7:09 PM PST, March 5, 2009
For weeks, as rumors flew and details trickled out, I struggled to find a lesson to share in the violent incident/altercation/lovers' quarrel -- even the media didn't know what to call it -- between teen music idols Chris Brown and Rihanna.
Now, after reading the graphic details in a search warrant affidavit filed by the Los Angeles Police Department, I know what I would call it: A beating, with a victim and a perpetrator.
The account describes Brown punching, choking and biting Rihanna and her cowering against the car door trying to block her boyfriend's blows with her legs and arms.
It hurt to read, in part because Chris Brown and Rihanna have been a familiar presence in my house for years, favorites of my teenage daughters. Brown's picture hung on one daughter's bedroom wall; Rihanna was a fashion icon for another. I held them in my mind's eye as the perfect couple.
Now Brown is charged with two felony counts off assault and making criminal threats. If convicted, he could go from pop star to prison inmate. Already Rihanna's public image has suffered. She's gone from Cover Girl model to poster child for domestic violence.
Domestic violence counselors I sought out -- as I tried to turn this into a teachable moment for teens -- said the case is a real-life lesson that might resonate with teens because it busts stereotypes about dating abuse.
"It's confusing, and that's good," said Leona Smith of Peace Over Violence, which runs a peer counseling program at Marshall High. "The kids say 'His songs are so nice, he's so cute, he gives such nice interviews.' For him to harm Rihanna -- who is also so cute, so nice and a celebrity -- what does that mean?"
It means we have to go beyond blaming Brown and shaming Rihanna. We need a real discussion with our young people.
"We think of their relationships as 'puppy love,' " Smith said. "But it's time to ask hard questions. "What does a healthy relationship look like? What do you really know about someone? How do you handle your own emotions?"
I'm launching that discussion tonight with my three daughters, with the affidavit studied like a textbook and followed by a quiz. Can you imagine a man you love getting so angry at you? What are the signs that point to violence? How do you de-escalate an argument?
If the account in the affidavit is true, I think Chris Brown needs some time behind bars to repent, reflect. And send a message about the consequences of violence.
But I also recognize that he's only 19 and reportedly grew up in the midst of abuse, watching his step dad beat his mother. He clearly needs anger management lessons.
This afternoon, Rihanna's lawyer showed up in court and said the young woman sees no need for the restrictive restraining order that bans Brown from any contact with her. Brown's lawyer asked to postpone his plea for another month.
I hope that doesn't mean Rihanna is backing down. She needs to take the stand, tell the truth.
And her fans need to step back a bit -- stop threatening to burn her CDs if she "goes back to Chris," give her room to breathe and time to heal.
This is not a reality show. These are real young people, in the midst of painful, life-altering personal drama.
Still, I hope they're mindful of the messages their actions send. Although they are not on a concert stage, millions of young people are now watching what may be the couple's most important public statement.
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