in Norfolk. That charge was later dismissed. 

A note in court records involving the Nov. 3 charges says Palmer recently moved back to the community. It didn’t say where he’d moved from, or how long Palmer had been away from the area. 

We live in a society that makes obtaining a gun child’s play. When you add in a willingness to settle grievances with firearms, and a culture in which too many men deem women as nothing more than chattel, the results can be devastating.

The Virginia Department of Health notes that one-third of the homicides in the state each year are related to domestic violence. Men overwhelmingly are the perpetrators; they represented 87 percent in 2019. 

Some 56 percent of “family and intimate partner” homicides involve guns. Roughly 40 percent of such homicides occur while or after a relationship is ending. So when a woman has finally decided “enough,” the threat often increases.

“In an unhealthy relationship, the presence of a gun can be visible – used as a way of control and to instill fear and terror of when it might be brandished,” Michelle Ellis Young, CEO of the YWCA of South Hampton Roads, told me this week. 

She said the local YWCA educates the community by providing training on interpersonal violence, including awareness and risk reduction to area schools, universities, businesses, the military and the larger community. It also helps by providing shelter, advocacy and other services.

Maybe the emphasis isn’t enough on the source of the carnage. We must end the toxic mindset among men. Until they stop thinking “once a partner, ALWAYS a partner,” little will change. 

“Promoting healthy, respectful, and nonviolent relationships and communities can help reduce the occurrence” of intimate partner violence, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The agency offers a package of programs and policies that could help. 

We shouldn’t only shed tears for the women slaughtered in Norfolk. Let’s intervene sooner. Overhaul a culture of disdain and disrespect.

That’s the best way to honor Nicole Lovewine, Detra Brown and Sara Costine.

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Roger Chesley
Roger Chesley

Longtime columnist and editorial writer Roger Chesley worked at the (Newport News) Daily Press and The (Norfolk) Virginian-Pilot from 1997 through 2018. He previously worked at newspapers in Cherry Hill, N.J., and Detroit. Reach him at [email protected]