Although African Americans make up just 13 percent of the U.S. population, we account for 33 percent of the missing in the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s database. Cases involving African Americans also tend to receive less media coverage than missing Whites, with missing men of color getting even less attention.
NewsOne has partnered with the Black and Missing Foundation to focus on the crisis of missing African Americans. To be a part of the solution, NewsOne will profile a missing person weekly and provide tips about how to keep your loved ones safe and what to do if someone goes missing.
October is Domestic Violence Awareness Month. All of the Find Our Missing cases profiled this month will focus on domestic violence.
The man accused of killing Charlotte teacher Bianca Richardson Tanner (pictured) will return to court Thursday to find out if he will face the death penalty for her murder. Police and prosecutors say that Angelo Grayson Smith Jr. killed Tanner, after a violent argument on June 8th. A grand jury indicted Smith on murder charges in July.
After he received a text message on his phone that led to an argument, Smith originally told police that Tanner was intoxicated when she stormed out of the apartment they shared.
Smith reported Tanner missing and even called her 3-year-old son’s father to come pick up the boy.
But Smith’s account of Tanner’s absence made little sense because Tanner left her 3-year-old son, her car, and prescription medications behind.
And then Tanner’s brave 3-year-old son told police that his mother had been a victim of domestic violence at the hands of Smith.
“Mommy got a spanking with the belt. Angelo kicked mommy’s butt and made her cry,” the boy told police according to court records. “Angelo is mean to mommy and hurt mommy in the face.”
Police say that a “cooperating witness,” believed to be one of Smith’s fraternity brothers, did the right thing and led them to Tanner’s body, which was found in a wooded area in southwest Charlotte.
Tanner’s death came just 10 days after she moved to Charlotte to live with Smith and start a new teaching job at a program that improved educational outcomes for kids at West Charlotte High School and the eight middle schools that feed students there. Tanner’s family says being an educator was her life-long goal.
Police suspected domestic violence was at play in Tanner’s disappearance almost immediately. The night Tanner went missing, neighbors say they heard a raucous argument at the couple’s apartment followed by a loud thud and then silence.
Smith, according to police records, has a long history of alleged domestic violence. The Charlotte Observer reported:
In 2011, Smith’s then-wife, Devona Smith, filed a temporary restraining order against him, after she said he caused her “extreme emotional distress and bodily harm caused by overreacting.” Authorities ordered Angelo to stay away from her home and job.
In 2007, Kristen Croskey-Freshwater, Smith’s girlfriend at the time, told a judge that Smith became angry when he spilled juice on the carpet and she refused to clean it up. Croskey-Freshwater left the apartment, according to the order, but Smith came after her, first gesticulating, then grabbing her. “He then pulled me by my hair out of the pool and dragged me on to the cement,” Croskey-Freshwater wrote in the restraining order. “Then he threw me over the gate, and when I tried to run, he threw me in to the bathroom by the pool area where I slammed in to the sink.”
“On 9/21/07, Angelo slapped me twice & strangled me for over an hour.” Neither woman could be reached for comment.
Another woman who once dated Smith released a statement after he was arrested for Tanner’s murder, reported WCCB Charlotte.
“I was afraid Angelo would again get away with abuse and even worse, murder this time… I escaped with my life. I can’t be thankful enough, but I will never forget the night I feared for my life,” wrote the woman who asked to remain anonymous.
The Mecklenburg County District Attorney will disclose in court this week whether or not the death penalty will be sought against Smith.
“He is scheduled for a Rule 24 hearing where a prosecutor announces whether the state will seek the death penalty,” Meghan Cooke, spokeswoman for the Mecklenburg County District Attorney’s office told NewsOne. Cooke declined to comment in more detail about the case but said Smith remains in custody with no bond.
Domestic abuse of African-American women is all too common in this country. According to a 2013 report from the Violence Policy Center in Washington, D.C., in 2011, Black women were murdered by males at a rate of 2.61 per 100,000, compared to a rate of 0.99 per 100,000 for White females. That is a murder rate that is two and a half times higher for black women.
Black women are more likely to be killed in domestic violence situations than other women, according to the Institute on Domestic Violence in the African American Community at the University of Minnesota. Although Black women make up just 8 percent of the population, in 2005 they accounted for 22 percent of intimate partner homicides and 29 percent of all female victims of intimate partner homicide.
Intimate partner homicide is the leading cause of death for Black women between the ages of 15 and 25.
Stephanie McGraw, a domestic violence survivor who now heads a New York City-based group called “We All Really Matter” (WARM), which helps women and men to heal from domestic violence, said stories like Tanner’s are not unusual.
“When there is a murder or act of violence there is a strong possibility that the woman was trying to own her power or leave. That is the most dangerous time,” said McGraw.
Statistics from the Violence Policy Center show that Black women are often killed in the midst of an argument by their intimate partners. Approximately 87 percent of homicide cases involving Black women were unrelated to the commission of another felony crime.
“We highly suggest women never tell the abuser they are leaving. If you don’t give fuel to the fire, it has no where to go,” said McGraw. Instead, her group and other domestic violence advocates will help a woman develop a safe exit plan for her and her children.
It was likely that Tanner was being abused before the night she was killed given the statements by her son, said McGraw. She’s also not surprised that Smith is alleged to have killed Tanner just 10 days after she moved in with him.
“It escalates over a period of time. It doesn’t go from a fight to murder,” said McGraw. “The abuse is all about power and control. Once the perpetrator gets the victim isolated, the abuse is intensified.”
That’s why women need to learn to recognize abuse for what it is.
“When I was involved in abusive relationships, I couldn’t spot it. I viewed what was happening to me as normal and as love,” said McGraw.
Her message to women in an abusive relationship is simple.
“If you are in abusive relationship and getting beaten or hurt ,you don’t have to stay. You are a child of God who put you on this earth not to be beaten by anyone,” said McGraw. “Love should never hurt. If it hurts, it’s not love.”
Tanner’s family has also spoken out about the domestic abuse she was dealing with.
“You have a voice so please use it,” said Cerise Richardson, Tanner’s sister, during a rally this summer, Fox 6 reported. “No one deserves to be in any type of domestic violence situation.”
Richardson also recalled how she had reservations about Smith.
“I met her [Bianca’s] boyfriend. We had several encounters and I did have reservations. But I felt like, you know, it’s her life. She chose to be with this person, so obviously she saw something in him, and I didn’t say anything, and that’s what I kick myself in the butt for every single day.”
She also urged the crowd to speak up if they suspected friends or family members were in an abusive relationship.
“I ask you today that if you know anyone who is in a situation – even if you don’t know, if you think – be that voice. That’s the one thing to this day I regret,” said Richardson.