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Obama delegate keynote speaker at domestic violence awareness dinner

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10/23/2008 10:54 PM
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Obama delegate keynote speaker at domestic violence awareness dinner
By Lawrence Smith -Kanawha Bureau

A delegate to the 2008 Democratic National Convention for Barack Obama, General Parker of Peoria, Ill., is pictured here in a picture with son, whom he has not seen since February 2005. Parker, who was accused falsely of domestic violence by his ex-wife, will be the keynote speaker at a domestic violence awareness dinner in Charleston on Oct. 24 to discuss how the Violence Against Women Act prevents him contact with his son despite being cleared of any wrongdoing. (Photo courtesy of General Parker)

CHARLESTON - Drawing on his own personal ordeal, an Illinois man who served as a delegate for Sen. Barack Obama to this year's Democratic National Convention will discuss the unintended consequences of a federal anti-domestic violence law during a domestic violence awareness event in Charleston.

In observation of national Domestic Violence Awareness Month, three organizations - the Domestic Violence Counseling Center, Healing Through Creativity and Men and Women Against Discrimination - will host a domestic violence awareness dinner at 6 p.m. on Friday, Oct. 24 at the Charleston Marriott. Titled "Protect the Family: Fix the Violence Against Women Act", the dinner's keynote speaker will be General Parker, an Obama DNC delegate.

In a telephone interview, Parker, 45, (who is not a military officer, but instead named after one of his great grandfathers) said prior to being elected as a delegate, he volunteered for Obama's 2004 senatorial campaign. Because he is black, Parker said he hoped he could convince Obama to open a congressional investigation into the financial incentives the VAWA provides to law enforcement and the courts to keep people, mostly black men, ensnarled in domestic violence-related cases.

"It's hard to make justice blind when the motivating factor is money," Parker said.

A boilermaker by profession, Parker said his experience with VAWA came in April 2003 when his now ex-wife accused him of not only domestic violence, but also kidnapping their then-2-year-old son while they were living in St. Louis. Though Parker says he was the actual victim when his wife attacked him, he chose to de-escalate the situation by leaving the house and returning to a job assignment in Illinois.

The reason he took his son, Parker said, was for fear his wife would either abuse or neglect him.

According to Parker, he was arrested when he returned to St. Louis the following week. Along with contesting a protective order his wife filed against him, Parker said he had to fight assault and parental kidnapping charges.

Though the assault charge was dropped in March 2006, Parker said he had to endure two trials on the kidnapping charges. After the first ended in a hung jury in March 2005, he was acquitted in January 2006.

However, what angers Parker the most is the fact that despite being cleared of any wrongdoing, he has not been able to see his son in nearly four years.

According to Parker, he filed for divorce immediately following his release on bail. The divorce, he says, was granted in December 2004.

While the divorce was pending, Parker says he was granted custody of his son every other week. During that time, it was he who would make the trip between Peoria, where he now lives, and St. Louis to pick-up and return his son.

Though the final divorce decree granted him partial custody of his son, Parker says he's been barred from coming near his ex-wife's home. Despite being cleared of not only all criminal charges, but also all protective orders, police have told Parker he would be arrested if he came near his ex-wife or son because she fears him.

Last year, Parker filed a lawsuit in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Missouri against, among other individual and entities, the St. Louis County Police Department alleging violation of his constitutional and civil rights. The case is still pending.

The roller-coaster ride of emotions, Parker says, hit a new low prior to the DNC when Obama tabbed Delaware Sen. Joe Biden to be his vice-presidential nominee. Biden was the principal author of VAWA when it was introduced in 1994.

"My heart just sank when I found out he was Obama's VP pick," Parker said.

Though, as committed, he went ahead and cast his vote for Obama/Biden in Denver in August, Parker says he remains uncommitted as to whom he will vote for in Peoria in November. However, Parker is confident, should they be elected, Obama and Biden will be open-minded to reforming VAWA because "they don't know the harm it has done."

"I don't know of any studies that show VAWA has curbed violence against women," Parker said.

Hopefully, Parker says he can gain the ears of not only Obama and Biden, but also other senators and congressmen through awareness events like the dinner in Charleston. Though VAWA is a well-intentioned law, it needs to be rewritten to address the havoc it has wrought on constitutional liberties, and the family unit.

"I hope they will hear all the things I went through and say 'We can't allow others to go through that,' " Parker said.

"VAWA should be used for what is intended for, preventing violence against women and not for gaining tactical advantage in divorce and child custody cases."

Prior to Parker's keynote address, the dinner will feature a panel discussion of local men and women whose lives have been impacted adversely by VAWA. WCHS 580-AM Talk Radio 58 co-host Mike Agnello will serve as both the panel's moderator and the dinner's emcee.

Tickets for the dinner are $40, and must be reserved in advance. The deadline for registration is Tuesday, Oct. 21.