EDITORIAL: Just what are the Alaska attorney general’s priorities?

Alaska headlines in recent days have spelled out, in sobering detail, how our state has utterly failed to meaningfully address its eye-popping rates of violence against women. There was the story of Jennifer Kirk and Susanna “Sue Sue” Norton in Kotzebue, who died on the city mayor’s property and had suffered previous incidents of domestic violence at the hands of the mayor’s sons — but whose cases never resulted in criminal charges. Then there were the reports of unsolved deaths in the community, some hastily deemed suicides, about which residents had serious misgivings about the official findings.

Then, in the span of less than 24 hours, Alaskans were reminded that domestic violence problems can be just as severe on the road system. A double murder-suicide in Wasilla that troopers discovered on the morning of Nov. 20 was followed just hours later by another murder-suicide outside the Dimond Walmart in South Anchorage; according to law enforcement officials, both were domestic violence crimes.

Amid the chaos, what was the head of Alaska’s Department of Law doing? Writing a threatening letter to librarians warning them that he could charge them with a felony for allowing access to books with graphic content.

It’s another disgraceful chapter in Attorney General Treg Taylor’s enthusiasm for waging culture wars while the real, devastating problems facing our state get pushed into the background.

Alaska’s problems with domestic violence and sexual assault are well-known and have repeatedly been brought to the attention of policymakers at all levels of government. Proclamations have been issued. Councils have been convened, and later dissolved. Hearings have been held. A federal emergency has been declared, and funds made available to combat it. But the attention does not appear to be resulting in meaningful improvement. Women who have suffered domestic violence are dying at disproportionate rates, and their cases are sometimes given short shrift by law enforcement. And those who die in murder-suicides like the two this past week never have an opportunity for justice.

Those inclined to defend Taylor might point out, correctly, that it’s possible for the state’s top law enforcement official to focus on more than one problem at a time. But there’s a problem with that defense: Despite the several recent opportunities to comment on the shocking crimes against women occurring in our state, Taylor issued no public comment — but he had plenty to say to librarians who he suspected might have smutty books on the shelves. We have a state attorney general who appears more interested in throwing political red meat over a largely manufactured issue than in confronting a very real, urgent crisis that has plagued Alaska for decades and caused our people untold harm. As priorities go, that’s about as backward as it gets.

Alaska’s struggle with violence against women is a complex, multifaceted problem for which there are no easy or quick answers. Addressing it in a meaningful way will require many years of sustained effort and dramatic cultural changes. It is the result of interlocking problems — alcoholism and addiction, mental health treatment shortfalls, unhealthy attitudes toward women and relationships, a cavalier attitude toward weapons and violence in society, among other issues — that can each be failure points if not given the resources needed to effect change. In short, it’s the kind of problem that politicians hate, because they can’t point to how they fixed it by the time they’re running for their next term or seeking their next appointment. It’s also a problem that Alaska’s top prosecutor doesn’t seem interested in, at least not when there are teachers and librarians to be chastised.

But the complexity of Alaska’s struggle with violence against women is exactly why confronting it at every opportunity is so necessary. Every time this violence goes unaddressed or unremarked on, every time it’s met by indifference instead of recognition that we’re not doing enough to fight it and a resolve to do more, it slips back toward becoming our norm. And Alaska can’t afford to continue with 43% of its women experiencing domestic violence in their lifetimes. We need our attorney general to realize that, instead of trying to score political points by threatening librarians.

Anchorage Daily News editorial board

Editorial opinions are by the editorial board, which welcomes responses from readers. Board members are ADN President Ryan Binkley, Publisher Andy Pennington and Opinion Editor Tom Hewitt. The board operates independently from the ADN newsroom. To submit feedback, a letter or longer commentary for consideration, email commentary@adn.com.