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Frowning woman after argument with husband

Vladimir Vladimirov

Domestic violence is nothing new, even when it leads to murder. But people recording and posting their relationship drama, partner-shaming and abuse, and intimate confrontations on social media for the world to consume has become a popular trend.

The latest headline-grabber is the case of Kadejah Michelle Brown, a 28-year-old woman in Lowndes County, Miss., who argued with her husband Jeremy Brown, also 28, then (allegedly) shot and killed him on Saturday, March 25. This happened in front of their children, who can be heard crying for their father.

Kadejah Brown recorded the deadly tragedy on Facebook Live.  The nearly eleven-minute video—which comes with warnings and requires viewers to opt into the disturbing content—has been viewed some 26,000 times on YouTube.

Authorities said the couple who had a history of domestic violence were arguing all night and that Jeremy was trying to defuse the situation by leaving the home when his wife shot him. Deputies responding to a domestic violence call shortly before 8 a.m. reportedly found evidence—including a handgun and shell casing—at the scene. Brown was arrested, charged with murder and booked into the Lowndes County Adult Detention Center. Her bond was set at $750,000.

There are multiple layers of horror and tragedy in this story, not the least of which is the lifelong trauma caused to these children who witnessed the abuse and murder of their father, the arrest of their mother and the permanent destruction of their family. The fact that a permanent video record will live on the internet to haunt them as they grow to adulthood will compound their suffering in unimaginable ways.  

Let’s look at how this American horror story relates to the online intimate partner abuse trend, how popular entertainment is normalizing women as attackers, the hidden gender dynamics of domestic violence, and the race-gender nuances around actor Jonathan Majors’ recent arrest for allegedly attacking his girlfriend, who is white.


Going Live

Livestreaming relationship confrontations and attacks is a disturbing type of social media that’s grown in recent years. More people are using social platforms to document and broadcast conflicts with their significant others—for attention, validation, and to tip the balance of power.  Some use livestreaming as a tool of control or coercion, using the threat of public humiliation to manipulate their partners or force them to stay in abusive relationships.

Some of these livestreamed confrontations have ended in tragedy. The case of the Browns is just one of many where individuals have live-streamed the murders of their partners.

In 2021, Rajaee Black, 44, a nurse anesthetist in Baltimore, killed his ex-girlfriend, Tara LaBang, 41, then recorded a Facebook Live video saying he “just did something crazy “I just shot my ex-girlfriend in the head. Felt like a dream. I never thought I would be that guy.”

He said he was depressed by a long custody battle with his ex-wife, Wendy Black, 42, over their two children. After claiming he couldn’t go to prison, he allegedly said, “She next. Then I’m going to do myself too.”

As Black opens the door, he turns the camera on her and says, “Today’s the day.” The video cut off, but authorities report that Black shot her and then himself.

In a gruesome reminder of how often the system fails Black women, Black had also filed a series of domestic violence charges against her ex, which were dismissed by a judge.

Shortly after police found her body, they discovered the couple’s two kids sitting in Black’s parked BMW. Here’s yet another pair of children whose lives have been needlessly ripped apart and traumatized for years to come with the source of their pain on permanent display in the digital space.

In 2018, Rannita Wiliams, 27, of Shreveport, La., begged her ex-boyfriend, Johnathan T. Robinson, 36, to stop as he shot her several times in her home on a Facebook livestream. After an 80-minute standoff with police, Robinson was arrested on multiple attempted murder charges. Williams was declared dead at a hospital.

In 2017, Jared McLemore, 33, of Memphis, terrorized his girlfriend, Alyssa Moore, by setting himself afire on Facebook Live, and burning himself to death outside of her workplace. McLemore, whose family said he had bipolar disorder, had been charged with domestic assault a number of times, once for threatening to kill Moore. The latest charge took place the day before his fiery suicide.  

While these three examples highlight male-on-female violence, we can’t ignore the growing prevalence of domestic abuse and attacks by women on men, as demonstrated in the Brown case.

Battered Men

Most conversations, research, and news coverage about domestic violence focuses on women as victims. But there is a growing body of research examining domestic violence against men, including Black men. According to studies published in the Journal of the Society for Social Work and Research and The Journal of Family Violence, Black men are equally likely as women to experience severe physical violence, and are more likely than white men to report being victimized by domestic violence.

In addition to physical violence, research from the University of Tennessee at Knoxville found that Black men were more likely than white men to report experiencing psychological abuse and controlling behaviors from their partners.  The study also found that Black men were less likely than women to seek help for domestic violence, which may be due in part to societal expectations around masculinity.

It’s easy to understand how law enforcement and the criminal justice system may influence responses. Black men who experience domestic violence may be more likely to be seen as aggressors rather than as victims. And if they try to defend themselves, they may be more likely to face arrest or prosecution.

A high-profile example of this dynamic is rising star actor Jonathan Major’s arrest last weekend for allegedly abusing his girlfriend, who is white. Majors is rising to the status of Hollywood heartthrob, starring in the current hit, “Creed III” with Michael B. Jordan, Marvel’s “Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania” and the upcoming “Magazine Dreams.

When news of the alleged domestic violence and arrest first broke, many assumed that Majors was the perpetrator. The prosecutor claimed that the actor slapped the woman in a cab, “causing substantial pain and a laceration behind her ear,” and also put his hands on her neck, causing bruising and substantial pain.”

