Open Thread: Chris Brown, Rihanna, and Domestic Violence

by Latoya Peterson

The story, according to People Magazine:

Sunday night, R&B’s hottest couple, Chris Brown and Rihanna, were supposed to light up the Grammys.

Instead, the normally affectionate twosome were embroiled in a domestic violence drama that left Brown, 19, booked on felony criminal threats charges and posting $50,000 bail after turning himself in to the LAPD on Sunday at 6:34 p.m. PST.

Sources say that Rihanna (real name: Robin Fenty), 20, was the victim in the alleged assault which occurred around 12:30 a.m. on Sunday. Responding to a 911 call about a disturbance, the LAPD took statements from a female with visible injuries, who named Brown as her attacker.

Chris Brown has turned himself in; Rihanna has canceled some high profile performances as well as her birthday party. Rumors are swirling, and there isn’t much confirmed. They have not even confirmed that the “female with visible injuries” was Rihanna, though this is widely assumed to be so.

It is entirely too early to see how this is going to pan out – no one knows if Rihanna will ever admit to being the woman who called 911, if the woman involved will press charges, or what will become of Chris Brown if he has to go to court.

However, one thing I do want to mention is how this could turn into a case study on how communities – especially communities of color, deal with domestic violence.

Journalist Elizabeth Mendez Berry wrote a piece for Vibe Magazine in 2005 dealing with domestic violence in the hip-hop community. In “Love Hurts” Berry shows how many of our beloved hip-hop icons barely bothered to conceal their physical aggression towards women:

BEFORE GOING TO SLEEP, many little girls pray for a new Barbie, an Xbox game, or a trip to Disney World. At age 7, Vanessa Rios asked only that “Papi would stop hitting Mami.”

It was May 1999, and Vanessa was staying with her aunt, Penelope Rios Santiago, in Miami. After Santiago overheard her niece’s bedtime prayer, she confronted her brother, Christopher Rios. His reaction? It wasn’t true, he said. Though he had much in common with other abusers, Christopher Rios was also different: He was Big Pun, a famous rap star. He first hit his wife, Liza, when she was 16, and over the course of their 1o-year relationship, she claims he sent her to the hospital three times and prevented her from seeking needed medical attention on many other occasions. “One time he told me to change the batteries in his beeper,” says Liza Rios, now 31. “I totally forgot about it, and he took this lead pipe and started swinging on me. I had my daughter in my arms, and I told Cuban [Link, who was there] to take the baby. After he finished beating me, my elbow was twisted out of place. I was limping for two months.” […]

SEVERAL WOMEN WHO HAVE HAD relationships with well-known abusers declined to speak on the record for this piece and said they feared reprisal. The ex-girlfriend of a famed MC mentions a chart-topping rapper who attacked his wife (and mother of his children) with a champagne bottle; a multiplatinum producer tells VIBE matter-of-factly that he has seen many physical fights between artists and their romantic partners over the years. Neither witness cares to elaborate.

Berry’s piece is a much read, and while the circumstances surrounding this particular case are currently unclear, I’m wondering if this case will follow the same script of denial and secrecy as they have in the past.

UPDATE: Afrobella on stereotyping:

Take a gander at any of the popular gossip blogs right now, and read those comments if you want to feel your blood pressure rise. I’m not about to link to any of the posts that REALLY got my goat, but I need to get this off my chest. As a proud Trinidadian woman, a West Indian woman, a woman from the islands… I do NOT appreciate the stereotypes that are being thrown around by commenters seeking to condone or explain this act of violence. I’m seeing all kinds of nonsense. And I quote:

“He better watch himself, those island women are crazy.”

“Who didn’t tell chris that island women were nutso?”

“Caribbean women are crazy, she probably cut him.”

“That island b***h probably put some roots on him.”

“Chris Brown laying the SMACKDOWN on Carribean joints. [frank lucas voice]. My ni**a!”

Then there’s the other kinds of offensive comments, the ones that don’t just put the blame on Rihanna because she’s a “crazy island woman.” These other comments blame her simply because she’s a woman.

“She must have provoked him.”

“I believe Rhianna probably started it first and it got Chris mad. Rhianna looks like she is a ish starter.”

