- The Washington Times - Thursday, July 24, 2003

Ernestine Bunn Dyson did not die in vain. Neither did LaToya Taylor. These abused women are among the increasing number of Prince George’s County residents who are the victims of long-term domestic violence that in some cases has led to their deaths.

On Wednesday, the 22-member Prince George’s domestic violence task force — prompted by the March death of Mrs. Dyson, who was killed in a murder-suicide in her Oxon Hill home by her estranged husband only hours after a court appearance — issued its 43-page report. It includes policy and staffing recommendations to make domestic violence more of a priority with law enforcement agencies.

Most of the suggestions, such as getting police to respond as quickly to calls of domestic violence as they would to a shooting or a robbery, were characterized as “no-brainers” by Renee J. Nash, director of information and public affairs for WHUR-FM (96.3).

Still, she agrees it is good that now police officers and dispatchers will receive additional training on how to handle domestic violence calls, and any officer in the county can respond to calls if the officer closest to the scene is occupied. Police did not arrived at the Dyson home until an hour after she made a 911 call that was interrupted.

Much more is needed to eradicate this insidious disease that is society’s dirty little secret.

That’s why the highly rated “adult mix” Howard University radio station is taking up the issue of domestic violence. Ms. Nash was promoted recently to the public affairs position after serving two decades as newscaster for the popular morning-drive shows.

On Sunday, Aug. 17, WHUR-FM will broadcast a radiothon from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m. at the Prince George’s County Sports and Learning Complex at 8001 Sheriff Road in Landover. Its goal is to raise a minimum of $50,000 for the Prince George’s County Family Crisis Center, which shelters battered women and their children. In addition, announcers will be asking listeners to make donations of money, cellular telephones and toiletries.

The station’s welcome involvement in domestic violence stems from Ms. Nash’s coverage of the funeral services for LaToya Taylor, 26, last month.

Ms. Taylor’s badly decomposed body was found in a secluded area off Route 301. She disappeared after leaving her office at the Internal Revenue Service for a lunch. While no one has been arrested or charged in Ms. Taylor’s disappearance and death, her mother indicated to Ms. Nash that her daughter was a longtime sufferer of domestic violence. Had she found help like that offered by the crisis center, she may still be alive, her mother said.

“I got a chance to talk to her mom and I remembered Ernestine Dyson, so I went back to my station manager and asked if we could raise money with a ‘Party with a Purpose’ event,” Ms. Nash said.

Veteran WHUR-FM General Manager Jim Watkins, a fixture at the community-oriented station since its inception in the 1970s, wanted to do more and decided on producing the larger radiothon. Project Harvest, which collects funds and food during the Thanksgiving holiday, is the station’s signature fund-raiser. Ms. Nash noted that they have already received commitments from Maryland Lt. Gov. Michael S. Steele, Prince George’s County Executive Jack B. Johnson and Prince George’s State’s Attorney Glenn Ivey to drum up support for the Family Crisis Center.

Mrs. Dyson and Ms. Taylor’s families also will participate. Several county domestic violence victims will be interviewed on the phone during the radiothon.

Ms. Nash said they originally hoped to use the radiothon to generate seed money for a second shelter in Prince George’s for battered women to be named in honor of Ms. Taylor. Even though the latest statistics indicate that Prince George’s County has the second-highest rate of domestic violence in the state — just behind Baltimore — with 840 protective orders being issued monthly, the county currently has only one emergency shelter.

That shelter has enough bed space for 20 women and children. Last year, the center served more than 1,200 clients and received 5,600 calls on its crisis hot line. But during a seven-month period, it turned away 100 women seeking emergency housing while in flight from their abusers.

Ms. Nash noted that the shelter is in an undisclosed location for obvious reasons but the secluded surroundings “help the women work on body, mind and spirit so they can not only make a clean getaway but stay away with services that take them to the ‘what’s next’ step.” Nonetheless, she said, “after touring the shelter yesterday, I realized that they are in serious need of renovations because it needs to be painted, the furniture is worn, women are sleeping on bad mattresses on the floor and the few toys are really, really old.” In addition, the women need basic toiletries, shoes, infant clothing and diapers.

No doubt, even $50,000 will not go far but it’s a nice start. The center receives no government funding save for a nominal donation ironically from marriage licensing fees.

So far, a number of local churches, including Metropolitan Baptist Church in Northwest, are pitching in along with a few business sponsors, including Mattress Discounters and Regency Furniture.

“This [campaign] has taken on a life of its own,” Ms. Nash said.

“Our goal is to not only raise $50,000 but also to get volunteers to roll up their sleeves and donate their time, talent, goods and services for this worthy effort.”

And it’s a worthy effort indeed, so that the lives of Ernestine Dyson and LaToya Taylor and countless, nameless battered and abused women like them will not be in vain.

For more information, call the Family Crisis Center at 301/779-2100. Its crisis hot line number is 866/382-7474. Ms. Nash can be reached at 202/806-3623.

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