Friday, October 27, 2017

Jan Cromartie's story: beyond a protective order and shame

I recognized the panic in his voice. It reminded me of the anxiety of countless men and women who have called me when it felt like their world was falling apart.
Jan Cromartie called me after receiving a court date. Nana Asante-Smith, a Wake County assistant district attorney and a political action committee coordinator for the People’s Alliance, filed a protective order against Cromartie.
On Thursday, Chief District Court Judge James Hill granted Asante-Smith a one-year protective order that prevents Cromartie from coming within 100 feet and forbids him from making direct or indirect contact.
Cromartie saw it coming. He asked me to write about his struggles. He admitted he was wrong that day when he shouted at Asante-Smith. He admitted he should have responded in a way that honored his role as a member of the Durham Committee on the Affairs of Black People.
He wanted me to tell the rest of the story. It’s not just him.
It would have been different if he had taken his pills. Sometimes he forgets. Sometimes he fails to take them because they make him sleep too much.
Cromartie is a Navy veteran.  He returned to Durham from tours of duty with post-traumatic stress syndrome and bipolar disorder. The medication he takes help manage mood shifts and anger. Sometimes he forgets things.
Cromartie has limited resources. He works the polls to get enough to pay his bills. Telling his side of the story is often hindered by the things people think when they learn about his mental illness.
“I’ve done nothing but support causes and candidates I believe in,” Cromartie said. “I too am a person who needs advocacy as a veteran.”
At the time, I refused to write the story. I told Cromartie he deserved to be treated with dignity and for his story to be told in a way that considers his mental illness.
“He’s a veteran. He’s a veteran. He fought for us,” Brenda Howerton, member of the Durham County Board of County Commissioner, said. “To condemn him because of what happened to him as a result of fighting for this country is unconscionable “
Natalie Murdock, former press secretary of the Deborah Ross for U.S. Senate campaign, says Cromartie has been helping candidates for years.
“No one has worked harder than Jan,” Murdock said. “He is deeply respected by politicians across the state.”
Cromartie helped Howerton win the first time she ran for the Board of County Commissioners.
“Mental illness is something we deal with. We know he has mental illness,” Howerton said. “For this community to turn our back on a person who has worked so hard is wrong.”
Asante-Smith met with leaders of the Durham Committee to discuss the confrontation with Cromartie. In court, she said the Durham Committee gave “lip service” to her complaint. It wasn’t enough being told Cromartie suffers from mental illness.
“The question for us is how we support a person with mental illness,” Omar Beasley, chairman of the Durham Committee on the Affairs of Black People, said. “Jan is a part of this community. We talk about advocating for people with mental illness. We take mental illness as serious as we took the complaint against Jan. He deserves our support as one doing the best he can to deal with his limitations.
Beasley said the leadership team asked Cromartie to stay away from Asante-Smith.
“My concern is in how this is presented as a problem with the Durham Committee,” Beasley said. “This is about how we, as a community, deal with mental illness and support veterans. It’s not about mistakes we make as an organization. It’s about what we need to do as a community to support people like Jan.”
Cromartie says he’s being attacked because of the candidates he supports.
“I feel like I’m being legally bullied because of whom I support,” Cromartie said. “She’s disparaged and maligned my name in public and on social media. Why is she attacking me? Is it because I vote differently?”
I told him I wouldn’t write the story. Why? Because it’s too messy to unfold with a few quotes and thoughts involving legal procedures. It’s about two passionate people supporting different candidates. It’s also about two PAC’s jockeying for political supremacy. It’s also about a woman feeling threatened by a man and her right to use the court system to secure safety.
It’s about all of that.
It’s also about mental illness and how we treat veterans.
This is a story about advocating for the rights of men and women like Cromartie. It’s about balancing his right to work against the need to protect people when he fails to take a pill.
After reading the story told the wrong way, I’ve decided to tell it another way.
Cromartie deserves a life beyond the madness in his head and the rebuke of those unwilling to advocate for veterans and the mentally ill.

More balance please.


