Rally in Pittsburgh turns focus on domestic violence

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Ka'Sandra Wade, Charmaine Pfender and Marissa Alexander were on the minds of nearly 200 people on Valentine's Day.

A Downtown rally Friday was dedicated to the three women's encounters with domestic violence and assault.

North Shore resident Renee Gray, 53, said she attended the rally because any of those women could have been her or a daughter.

"This is something that we have to deal with," Ms. Gray said.

"So much of it is maybe a story we hear on TV and forget. But it's somebody's life that's forever changed."

Ms. Wade, 33, of Larimer, was killed last year by her boyfriend after two Pittsburgh police officers answered an "unknown trouble" call from her but left without speaking to Wade after her boyfriend said nothing was wrong.

Legislation was passed in December that now requires police responding to domestic violence calls to survey victims to help establish how volatile their partners might be.

Ms. Pfender received a life sentence without parole in 1985 after killing a man who was allegedly trying to attack her. She was 19 at the time and has been serving her prison sentence for almost 30 years.

Ms. Alexander is a Florida resident who was sentenced to 20 years in prison for firing a warning shot during an argument with her estranged, allegedly abusive husband. The sentence was eventually overturned by the Florida appellate court and she is facing a retrial in July.

The day's events -- part of the international 1 Billion Been Rising rally -- included a news conference with two of Ka'Sandra Wade's siblings, Ike and Lovery Wade. As the brother of a domestic violence victim and a father, Mr. Wade said the issue is extremely personal for him.

"As a father, I feel like we should protect our daughters. Our daughters are going to have to go out into the world some day, so we need to contribute so the world is a little bit nicer and safer for them when they do."

Protesters moved from the steps of the City-County Building on Grant Street to a conference room in the DoubleTree by Hilton Hotel, Downtown.

By noon, protesters were packed in at the 1 Billion Been Rising rally. The international campaign against violence toward women had more than 200 participating countries this year.

Locally, speakers discussed topics ranging from sexual abuse of imprisoned women and women in the military to details surrounding the cases of Wade, Pfender and Alexander.

Event coordinator La'Tasha Mayes said issues like domestic violence and sexual abuse are particularly relevant on Valentine's Day.

"Everything in our culture says it is OK to violate women and girls, so Valentine's Day is the perfect day to rally. If we want to show love for girls and women, we can do so by ending gender oppression and violence," she said.

One of the performers, Mel Carter, spent time in prison and shared some of her encounters with women who were imprisoned for defending themselves against attackers.

Ms. Carter, who performed under the stage name Black Rapp Madusa, said those women need people in society who won't "condemn them for defending themselves."

"The women I came across were really strong, but justice wasn't served for them. They took their situations into their own hands and didn't wait for cops or doctors or lawyers to tell them their own truths."

Maryellen Deckard, a coordinator with the ANEW Community Institute, said while she was excited about the support and solidarity shown at the rally, the experience was bittersweet.

"There are plenty of abusers out there who will bring chocolates or flowers to their girlfriends today and beat them tomorrow."

Clarece Polke: cpolke@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1889. First Published February 14, 2014 11:18 AM

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