I’m sure most of you have been following the weekend news about Kansas City Chiefs player Jovan Belcher, who murdered his girlfriend and mother of his 3-month-old baby Kassandra Perkins Saturday morning, before driving to the stadium and killing himself in front of the coaching staff. There’s a lot to be said about this horrible crime, so I thought I’d list out some observations here.
1) Domestic violence is everywhere. A lot of observers are mostly stunned by Belcher’s behavior, because it seemed that he was widely regarded as a nice, hard-working guy. The profiles out there of him describe a humble guy who overcame the odds, and the couple’s Facebook pages paint a picture of a sweet couple devoted to each other and their baby. Clearly, some friends thought that of them, too, though it’s also come out that things had become visibly strained recently, including a separation and a reconciliation. But the fact that a couple is struggling isn’t necessarily a sign of violence, or else 98% of us would have experienced domestic violence in our lifetimes.
The lesson here is that you never know. We all try to convince ourselves that good girls immunize themselves against gendered violence, and that it’s only masochists and bad girls that get raped and beaten. The reality is that even nice girls that are devoted mothers can be victims. The sad truth is that sometimes the quiet guys can also be the violent ones. It would be nice if people learned from this that you can’t always tell, and therefore we should stop victim-blaming and start realizing domestic violence is a problem that affects all communities. But sadly, they probably won’t, because:
2) The media continues to fail to report domestic violence as domestic violence. Ta-Nehisi Coates blogged about this, and there’s not much to add. I’m deeply upset about the way that Belcher’s suicide is being forefronted in the coverage over his resorting to murder when he couldn’t control his girlfriend. Like Coates, I think it’s just bad business to use terms like “tragedy” while avoiding terms like “murder” and “domestic violence”. I realize the hesitation is due in part to not knowing if Belcher was violent to Perkins prior to shooting her multiple times, but it’s still irresponsible. Death at the hands of a male partner is a leading form of murder for women. Belcher’s crime has to be understood in this context. Considering that this story is being widely reported in sports media, where domestic violence is rarely covered, it’s especially important to remind audiences that what Belcher did is sadly all too common. I was particularly troubled by the way Deadspin reported on emails from a friend of Belcher’s that seem to be blaming Perkins for her own murder. The blogger Isaac Rauch notes that it’s wrong to blame a victim for her own murder, but it would be helpful to link this victim-blaming to a larger cultural tendency to blame the victims and not the assailants in most cases of male violence against women. The emailer didn’t just blame Perkins for her own murder because he was Belcher’s friend. He did it because we live in a culture that blames female victims of male violence for “provoking” it with their loud mouths/short skirts/being 11-year-old seductresses/etc.
Men beat, murder, and rape women not because women are naughty but because the men who do it want to exert control. Murder-suicides are just the most extreme example of abusive men trying to exert the ultimate control. Minimizing or ignoring that reality is not acceptable.
3) But at least there was discussion about gun control. Even though the media, especially the sports media, is wary to call domestic violence what it is, some journalists were not afraid to push back against the angry conservatives in the NFL audience on the issue of gun control. As reported at Raw Story, Bob Costas and Jason Whitlock both pointed out that Perkins would likely still be alive if Belcher didn’t have a handgun. Gun nuts may protest and point out that people can murder with knives or their bare hands, but the truth of the matter is that it’s much harder to lay your hands on a person to take their life than stand back and shoot them, especially in a fit of temper. If Belcher didn’t have a long history of physically hurting Perkins, this strikes me as even more true. Guns give you emotional as well as physical distance from your crime. Belcher may have still killed Perkins without a gun, but the odds of it are much lower, especially considering that his own mother was there as a witness. Not that I expect a mature, adult acceptance of this in our culture, where so many loud-mouthed men don’t care how many women have to die at the hands of their partners, so long as they get to keep their phallic symbols.
RIP, Kassandra Perkins. You seem like you were a very nice person and eager to be a good mother, and it’s deeply unfair that you never got the chance.