  1. This is so weak. It looks like the Assistant DA gave the Durham Committee a chance to deal with it and they mishandled the whole thing. The Durham Committee (DC) has one huge flaw and that is their inability to properly vet members who represent them in public. The leadership's lack of organizational skills cost this guy. Leadership of the (DC) should have been able to make an early decision that would have protected both parties in this situation but they didn't. So, the Assistant DA did it for them. Another underlying issue with the Durham Committee is how women are viewed within the Committee and unless it's put in check, the organization will fall. As this guy claiming mental illness, let me offer some food for thought and I am also a Veteran who served in 2 hostile territories. There is a pattern here and it really appears that this guy has an issue dealing with women. Many mentally ill people who served in the military did not necessary experience anything that causes mental illness. That's like assuming that every Veteran is good at shooting (Not the case). I'd like to have more information before assuming too much.

  2. All valid points; however, it's hard for me to take them seriously when one hinds behind the protection of the label "anonymous". Have the guts to stand behind your words, and we can talk about those assumptions

  3. What this article is attempting to do is to be dismissive of the fact that Jan Cromartie menaced Nana Asante-Smith to the point that she felt threatened and harassed and sought protection. A court agreed and ruled that this was criminal behavior that warranted a protective order. This article is an attempt to deflect from that basic fact.

    1. Jan Cromartie knew that he didn’t take his pills properly
    2. Jan Cromartie knowing he suffers from PTSD ‘chose’ to seek work in an area where he interacts with people in such a way that could escalate and trigger his PTSD.
    3. Jan Cromartie failed to manage his PTSD and put himself in situations that allows for his mental illness to menace and threaten others. He targeted women to threaten and harass.
    There were other options for Jan Cromartie:
    1. Seek support system for Veterans e.g.;
    2. Refrain from putting himself in potential volatile situation that makes it easy for him to become angry and menacing. (Polling for the Durham Committee, a job that entails convincing people to vote for his candidate, interacting with people that may disagree with him, is not a situation or a man who is PTSD and does not take his medication responsibly.
    3. Take medication responsibly
    4. Use Veteran support system to find other means of employment that would be a better fit for his PTSD and bipolar disorder (especially given that he willfully does not manage his medication consistently to control it).

    While Cromartie is a veteran, he is also ultimately a grown man, He is the primary person responsible for managing his PTSD.
    All of this other rhetoric about society and mental illness is an attempt to raise Cromartie’s PTSD issue above the crime he actually committed against Nana Asante-Smith
    He refused to take his medication consistently and correctly
    He menaced and harassed Nana Asante-Smith

    These things could have been avoided. This is the bottom line. When a person’s mental illness is such that they become threatening and dangerous to others, then the court should take action. And the person who is victimized has a right to seek protection when she feels her life is being threatened. The fact that he is a veteran, with mental illness does not give him such a sympathetic pass that excuses his actions of menacing and harassing a woman. We don’t need to wait for what could possibly happen next when he refuses to manage his PTSD properly with medication and someone else suffers for it.

    Addiction is also a mental illness, What if a veteran used alcohol to self-medicate, became addicted to it, got behind the wheel of a vehicle and killed someone. Does his plight rise above that of the victim?

    Also on another note, I find it interesting that the author of this article chastises a previous commentator for writing anonymously. I too, chose to write anonymously. Not everyone may have the account choices listed in the drop down menu but still wish to share their thoughts. This is an option for people to have when they comment. If it were not, then it would not be a choice for them to pick. The author has the option to refuse to address their responses, but to use the fact that he doesn’t take them seriously because they exercised their ‘right’ to post anonymously makes me not take him very seriously. Choosing to write anonymously in no way undermines what a person wrote. And to view it that way is a cop out. It comes off as I’m not willing to address your thoughts, to me it is more important to call you out for not writing your name. (A deflection). Maybe because he interested more interested in addressing the writer, than addressing the points that the writer made which is the focus.

    1. Most publication deny anonymous comments. It has been my practice to allow them, but that policy is being reconsidered. If a person is willing to comment, it is reasonable to ask that a person take credit for their views.

    2. Translation: Refusal to address valid points made and instead focus on anonymity equates to ad hominem fallacy tactics and diversion.

    3. No, I generally avoid responding to comments. I leave it up to those who read to discuss their views. In this case, I responded due to it being posted as an anonymous submission as I ponder altering my policy on accepting such comments.

      With that stated, I did allude to the great points made. This blog post is not about the specifics of this case. I merely mention it as being tricky beyond the protective order, which, in my opinion, was the right thing to do. The evidence of mental illness should never be used as a valid reason not to pursue protection.

