Cynthia Brashears is a graduate of Emerge Colorado and a member of the Board of Directors. Emerge Colorado recruits and trains Democratic women to run for office across Colorado.
It has recently come to light that Colorado state House Rep. Jovan Melton has, in the past, been arrested on domestic abuse charges. This information is disturbing and painful, but the conversations surrounding these arrests have also been troubling. We as a society need to be more comfortable having nuanced conversations about the intersection of systems of oppression that impact people of color and survivors of abuse. At the same time, we need to stop making excuses for men in positions of power that have a history of assault, abuse, or harassment.
Sadly the conversation around men that harass or assault women has seemingly become hyper-partisan. As soon as Rep. Melton’s arrests came to light, conservative leaders and tweeters alike began using it to try and win partisan points. But while the Colorado Democratic Party and House Leadership have asked Rep. Melton to resign, some democratic leaders are backing him without acknowledging the ongoing experience of the woman involved in the 1999 case, who recently told the Denver Post she still lives in fear of Rep. Melton.
I haven’t talked to the victim or to Rep. Melton since the story broke, but what I do know as an African American woman is that the criminal justice system has a well-established history of bias against both people of color as well as victims who come forward with allegations of assault. It’s quite possible that as a young Black man in Boulder, Rep. Melton felt as though taking a plea deal was the best course of action for him regardless of whether the allegations were true. We also know, however, that it’s extremely difficult for survivors of assault to come forward, and so we are stuck at the intersection of two societal issues that make Rep. Melton’s case complicated.
Recognizing intersectional oppression is part of the puzzle, but so is starting from a place of believing survivors. And I choose to believe that this woman from the 1999 case did experience violence at the hands of Rep. Melton, who plead guilty to some charges at the time but is now denying them.
We should believe this woman, and I do, and the time has come for us to have a conversation with ourselves about what our standard is for our elected officials. We cannot let our party affiliation, race, or gender stand in the way of creating a more accountable and welcoming government. People who have paid their debt to society and healed themselves should be able to live full and accomplished lives. However, if we want women and survivors to feel like they have a space in our political system, we can’t allow people with a history of intimate partner violence or domestic abuse who haven’t, at the very least, fully accepted responsibility for their actions and sought the appropriate help to occupy those spaces. We can’t protect our own – no matter who they are and how painful the circumstances – at the cost of degrading trust in our institutions and the public’s ability to feel safe engaging with them.