Aleria Cyrus Reed was killed in a murder-suicide Jan. 15, 2014, in Denham Springs. About a year-and-a-half later, Monica Butler Johnson was beaten to death Aug. 9 in her Geismar home. Both deaths, police have said, were at the hands of their estranged husbands.
Both Reed and Johnson were members of the Alpha Kappa Alpha national sorority, which on Thursday evening held a candlelight observance on the steps of the State Capitol honoring victims of domestic abuse.
Law enforcement, elected officials and community leaders gathered at the Capitol not only to remember those lives lost to domestic abuse but also to discuss legislation and initiatives aimed at ensuring other victims do not meet the same fate as Reed and Johnson. About 100 people attended the event, with some holding signs displaying the names of domestic abuse victims and others reading, “Love shouldn’t hurt.”
“We will stand up. We will speak out against domestic violence,” said Jacqueline Nash Grant, chairwoman of Aleria’s Promise, the sorority’s domestic violence initiative. “But we’re going to do it the right way. We’re going to join with law enforcement, who have pledged to help us.”
Reed’s death served as a wake-up call for the sorority, Grant said. At the time of her death, Reed, 35, had been treasurer for the Baton Rouge Nu Gamma Omega chapter of Alpha Kappa Alpha, which organized Thursday’s event. Johnson, 45, was a member of another chapter of the national sorority.
“If it can happen to her (Reed), it can happen to anyone,” Grant said.
State Rep. Patricia Smith, D-Baton Rouge, drew applause as she touted the new victim-protection laws passed by the state Legislature this year. Smith said these laws include special housing protection for victims and make it easier to obtain and enforce restraining orders. Also, those with protective orders against them or convicted of domestic abuse cannot carry firearms, and those convicted of domestic abuse cannot expunge the arrest from their records.
“Our legislators have become more keenly aware of domestic violence and sexual assault,” Smith said, adding that she is a survivor of domestic abuse herself.
Louisiana consistently ranks high in domestic violence deaths, East Baton Rouge Parish Sheriff Sid Gautreaux said. To better handle incidents, he said, law enforcement officers need to gain both adequate training and the trust of the victims.
City Constable Reginald R. Brown urged people to speak up when they feel threatened in their own homes.
“Oftentimes it’s too late. It’s never too early,” Brown said.
Melanie Fields, an assistant district attorney, outlined initiatives the East Baton Rouge office is working on, such as providing abuse victims with counseling and a pilot program to respond to victims at hospitals or emergency care centers.
“Our promise is that we will listen when you knock on our door and tell us, ‘Today, I’m afraid,’ ” Fields said. “We are listening and we are acting.”