Nearly 300 people packed into the sanctuary of a Mennonite church on San Antonio’s South Side to participate in a town hall exploring the reasons why the city is such a dangerous place for women.
Congressmen Joaquin Castro and Lloyd Doggett organized the Tuesday evening event to address domestic violence in San Antonio. In addition to survivors and other community members, county and city officials attended the town hall to listen to stories of family and intimate-partner violence.
One woman after another approached the microphone to describe how violent men had impacted their lives.
"He beat my baby to death, and they still haven't done anything about my son's case," said Ebony Williams, a single mother in her twenties.
"It wasn't only my sister that was taken. My sister and my brother were taken. Both shot in the head, in my parents’ house, in front of my parents, and in front of my sister's 7-year-old boy," said Lillian Morales, whose sister and brother, Sonya Garza and Melton Lozano, Jr., were killed by Garza’s ex-husband in 2011.
"Every time they would come, you would hear one of them say, ‘Now we know he's got an assault rifle there in the gun cabinet, so you'd better be careful.’ But what did they do about it? Nothing,” said Kay Rose, whose domestic partner was shot to death in April by a neighbor who first beat his wife and then killed himself by setting his house on fire.
"There's so many questions, and you're having to go through so much trauma, and now I gotta figure out how do I get help," said Edith Parks. She explained that she struggled to get a protective order against her violent husband. She also had little success finding resources for women trying to escape violent situations.
Rena Castro described how her boyfriend murdered her daughter, Erin, on her 19th birthday in September 2018. She was on the phone with her mother when it happened.
"My heart raced as I ran to the neighbors to call 911, while I kept her on the line, aching to hear her voice again,” Castro said. “But her screams were the last thing I would hear from her. The police were able to track her phone, and they found my baby's body on Camp Bullis Road."
The town hall lasted nearly an hour longer than it was scheduled to, as a long line of women told their stories or made suggestions about how to make San Antonio a safer city for women and children.
"So what if there was a program where there was some grant money, or a voucher system where the victims could get a voucher,” Parks suggested. She pointed out that few victims of family violence have large amounts of disposable income for lawyers. “You take (the voucher) to any lawyer in San Antonio, and they get paid for an hour."
"It’s time to change the system,” said Maria Falcon, a counselor who works with victims of family violence. “And I think we need to stand up and respect victims of domestic violence and start listening to them so they’ll stop dying.”
“Ladies, take over the government system," she said. "Start being the leaders of our communities."
Castro said he was moved by the testimonies, and he promised to act.
"What I'm going to do is pull together this council of different levels of government to come together and listen to the advocates. Listen to survivors,” Castro said. “Also look for model approaches for combating domestic violence, and then figure out, on each level of government, how we can actualize these things and to make them happen. Make those changes happen for the better."
Doggett also said he thinks it will take more than the federal government to make a difference in this situation. It will take a joint effort with community leaders, he said.
Patricia Castillo of the P.E.A.C.E. Initiative, who helped organize the event, cheered the women who shared their harrowing experiences.
“I’m glad we had such powerful stories to share about what women’s lives are like in San Antonio,” Castillo said. “I hope our panelists take everything very seriously, as well as all the leaders in the audience that showed up.”
“Everybody should have the right to safety, to justice, to love and to respect,” she added.
The report that inspired this community meeting found that the number of women murdered by a male intimate partner in San Antonio tripled between 2012 and 2017.