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Action, not condolences, the way to honor Aisha Fraser: Andrea Simakis

November 25, 2018

Action, not condolences, the way to honor Aisha Fraser: Andrea Simakis

CLEVELAND, Ohio – After Lance Mason got out of prison for choking and biting and hammering his wife Aisha Fraser in the face, he was hired by City Hall.

And Aisha? She drew up a will.

“She felt that he would try to kill her,” George Fraser told me, hours before Monday’s vigil for his murdered niece at Woodbury Elementary, where she taught 6th grade.

Of all the awful details surrounding her stabbing a 10-minute drive from my house, that’s the one that haunts me most.

I imagine two scenes happening at once on a split screen.

In the first, Mason strides through the halls of Cleveland government, many months before Shaker Heights police named him as the prime suspect in Aisha’s murder. He has been restored. Not to his former, six-figure glory as a Cuyahoga County Common Pleas Judge but to a position of power, helping minority-owned businesses – including those headed by women – compete for city contracts.

I wonder what women working inside the Jackson Administration thought the first time they saw him rounding a corner? I know what the move signaled to me: If you hit your wife so hard you break her orbital rim, an injury so severe she needs reconstructive surgery and suffers nerve damage, you might be rewarded with a city job.

In the second scene, Aisha meets with her best friend – somewhere quiet, away from her daughters so they won’t hear. The women talk about what will happen to Aisha’s girls if Aisha doesn’t survive long enough to raise them.

The two make a pact in case Lance decides to finish the job he started in August 2014, when he pummeled Aisha’s face with his fists, sunk his teeth into her and strangled her as their girls looked on from the back seat.

Aisha was smart, uncle George said. He told me she left nothing to chance so she made sure the assets of her estate would transfer to her best friend, including her most precious assets of all – Audrey, 11 and Ava, 8.

The restraining order was a piece of paper, good as long as Lance chose to obey it.

“When they first arrested him, he had an arsenal in his house including [smoke] grenades – who the hell does that?” Fraser asked. Also seized from Mason: A stockpile of ammunition. Handguns, shot guns, assault rifles and a bullet proof vest.

“There were red flags all over the place.”

Mason served nine months of a two year sentence for attempted felonious assault even though there was nothing attempted about it. The courts, said Fraser, gave him too little time and let him out too soon.

“We thought that he needed to be in prison longer, observed and going through therapy and analysis,” said Fraser. What about Aisha?

“She thought he was beyond help,” said Fraser. “When he was beating her the first time – and biting her – she said, ‘I knew that he was crazy and something bad was going to happen.’ ”

Mayor Frank Jackson told the cameras that no one could have predicted that Mason would be arrested for killing his estranged wife.

But the Ohio Board of Professional Conduct, the disciplinary arm of the Ohio Supreme Court, feared he would attack her again, the reason it refused to reinstate Mason’s law license in 2017.

The Mayor sends his condolences, especially to Aisha’s girls, who can be heard screaming and crying on the 911 tape summoning police to their mother’s murder scene. But he stands by the hire, because everyone deserves a second chance and, again, who can predict such things?

Cops in his own department.

In 2016, thanks to a federal grant, some 270 Cleveland police officers in the city’s 1st and 5th districts were trained to ask victims a series of 11 questions drawn from more than two decades of research into domestic violence cases that escalated into homicides. Among them:

Has he ever tried to choke you?

Does he own a gun?

Do you believe he is capable of killing you?

If a woman answered “yes” to seven or more questions, her case was considered high risk, deserving of more police attention. Given what we know of Aisha’s ordeal prior to her murder, hers was one of those cases likely to turn deadly.

The idea of the Q&A is to prevent tragedies from happening. Researchers say it’s working but once the grant is up, the program will go away. Expanding it would be shrewd public policy.

Jackson isn’t responsible for Aisha Fraser’s death.

If he doesn’t want to use this moment to rail against the cancer of domestic violence, he doesn’t have to.

He doesn’t even have to admit he gave a second chance to the wrong man.

But to suggest that no one could have seen this coming, as though it were a freak weather event, is a fiction that perpetuates the widespread myth that the problem is too big to solve. So why even try?

It’s an insult. Rather than defending himself and, astonishingly, praising Mason’s job performance, he should act, putting high risk teams in every Cleveland police district.

That’s the best way to honor Aisha’s memory.

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