And my least favorite of all: “Its so stupid how if a man hits a woman its his fault and we should feel sorry for the woman. You all know how it goes, these hoes get snappy, she probably annoyed him and hit him herself. lol at everyone feeling sorry for Rihanna.”

Hold. UP.

Where do these kinds of twisted interpretations and stereotypes even begin? When did we get to this point, where we instantly blame the victim?

UPDATE 2: From Necole Bitchie, stereotype watch on Chris Brown:

Unfortunately, for Chris Brown, the longer he stays silent, the more time the media has to paint him as a criminal that’s dangerous to society. I’ve read over 50 sites that have used words like “woman beater”, “temper” and “monster” to describe Chris while using words like “poor girl”, “princess” and “victim” in their descriptions of Rihanna. After my last blog, I have to make it clear that I am not taking sides, I just feel that this story is very one sided and I put most of the blame on Chris’s team at this point for keeping quiet (under legal counsel of course).

UPDATE 3: Via Jezebel, “The LA Times is defending it decision to out Rihanna as the victim of Chris Brown’s domestic violence case. A reporter explains: “The Times has a blanket policy when it comes to not naming victims of sexual assault. There isn’t a set policy when it comes to physical assault or a criminal threat. In that case, there’s a decision internally and on a case-by-case basis of whether to name somebody. In this case, obviously there was a discussion among the editors about this. The nature of this case – against the backdrop of the Grammy’s, the delay in changing things, the explanations put out by both camps – the decision was made that this was fair game.” [E&P]

Update 4 – Necole Bitchie, on the rumors surrounding what actually happened:

Yesterday morning a few sites started reporting that the altercation started with a “booty call” from a female which set Rihanna off. Rihanna then starts to hit Chris while he is driving which caused him to crash into a parked car. He then gets out and tries to pull her out and she continues to hit him until he has no choice but to hit her back. Note: from the looks of the above photo, the car does not look like it was involved in a crash. (the spotting is from the cops dusting the car for fingerprints)

Also, yesterday I pointed out that the descriptions of Rihanna’s injuries change from day to day. The first day she suffered bite wounds, 2 black eyes and broken teeth. Later her injuries were described as two contusions on her head, a bloody nose and her lip was split. Yesterday, E Online! Reported that Rihanna claimed Chris said he was going to kill her and he choked her until she lost conscious. Does anyone see where I’m going with this? (What is the truth????). It reminds me of grade school when the teacher used to line us up and she’d whisper to the first student who would pass the message along until it reached the last student. When the last student revealed what she had been told, it was completely different than what the teacher told the first student. Catch my drift?

Where were their bodyguards or members of their entourage during the altercation?? I have a feeling that someone from their entourage assisted Chris with leaving the scene in the first place. Also, Rihanna was escorted to the hospital in an Escalade truck. From the photos at the gas station (taken the day before) their team of people normally trail their vehicle for security reasons. If Chris had time to get out the car, choke Rihanna until she was unconscious and leave her with black eyes, a split lip, broken teeth, bite marks and however many injuries the different outlets are reporting she had, I know someone had time to see what happened (outside of the car) and had time to break things up. Also, the police “supposedly” took photos of Rihanna’s injuries on the scene which they presented to the District Attorney’s office yesterday along with other evidence from the case. The District Attorney felt as though they needed more evidence and sent the case back to the LAPD for further investigation. In my opinion, this further proves that what’s been presented in the media has been overly exaggerated! No one has seen her injuries because the photos were kept sealed (with no copies made) so that they didn’t leak to the public. Where is the media getting their description of her injuries from?? Also, are there conflicting stories by eye witnesses?

(Photo credit: Popsugar)

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Racialicious is a blog about the intersection of race and pop culture. Check out our daily updates on the latest celebrity gaffes, our no-holds-barred critique of questionable media representations, and of course, the inevitable Keanu Reeves John Cho newsflashes.

Latoya Peterson (DC) is the Owner and Editor (not the Founder!) of Racialicious, Arturo García (San Diego) is the Managing Editor, Andrea Plaid (NYC) is the Associate Editor. You can email us at

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