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.