      This is not a post discrediting the process, but rather an attempt to ask question beyond this particular situation. In other words, how can the community respond in ways that move things in a more positive direction? Given that question, there is space to be critical of the handling of this situation across the board. How do we engage in ways that support veterans and the mentally ill? For me, as the writer, this blog post serves as a place to press these critical issues.

      It is important that we not blame women who feel unsafe when approached by men or women with mental illness. This is not a post aimed at chastising a victim of abuse who used the court system to do what she needed to feel protected. This is not about her or him, it is about US. By US I mean all who can help facilitate a better solution.

      Thus, again, I rarely respond. In this case I grappled with accepting the comments as a post due it being posted anonymous. The credibility of the argument was enough for me to accept, although I recently made a decision to no longer allow anonymous comments. There are numerous editorial reasons behind such a decision, but, in this case, substance overruled that decision.

  4. Just like everything else people use PTSD and mental health as an escape.

    1. Not an escape, an explanation. Mental illness is real, and it is important that more emphasis be placed on understanding and confronting what comes with the illness.

    2. Harassment, stalking, threatening, intimidating women is real. More women are assaulted and killed by someone they know. It is important that more emphasis be placed on how deadly and pervasive this issue is that plagues women. The fact that you, a minister is dismissive of this is rather alarming. What starts out as threats and intimidation all to often ends in assault and in some cases... tragically death.

      You are more concerned with mansplaining Jan Cromartie's behavior than the very real threat Asante-Smith received as a result of his behavior. Courts don't generally hand out restraining orders easily. For him to receive one, the courts had to be convinced that Cromartie sustained a very real threat targeting this woman.

      Being a veteran with PTSD doesn't give him a pass. All the understanding in the world doesn't change the fact, that he behaved in such a way that the courts were convinced that a restraining order was warranted.

      Blaming Cromartie's behavior on his mental illness and waving the 'Veteran label as though that excuses his behavior and implying that he is not responsible is also not justified. It’s not his mental illness that is a factor, it is his failure to manage his mental illness that is the concern

    3. Men who target women always have an excuse, alcohol, mental illness. For his victim to have gotten a court order he had to have targeted her over time. She
      had to have evidence. She had to be sufficiently motivated to spend a lot of time and treasure on it.

      There is always a narrative: "I'm a man, an important respectable man. I have problems. I'm sorry to the people I've hurt, but it is really the women I targeted's fault. I'm actually the victim." There are also usually collaborators, men and women who saw/knew it was happening and enabled it or did nothing. They usually present their institution and preserving it as more important than addressing the concerns of the victim.

      For me the most recent version was in the technical community. Robert Scoble who harassed and assaulted women then appologized, claimed alchoholism made him do it but blamed them ( His bosses protected him.

      This narrative also follows that minus the customary half-hearted apology. We did get the victim attack in here! "He's a man, a navy man, a highly respected man. He has PTSD/mental illnesses. Why is this woman targetting him? He's the victim."

      Let's be better men than this. Let's support the victim first and foremost. Fine, get him the help he needs, but hold him accountable. He need to not just mak
      e a half hearted apology but take responsibility. His bosses need to be held accountable. They knew or should have known. They need to have policies in place
      to deal and prevent this sort of thing now and in the future.

      I have to be honest. I've read you for years and used to hold you in the highest of esteem. It didn't matter if I agreed. This post follows the form of an apologist for a man and institution that have targeted a woman. It has diminished my respect for you. Do better man. Support your friend but make him and his bosses own up to it. Support his victim.

      Given the nature of this post asking women to not post anonymously is asking them to put a target on their back. An assumption of safety is the ultimate male privilege.

    4. Point well taken; however, taking an general editorial position related to anonymous submissions is not an issue of privilege as much as it being about editorial control of what is posted on this blog. It is a question that arose out of the need to control the increased influx of racist comments. But, you point is well taken and received

    5. Question, at what point in this post is there the suggestion that Cromartie shouldn't be held accountable? Is that my statement, or your assumption? The point involving veterans and the mentally ill in no way negates the suggestion of accountability. As I state in the blog, this is a complex issue that requires more public discussion beyond the specifics of this case. Thus, what is the movement beyond this action? What can be done to support women who need protection and people who need services. Standing in support of one is in no way the negation of the other.

