As I wrote last week, Topeka, Kansas has been weighing the idea of decriminalizing domestic violence to avoid footing the bill for prosecuting the cases. And last night, despite the protests from advocates and incredulous national headlines, the City Council voted to do just that.
By a vote of 7 to 3, the City Council repealed the local law that makes domestic violence a crime.
The move, the councilors were told, would force District Attorney Chad Taylor to prosecute the cases because they would remain a crime under state law, a conclusion with which he grudgingly agreed. The Council also approved negotiations to resolve the impasse.
Several victims of domestic violence spoke against the proposal at the meeting, questioning whether it would succeed in forcing the district attorney to resume prosecutions. “It is your responsibility to protect these people, and you’re failing,” said Matthew Agnew, 24, one such victim.
I’m of the opinion that nothing really justifies making it totally and completely legal under city law to beat your spouse. But since the entire point of repealing the law was to force Taylor to start prosecuting the cases again, at this point, I just sure as hell hope that actually happens–and fast. The Associated Press reports that Taylor’s spokesperson said he “would re-evaluate his position,” but that the repeal doesn’t end the
bickering negotiations between city and county officials–”it just means there is a new dynamic in play.”
Someone needs to step up and take responsibility here–and they better do it soon. As County Commissioner Ted Ensley said, “It can’t continue like this. They have to be prosecuted. Supposing they’re charged and they’re not prosecuted and it ends up they go back and cause a death of a woman or a child.” Local officials on all sides would do well to remember that actual people’s lives are at stake here and spend a little less time cheering their strengthened bargaining positions, discussing who forced whose hand, and offering weak assurances that they don’t actually want to be doing what they are nevertheless doing–and a little more time figuring out how to fix this mess.
But regardless of how this ultimately gets resolved, the message has already been heard loud and clear: Not one, not two, but three arms of government in Topeka don’t care enough about prosecuting domestic violence to pay for it unless they are absolutely, positively, back-against-the-wall forced to.