Remember Kasandra Perkins
Last week the New York Times published an article called “A Day After Tragedy, a Bouquet on the Steps and an Unworn Jersey in a Locker.” It focused on Jovan Belcher’s teammates’ experiences of the aftermath of his murder-suicide, and on the Chiefs' decision to play on Sunday. Right tackle Eric Winston is referenced as calling the game a “tribute” to Belcher.
The article makes only one mention of Kasandra Perkins, whom Belcher shot nine times before taking his own life.
What happened to Kasandra has touched off many conversations about gun control, traumatic brain injuries, masculinity and the NFL. We should have these conversations, but they shouldn't overshadow Kassandra, or distract us from viewing her death for what it was: domestic violence and maternal homicide.
Perkins was 22 years old, a new mother to a three-month-old baby, and an aspiring teacher. Sadly, her death fits a pattern: Black women between ages 25 and 29 are 11 times more likely than white women in the same age bracket to be murdered during their pregnancy or in the year following childbirth, according to the Center for Disease Control.
As the Crunk Feminist Collective points out, “Many articles are focusing on how shocked people are that this happened because he was such a good man, and did not have violent tendencies…but imaging that makes him a martyr is problematic because it makes it seem like Kasandra Perkins must have provoked him.”
Given this context, we must resist using victim-blaming language that suggests Belcher “snapped” and implies Kasandra was a “catalyst.”
“Murders like this don’t involve just snapping. They involve a long-term, ongoing pattern of physical abuse that escalates over time. And so, please do not be fooled by the smiling pictures you see on the web,” wrote Honoree Fanone Jeffers, a trained battered women’s counselor.
In 2006, while at the University of Maine, Belcher punched out a window because he was “upset over a girl.” In 2007, campus police responded to a disorderly conduct complaint because another student was concerned at overhearing a heated argument between Belcher and his girlfriend.
Media tributes to Belcher are problematic because they place him, those who witnessed his death, and those will play for the Chiefs without him, before the life and memory of the woman he murdered. When we reduce Kasandra to a role in relation to Belcher in headlines, only refer to her by her gender, or render her nameless and make no mention of her at all, we strip her of dignity and humanity and make her a mere casualty of a “larger” tragedy.
These stories also contribute to dangerous myths about domestic abuse and intimate partner violence.
Instead of more articles or op-eds praising how good Kasandra and Belcher's relationship was before Kasandra was murdered, we need more education about the patterns and history of gender-based violence. We need to take up this space in the news cycle to honor Kasandra's life and combat the erasure of domestic violence in headlines worldwide.
For an alternative discussion, check out the Twitter thread the Women's Media Center hosted on Dec. 5 here.
Pauline Holdsworth is a reporter for Campus Progress. Follow her on Twitter at @holdswo.
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