    6. "Question, at what point in this post is there the suggestion that Cromartie shouldn't be held accountable? Is that my statement, or your assumption?"

      Let's not play semantics. If this had been a post of a racist nature. Say a white person had done something to victimize a black person, I'm sure you wouldn't have posted an entire blog whitesplaining the racist behavior of the white person and be dismissive and apologetic about his racist behavior while dismissive of his black victim. What you are doing here is the same thing. Only this time it is a black man who happens to be a veteran suffering from mental illness who victimized a black woman. Your entire post is all about redirecting the focus away from his criminal behavior against Nana Asante-Smith and focusing on him being a victim, a veteran who suffers from mental illness which is the greater issue, the greater concern according to the way your article reads. You don't have to 'say the exact words, your entire blog loudly proclaims this. One doesn't have to make an assumption, one merely has to read what is written in black and white and the way it is written.
      The fact remains Cromartie behaved criminally, and as another poster said, he was not responsible. You are attempting to bring in all sorts of rhetoric in an attempt to move the reader away from what he did in order to garner sympathy for him and not so much for the real victim, the woman who sought protection against him. We see through this tactic.
      I too don't have much respect for a man, a minister at that, who shows less sympathy for the woman who is victimized, than the man who actually did the criminal act. That is sexism at it's finest. (regardless of his status of being a veteran and suffering mental illness).

    7. You paint a narrative. You chose your quotes. You ordered them for a purpose. You omitted things for a reason. You're a great writer, you knew what you were doing. You chose your words carefully.

      He said and you quoted “I feel like I’m being legally bullied because of whom I support,” Cromartie said. “She’s disparaged and maligned my name in public and on social media. Why is she attacking me? Is it because I vote differently?”

      That is a claim of victimhood and a cop out. You also quoted Beasley saying the committee is blameless. They "asked" him to stay away...

      You wrote a one sided defense then copped out saying "its complicated."

      There are well documented tactics for defending men who harass women:

      PTSD/Mental Illness - (this is a little specific to the tech community but you get the point)


      And in the HS post Beasley uses several others:

      But you decided to tell the story "a different way" with
      Cromartie as the victim. You decided to tell the story in a way that let Beasley off (his quotes in the HS story are a little unflattering). You decided to leave off the list of OTHER women who have protective orders against him.

      Standing in support of him also means making him own up to his problems that are specifically with WOMEN:

      This is a story about a man who targets (multiple) women. Calls them the B word (assuming from context) and threatens them. This is a story about the people who enabled him to do that.

      This is a story about a journalist who wrote as an apologist and left out the context to paint a narrative and claimed it was too complicated. This is a story of an apologist for sexist harassment of women.

    8. Good points, but let's consider context. In 1993, I was featured in Emmerge Magazine for being the first minister in America to establish a ministry for victims of domestic violence. That work led to the formation of a faith based model replicated as a partnership among churches and police departments in Durham and in other places. I have worked with and advocated for numerous women in obtaining protective orders and have written close to a hundred articles that speak to this issue. My support for the need to protect women is documented. Let's begin there.

      It's what makes this piece a difficult one to write. As I stated, it's complex. Thus, let's talk about the points I make. (1) the protective order is essential, (2) Cromartie is wrong, (3) we should never question the pain of victims. All of that is in the post.

      After making these statements, I move beyond this situation to address what's next. How do we help women who may encounter men like this? Do we just lock them up, or do we do more to address the issues.

      Now, what are the next steps beyond this post. In other words, what am I doing about it? I'm doing the work beyond this post. How? I'm working with folks to hold a community conversation involving mental illness in the black community. Yes, we need that talk. Part of that involves how we can do better in supporting veterans. Yes, that is real. As much as this is about a woman who needs protection (and trust I am in her corner when it comes to that) it is also part of my work, and yes calling, to help veterans and the mentally ill. I'm not taking a stand. I stand for both.

      I will say this. Mental illness is an illness, which means there are actions beyond his control. That's the meaning of that statement. It's why people need medication and therapy. I'm challenging people to discuss that. Thus, this is not about the court system. It is about what happens, or needs to happen, before we get to the court system.

      Can we agree on that?

