San Bernardino Shooting: Black women are more likely to die from domestic violence

San Bernardino police officers stand guard at North Park School.
Source: Frederic J. Brown/Getty Images
San Bernardino police officers stand guard at North Park School.
Source: Frederic J. Brown/Getty Images

Domestic violence is an epidemic in the United States. But for black women, it's likely to turn deadly.

That's what happened when Cedric Anderson, 53, shot and killed his estranged wife Karen Smith, 53, at North Park Elementary school in San Bernardino, California. Smith taught special needs children at the school, where Anderson also shot two students before turning the gun on himself. 

One student later died of his injuries.

According to the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence, one in three women and one in four men experience some form of intimate partner violence in their lifetimes. In total, 40% of female murder victims are killed by intimate partners.

But black women are four times as likely as white women to be killed by a partner, according to the Bureau of Justice Statistics. Though black women make up just 8% of the U.S. population, they constitute 22% of domestic violence homicides, according to the University of Minnesota's Institute on Domestic Violence in the African-American Community. 

Domestic violence is one of the leading causes of death for black women between the ages of 15 and 35, as Feminista Jones wrote for Time shortly after Ray Rice's vicious assault on his then-fiancé Janay Palmer became public in 2014.

Jones wrote that a complex interplay of oppression was at play. "Racism and sexism are two of the biggest obstacles that black women in America face," Jones wrote. "But because many black women and men believe racism is a bigger issue than sexism, black women tend to feel obligated to put racial issues ahead of sex-based issues."

They are often less likely to reach out for help.

"In terms of reaching out and seeking support, black women are less likely than white women to use social services, seek support from domestic violence programs in their communities or even go to the hospital," Cameka Crawford, chief communications officer at the National Domestic Violence Hotline, said in an interview. "There's this perception of, 'Am I going to be seen as an angry black woman? Is someone going to believe me?

It's too early to paint a full picture of what happened in San Bernardino, but news reports based on Anderson's Facebook account suggest he bragged about some of his violent behavior, often framing it as valor. 

In one instance, he claimed he'd almost beaten up three college football coaches in an attempt to get his son a college scholarship. "A father is like a lion," he wrote, according to NBC News. "He will kill you for his blood!" 

He added: "A real man must be willing to submit to his father!"

In 1993, he was charged with two misdemeanor accounts of battery, but those charges were later dropped after he was exonerated, according to the Los Angeles Times. His rap sheet also included allegations of domestic violence and brandishing a firearm. 

Smith's mother told the Los Angeles Times her daughter quickly picked up on how troubled Anderson was and tried to leave. "She thought she had a wonderful husband, but she found out he was not wonderful at all," Irma Sykes said. "He had other motives. She left him and that’s where the trouble began."

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Jamilah King

Jamilah King is a senior staff writer at Mic. She was previously an editor at Colorlines.

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