Majors was released from custody the next day, which is when his girlfriend wrote two statements recanting the assault allegations against him. At his arraignment, Major’s attorney told the media that he is “completely innocent,” and that they have video evidence and eyewitness statements to prove that he was not the attacker. The attorney, Priya Chaudhry, said the actor made the 911 call out of concern for his girlfriend’s mental health.

“Unfortunately, this incident came about because this woman was having an emotional crisis, for which she was taken to a hospital yesterday,” Chaudhry said in The Mercury News. “The NYPD is required to make an arrest in these situations, and this is the only reason Mr. Majors was arrested. We expect these charges to be dropped soon.” His follow-up court date is scheduled for May.

Through all of this, we can’t ignore the fact that Majors is Black and his girlfriend is white. The centuries of history, racial typecasting and biases around that dynamic overshadows this story as it unfolds.

Speaking of the images and narratives around Black masculinity, weeks before the incident, Major made headlines for  showcasing differing aspects of his personality on magazine covers. He gave super-buff alpha male on the covers of Men’s Health and The Cut, then sparked massive backlash over his flowery pink Ebony cover and photo spread. Majors brushed off the backlash criticizing the Ebony images as “not masculine.” In fact, weeks before the 911 call and arrest, he addressed the issue on NPR, saying that masculinity is “kindness, gentleness, use of power.”

Watching this story unfold, we have to wonder: was Majors the victim of his girlfriend’s attack? And if he put hands on her, was he provoked? Legal experts are speculating that if so, he could sue her for defamation. 

We don’t fully understand the prevalence and experiences of domestic violence against Black men or how to support them or intervene in these situations.  We don’t know precise numbers on how many Black men are victimized or killed by intimate partners with any degree of certainty.

The National Domestic Violence Hotline reports that one in four men have experienced some form of physical violence by an intimate partner, though they do not provide race-specific data on victims.  We should also take note that not all incidents are reported and there are varying definitions of what constitute intimate partner violence.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), reports that in 2018, there were 1,527 male victims of homicide by an intimate partner in the United States. While not providing race-specific data on victims, a CDC study reveals that approximately 1 in 6 men have experienced IPV in their lifetime.  Among Black men, the lifetime prevalence of IPV is slightly higher, at 19%.

Studies show that Black men are more likely to experience psychological and emotional abuse than physical abuse, and they are more likely to experience IPV from female partners than male partners.  Black men face unique barriers to seeking help for IPV, including stigma, fear of being perceived as weak or unmanly, and mistrust of the legal system.


Is Reality TV Contributing to Black Women Becoming Violent?

We don’t know if women are becoming more violent, or if social media, the digital realm, and the Information Age make us more aware of female perpetrators. When it comes to young Black women, we have to consider the pervasive female violence highlighted and even celebrated in reality television shows.

“What’s Real? What’s Not?: Reality TVs Effect on Relational Aggression Among Black College Women,” a 2016 thesis by Ashley Hill at Virginia Commonwealth University, examines the dynamic in detail. “Reality TV and the Black Woman Researchers must begin to contextualize how reality television’s portrayal of Black women affects the psychological wellbeing of Black female viewers.”

Hill asserts that programs such as The Real Housewives of Atlanta, Love & Hip Hop, Basketball Wives, among others, have large viewing populations. In 2014, 5.6 million people watched the season premiere of Love and Hip Hop: Atlanta, making it the top cable show for women from age 18-49. Despite the financial successes of these franchises, Black women are portrayed as violent, verbally abusive, untrustworthy, catty, and hypersexualized,” reinforcing negative racial stereotypes.

Hill adds: “Moreover, many of these Black Reality TV programs are characterized by verbal assaults, backstabbing, and gossip—all forms of relational aggression. Analysis of black-oriented media provides context to view how BRTVs shapes relationally aggressive behaviors. Research of Reality TV Television can have a profound impact on viewers – particularly young adults.”  

The Real Housewives franchise and similar shows pimp toxic relationship drama to glorify and normalize violent behavior among women. Fights are heavily promoted in trailers and teasers with dramatic music and slow-mo scenes to heighten the tension.  Physical altercations and verbal abuse between cast members draws viewers. The most violent women are rewarded with increased screen time and attention.

There is no way this content isn’t impacting vulnerable young minds and psyches. They’re promoting violence—without ever showing real-life consequences—as an acceptable way to resolve conflicts. It’s no wonder that young women like Kadejah Michelle Brown of Mississippi think nothing of livestreaming themselves performing acts of aggression, violence, and even murder. She didn’t remember or care that her video provided evidence for her own prosecution. Her abuse towards her husband—who was trying to deescalate and leave—overrode any concern for their children, who witnessed the entire tragedy and thanks to the video, will never be able to fully recover or heal from their mother’s attack.

We must consider all these complex dynamics as they intersect in our families and communities.  And social media platforms have ethical responsibility to recalibrate their community standards protocols to ban people who use technology facilitated violence.  Needless tragedies are being committed and massive trauma compounded for generations to come. Whether we’re consuming onscreen content or creating it for others to watch, it’s time to become much more mindful of what we’re consuming and the impact it’s having in real life.

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