It was Sunday, February 16, one day after an amber alert was issued, news swept social media that the bodies of Amarah “Jerica” Banks, 26, and her daughters Zaniya R. Ivery, 5; and Camaria Banks, 4 were found in a garage on West Burleigh Street. They were the victims of domestic violence.
Banks and her children had been missing for a week prior to the alert. During a brief news conference Sunday at the scene of the crime, Milwaukee Police Chief Alfonzo Morales explained the alert wasn’t done earlier because foul play was not an initial piece of the investigation, noting it was a missing investigation that escalated.
On Monday, Bank’s boyfriend, Arzel J. Ivery, 25, was arraigned initially on a fugitive from justice warrant in Memphis where he fled after allegedly committing the crime, reportedly strangling to death the mother and children. Ivery is the father of Zaniya. He has been charged with three counts of first-degree intentional homicide.
Several days before their disappearance, Banks had just buried her infant son who died from complications of asthma.
Now her family must gather again to grieve over more losses.
Two days prior to Banks and her children being found, on the early morning of Valentine’s Day, Javaunte Jefferson set his girlfriend on fire as she slept in the 1500 block of North 8th Street. The woman, Savannah Bailey, suffered third-degree burns on 60% of her body as her two children—ages four and one—followed her out of the house as she rolled in the snow to put out the flames. The temperature was minus one degree.
According to news reports, Jefferson and Bailey had an argument earlier in the night about work, taxes and finances. Baily told Jefferson she planned to move out of the apartment they’d shared for about a year.
While homicides in Milwaukee have decreased 33% in the last five years, domestic violence incidents increased. According to 2017 Wisconsin justice department statistics, there were 9,423 domestic violence incidents involving 9,756 victims in Milwaukee County. That’s an increase of 24% from 2016 (7,326 incidents involving 7,512 victims).
Maybe the anger and frustration expressed at the Banks crime scene should be levied against an aspect of American culture where the increase in domestic violence has become–sadly (based on the statistics)–a part of life; indicative of a violent nation that has grown somewhat “comfortable” with the idea that it’s okay to commit violent acts against women—and children.
According to the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence, one in three women and one in four men have experienced some form of physical violence from a domestic partner, with one quarter of women being victims of severe (strangling, beating, burning) physical violence.
Domestic violence is not a new phenomenon–something that’s been around for 50-plus years. Far from it! It is as old as civilization–if not before there was such a thing–and committed all over the world by all races, religions, ethnic groups, nationalities, social classes, both genders, and–yes–even in the LGBTQ community.
Despite greater visibility and public awareness of the problem, along with increased education, prosecution, victim empowerment, and safe sanctuaries like Milwaukee’s Sojourner Family Peace Center, it’s a crime that is still underreported.
That has to change.
While it’s the anger and frustration of the residents at the crime scene—and across the community—is justified, it must be turned into action. That action shouldn’t be solely focused on the MPD. It must be focused on those men (and even some women) in our community who commit acts of intimate partner violence.
We, as a community, must act to reduce domestic violence and drive its numbers down! If we see women being assaulted on the street or a venue, or know someone in a violent relationship, you…we…MUST ACT! (Helping a woman who is being assaulted on the street is risky; but sometimes just being there urging the assailant to stop and witnessing the assault may make him break off the attack and leave. It’s then you can get the victim to safety or be with her until the police arrive).
We must encourage the victim to seek help for herself and her children; encourage and accompany them to sanctuaries like Sojourner Family Center so they can seek refuge; get the victim’s or potential victim’s family involved (they may not be aware of the abuse); encourage and help the victim seek a restraining order against the assailant or, better yet, push for higher bails by working with local and state lawmakers to increase the bail amounts so it will be harder for the abuser to get out of jail and seek revenge against their partner).
As Ald. Khalif Rainey said the day after the grim discovery of Banks and her children, we as a community MUST do a better job of working together to protect our women, and to protect our girls from the physical and psychological abuse that can wreck lives and tear families apart.
Below are organizations that will help:
24-hour helplines and agencies that are available on the city’s website at city.Milwaukee.gov/health/staysafe/health/directory.
The Sojourner Family Peace Center in Milwaukee operates a 24-hour confidential hotline at (414) 933-2722. The Milwaukee Women’s Center also offers a hotline at (414) 671-6140.
IMPACT 211 hotline (dial 2-1-1).
Milwaukee Women’s Center, 728 N. James Lovell St. It’s a division of Community Advocates and serves survivors of domestic violence. (414) 449-4777
Joy House, 830 N. 19th St. (414) 344-3774
The Women’s Center in Waukesha, which serves victims of domestic violence, child abuse, sexual assault, and trafficking. Additional help and resources can be accessed by calling its 24-hour hotline at (262) 542-3828.
For Waukesha County resources, The Women’s Center offers a hotline at (262) 542-3828.
The National Domestic Violence Hotline can be reached at (800) 799-7233. For a list of domestic violence resources in the Milwaukee area.
As Rainey said in his press statement: “You may be the person who ends up saving someone’s life or helping a person escape a relationship rife with abuse and manipulation (and not love).”