    9. Oliver, the point was to bring balance to the "hit" piece written in the Herald-Sun. I'm clearly attempting to bring balance that was much needed. As a journalist, I'm deeply troubled by the way they framed that story and wrote this piece to offer a perspective not offered in that article - he's a veteran with mental illness who has supporters.

      Thus, I offered their perspective in quotes. It's what journalist do. I told you what they shared. These are their words, and they weren't given in the HS story. You could ask why not. I don't speculate on that, but rather offer a view that is essential to this story - what can we do to help veterans and the mentally ill.

      The hit job concerns me. Why? Because Cormartie suffers from mental illness. It's important that a way be found to support people like him to do better, while honoring the need for accountability. This piece is about that tension. yes, he's wrong, but people celebrate what he offers. Are there ways to fix that?

      That's what was missing in the HS article - the remedy, if there is one to be offered - to move this forward. In this case, I consider it important to raise these issues, and there were enough people who felt the same. It would help to build on this tension.

      So, how do we get there?

    10. Regardless of what you've done. This post doesn't do that. And you left those points out of the main post (your comments are much better and more even than the main post). The post even essentially pretends that he had a problem with ONE woman and that the problem is support for people with mental illness not with people that target and have a problem with women. How would you handle a man like this in your programs? How would you handle a woman who was targeted like this in your programs?

      How do address what's next? It begins with the organization he's working for having policies, procedures and oversight and yes penalties to address this. And it begins with calling the organization out for saying (according to the HS post) "The Durham Committee said it is a volunteer organization, that Cromartie is not an employee and that the organization is not responsible for his actions." - Having served on the board of more than one I know that a non-profit/volunteer or political organization is legally and morally responsible for its volunteers and their actions (and likely legally as well). And PAID volunteers are contractors. You're definitely legally responsible for them too.

      Some of my volunteer work is for a prison abolition and prisoner literacy group. No I do not believe locking people up addresses the issues.

      Mental illness needs to be addressed yes. Sexism, harassment and targeting of women are separate from mental illness. Those need to be addressed too. Frankly plenty of mentally ill and PTSD people do not target women.

      "It is about what happens, or needs to happen, before we get to the court system.

      Can we agree on that?"

      Exactly. What policies is the committee going to put in place to prevent this from happening again, specifically from allowing men who target women to do so with impunity and without penalty before they get to the legal system?

      But I do regularly have thoughts on:

      What can Durham as a community do to start making powerful organizations like Duke (which has consolidated all of the local healthcare and raised the price of it) take better care of our whole community?

      With federal funding gone, with insurance not covering it outside of specific employer policies and with state funding doubtful, how can Durham make mental health services (housing and healthcare too) available to everyone?

      How are we going to reform the (in-)justice system to better protect women and better rehabilitate the men who target them (instead of racially-biased incarceration and forced/coerced labor) and give the better opportunities?

      Many/most of the men in there started with mental health problems. Most have a terrible history of victimization as well.

      ...But Mr. Cromartie serially targets women. The committee enabled him to do so and does not apparently have a policy or procedure in place to prevent others from doing so while in its employ or while volunteering for it. They apparently don't even think it is their job to do so (from a liability standpoint... it is). Mr. Cromartie was enabled to do this, he is not solely responsible and most of the people who are do not have mental illness. What policies and procedures and such are being put in place to ensure this doesn't happen again?

    11. I don't think hit piece is a fair characterization. Men who victimize women always and their defenders describe the backlash as a "hit piece." His supporters are my problem frankly. They need to take ownership. In the only statements I see...they do not.

      There are services for veterans. Without context I can't say what he does and doesn't have. I'm not a mental health practitioner. I do know those services are expensive and there are online versions to make them more accessible if they can be paid for. I assume the VA requires you to use their doctors. I'm also almost sure they're inadequate and under attack by the rich and powerful.

      But clearly a remedy by Mr. Cromartie's supporters and enablers is also required. He can't be enabled to harass women and that needs to be monitored and managed by those who employ him.

    12. Andrew, again, great points. I only hope this will serve to facilitate a deeper community conversation involving these critical issues. It is my hope to move that discussion forward. See you on the other side

  5. Dude, It's your site. You added anonymous as an option. Further, as a journalist you (of all professionals) should have more appreciate for an anonymous status. At least there is evidence of you having readers.

  6. I applaud Andrew Oliver's comments, they are well rounded and address both sides of the issue in an objective and constructive way.