The curtain fell on Chris Brown and Rihanna's domestic violence saga Tuesday afternoon, when Judge Patricia Schnegg sentenced Brown to five years' probation and 180 days of community labor. The L.A. Times reports that the judge also ordered the pop star, who pleaded guilty to felony assault charges, to complete a year-long domestic violence program. Brown will not be allowed to come within 100 feet of Rihanna, except when both singers are attending an "entertainment industry event." Even then, he'll need to stay at least 10 yards away from her.
But the long list of punishments doesn't include any jail time. And Brown was cleared of a second felony charge, making criminal threats, despite a probation officer's report filed Tuesday confirming that he told Rihanna, "I’m going to beat the shit out of you when we get home" and "I’m going to kill you." Most disturbing of all, the same report reveals that Brown had a history of domestic violence. Three months before the February beating that landed him in court, Brown allegedly shoved Rihanna into a wall. A few months after that, he is said to have responded to a "verbal dispute" by smashing both the driver and passenger side windows of a car she was sitting in. Both incidents went unreported.
Many early media defenses of Brown centered on the assertion that the beating was an isolated occurrence. He wasn't a big, bad abuser; he was an otherwise kind man who simply let his anger get the best of him. (Never mind that the line between "abuser" and "kind man" isn't always clear.) And he would never, ever let it happen again. But what transpired between Chris Brown and Rihanna turns out to be much more complicated than that -- and, at the same time, more similar to what we think of as the "classic" domestic violence cycle.
Now, I realize that Brown's light sentence is the result of a plea bargain. And I do appreciate that he is willing to admit his guilt and, according to the L.A. Times, profess to be "ashamed and embarrassed" about his crime. I have only the highest hopes that Brown will emerge from 52 weeks of domestic violence counseling a better man. But I still can't help worrying about what kind of message the sentence, combined with the news that Brown had a history of assaulting Rihanna, will send to the teenagers who have so closely followed this story. As they watch Brown "removing graffiti, picking up trash, washing cars or maintaining grounds" instead of serving jail time, will they decide that domestic violence isn't a "real" crime? And will they act accordingly?