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A good person. Genuine. Pleasant. Nice. Hard-working. A family man. The media has used all of these terms to describe Jovan Belcher after he murdered Kasandra Perkins, shooting her nine times. In fact, these glowing descriptors are all from just one article in The New York Times. But don’t worry, there are plenty of pieces sharing lovely sentiments about the man who killed his girlfriend, the mother of his barely 3-month-old daughter.
While mainstream media and supporters of Belcher have no problem spouting off flattery, most are hesitant to call what happened domestic violence. They’ve gone out of their way to suggest that Belcher murdered Perkins—who friends called ‘Kasi’—because of sustained head injuries or because of alcohol or drug abuse. A police officer, Sgt. Richard Sharp, has even suggested that Belcher committed suicide after killing Kasi because “he cared about her.”
“I don’t think he could live with himself,” he said. What a romantic.
It’s horribly offensive to laud a man who murdered his girlfriend and left his daughter parentless. It’s also irresponsible. When the media reports domestic violence murders as random tragedies—or when individuals say the perpetrator must have “snapped”—they enable a culture of violence against women. Because when you don’t contextualize this violence as part of structural misogyny, you give credence to the myth that there was nothing anyone could have done to stop it.
Insisting that this murder or others like it are “unthinkable” or “shocking” is another way of saying that no one could have predicted it. (He was such a nice guy! A family man!) It’s a dangerous lie that allows us to wash our hands of responsibility when it comes to the violence that is perpetrated against women. Because the truth is that murders like this are predictable.
As Casey Gwinn, President of the National Family Justice Center Alliance, wrote,
Relationships do not go from healthy, happy and functional to murder-suicide overnight. It never happens. There is almost always a history and there is always a pattern. Over time it will be clear that friends, family, and colleagues knew things and saw things and did not take action.
Indeed, it has now come out that Belcher had a history of violence and controllingness in relationships with women. While at the University of Maine, campus police reports were filed when Belcher punched his fist through a window during a fight with a woman and again when police were called to break up an argument he had with his girlfriend after she failed to check in with him at a designated time. Belcher’s relationship with Kasi has repeatedly been called strained—so much so that the Kansas City Chiefs provided the couple with relationship counseling. (Which is actually not the right move, according to domestic violence experts.)
Reports indicate that Kasi was leaving or had left Belcher with their daughter. Women are most likely to be killed by their abusive partners when they try to leave—in fact, victims who leave an abusive relationship have a 75 percent higher risk of being murdered. Pregnancy and childbirth exacerbate violent relationships and young black women are eleven times more likely than white women to be murdered while they are pregnant or in the year after childbirth.
This is not rocket science—we know how women die when they are killed by their partners. We know what precedes it and we know what the relationship looks like before it happens.
We also know the excuses that are made for the men who kill. When University of Virginia student and lacrosse player George Huguely V beat his ex-girlfriend (she had just left him) Yeardley Love to death, he insisted it was because of an alcohol problem. Articles said he snapped. I’m sure his friends liked him. People were shocked. But in the weeks leading up to her death, Huguely sent Love an e-mail threatening to kill her, and witnesses had seen him physically abusing her.
There is a pattern that makes murders like Kasi’s and Love’s predictable and preventable. The only thing that seems to be questionable is the public responsibility and response to this violence.
In the wake of Kasi’s murder, Chiefs quarterback Brady Quinn said, “I know when it happened, I was sitting and, in my head, thinking what I could have done differently. When you ask someone how they are doing, do you really mean it? When you answer someone back how you are doing, are you really telling the truth?”
We have a moral obligation to take responsibility for the people in our lives, in our families and in our communities. Kasi Perkins did not have to die. We have to stop pretending that her murder and those like it are a shock or “random” tragedies. It may give some comfort to believe as much, but it’s not the truth. And don’t we owe her at least that much?