In 2015, as Cleveland Judge Lance Mason was scheduled to be sentenced for brutally beating his wife, Aisha Fraser Mason, Ohio Rep. Marcia Fudge penned a letter of support for the the judge, citing more than “20 years of friendship.”
“The behavior Lance displayed on August 2, 2014, is out of character and totally contrary to everything I know about him,” Fudge wrote, commending him for “immediately recognizing that he needed help” and entering counseling.
“Lance accepts full responsibility for his actions and has assured me that something like this will never happen again,” she wrote.
The letter resurfaced following Fraser’s killing this past weekend in which her husband—who was released in 2017—is now the lead suspect. As Slate reports, the letter was found by CBS affiliate station Cleveland 19 News and circulated Monday. On Tuesday, Fudge, who had considered launching a bid for House speaker in January, officially endorsed longtime Speaker Nancy Pelosi.
When the local news outlet asked Fudge for comment on the letter, the Democratic congresswoman offered this statement:
“My heart breaks for Aisha Fraser. I pray for Aisha’s family, especially her children, as they attempt to deal with this tragedy. My support of Lance in 2015 was based on the person I knew for almost 30 years – an accomplished lawyer, prosecutor, state legislator and a judge. That’s the Lance Mason I supported. The person who committed these crimes is not the Lance Mason familiar to me. It was a horrific crime. I and everyone who knew Aisha are mourning her loss.”
If that’s what Marcia Fudge has to say about Aisha Fraser, she can keep it. She can keep her prayers, and she can keep her prayers for Aisha’s children, who had witnessed Judge Lance Mason’s attacks on their mother, presumably for years.
It is necessary here to be clear about what exactly Judge Mason did to Aisha Fraser. It is necessary here to be clear about the facts of this case, facts Fudge understood and knew to be true when she wrote her letter of support for her friend in 2015.
He punched her 20 times, bit her, and slammed her head against the dashboard of the car and window, breaking a bone in her face and leaving her in need of facial reconstruction surgery. She attempted to flee the car. He continued to beat her, before driving away and leaving her on the road to flag down a passing car and ask for a ride to the hospital. Their two young daughters were sitting in the back of the car during the assault.
But Fudge claimed then, and claims now, that this person—a person who is now accused of stabbing his wife to death after serving just nine months in prison—is someone she doesn’t know. The person Fudge knew—her dear friend—was an “accomplished lawyer, prosecutor, state legislator and a judge.”
As if abusers couldn’t be any of those things. As if abusers can’t be what they are: human beings with a range of gifts and characteristics—some of them “good.”
It’s easy to get caught up in the rhetoric that abusers are monsters. Who but a monster could attack his wife in front of their children? Who but a monster would slam her head into the dashboard of her car so forcefully she would need surgery to fix it? Who but a monster would seek “counseling” only to allegedly kill her three years later?
But thinking of abusers in this way allows people like Fudge to make excuses for them, to assess their sins and magically cleave those transgressions away from the person they know.
That’s the Lance Mason I supported. But there is only one Lance Mason.
So let’s be clear. Abusers are charming. They are intelligent. They are as capable of kindness and affability as anyone else. They are often remorseful for their actions, but that doesn’t mean they don’t repeat them—they often do. They are, in the eyes of many, “good” people.
They are doctors. They are lawyers and public servants. They are teachers and clergy. They are nurses, police, firefighters, executives, professors, writers, and presidents. No profession, no sphere of public life—no matter how “noble” or “good”—is insulated from abusers, because the cultural conditions that enable and sustain abuse, be it physical, sexual, or emotional, transcend all of that. And while abuse certainly happens to men, we can’t ignore the disproportionate ways it affects women, particularly black women, and children (because make no mistake—in beating their mother, Mason abused his children as well).
When Mason got a job as city director of minority business following his brief stint in prison, some speculated that Fudge may have had some influence on the decision (she and Mayor Frank Jackson have denied this).
Still, Mason’s supporters pointed to his apparent contrition, and as Slate notes, the prosecutor in his case called Mason’s spousal abuse “an example of sometimes how good people make bad decisions.”
Today, Aisha Fraser is dead. And the evidence suggests that she is not dead as a consequence of a bad decision, but because of an abuser—and the people that enabled him along the way.