I am sure that by now many of you know the name Jovan Belcher. If you didn’t know his name (as I didn’t) before this weekend, you know it now. He is the Kansas City Chiefs player who shot and killed his girlfriend before taking his own life on Saturday. Headlines and news stories have focused on the tragedy from the lens of the perpetrator (including speculation of potential brain trauma, his involvement, as an undergraduate, in a Male Athletes Against Violence initiative, and his standing as an allstar athlete), in some ways dismissing or overshadowing the lens of the victim, who in headlines is simply referred to as “(his) girlfriend.”
Her name is Kasandra Michelle Perkins. She was 22 years old, a new mother, and an aspiring teacher. Her picture shows off a beautiful smile and her friends describe her as selfless, kind, and generous. She was excited about being a mother to her newborn, Zoey, and was optimistic about her future. But her future was cut short, her life was taken away, and I think you should know her name.
This tragic story pushes to the forefront an important issue in terms of domestic violence and murder. When the murderer is famous, attractive, rich, or charming people don’t want to believe that they are guilty. I don’t pretend to know Jovan Belcher’s heart, motives, or mind set when he fired numerous gunshots into the body of his baby’s mother, and then turned the gun on himself. I don’t know why his only option, in that moment, felt like a desperate one. I don’t know what caused him to murder Kasandra, but what I do know is that it was not Kasandra’s fault. I know that staying out until 1 o’clock in the morning at a concert was not an invitation to die. I know that it doesn’t matter what she wore that night, or what she may have said, or whether or not she may have been intoxicated, or rolled her eyes at him, or called him out of his name, or talked to another guy in passing, she didn’t deserve to die. I know Kasandra didn’t start it, or run off at the mouth, or otherwise instigate her murder. I don’t know what happened in her relationship, or in that room that night/morning, but I do know that there is nothing Kasandra could have said, done, or imagined that would justify what happened to her.
It is ridiculous that I have to write a disclaimer of responsibility, anticipating an assumption of accountablity for the victim, a young woman who had not even began to live her life, a new mother who will not get to see her child’s first Christmas…but there are (or will be) people who, in Jovan Belcher’s defense, will ask aloud (or wonder silently) what she did to set him off. They will say she had no business going out with a three-month old at home. They will wonder what she did to make him so mad that he would jeopardize everything he had worked so hard for. They will speculate about her cheating, or lying, or disrespecting him. They will assume that somehow she is at least partially to blame for her own demise. But I posit that there is nothing that she did do, didn’t do, or could have done to justify her tragic, violent and untimely death.
Don’t get me wrong, I don’t doubt that Jovan Belcher was a good man, a good athlete, a good friend, a good father, or a generous son, but his desperate act in a moment of rage or confusion made him a murderer, and his pre-death accolades and post-death reputation should not be protected at the expense of the person he killed. 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. The insinuation, even mildly, that the victim of a violent act is somehow responsible for what happens to them is reprehensible…but unfortunately not uncommon when the victim is black, brown, nonheterosexual, working-class, non-cissexual, disable bodied, or a woman. (NOTE: A recent example of this “blame the dead victim” mentality was shown when George Zimmerman’s defense requested access to Trayvon Martin’s social media records, as if a facebook status, re-tweet, or candid photograph of a 17-year-old black boy would somehow prove his culpability in his own killing).
Do you remember Cherica Adams? Eight months pregnant, she was gunned down in a drive-by shooting on November 16, 1999, when Rae Carruth, a then wide receiver for the Carolina Panthers, conspired to have her killed because he did not want to pay child support (she had refused his insistence that she get an abortion). With a will to survive and save her child she had the fortitude, with multiple bullet wounds, to call 911, and name Carruth as her murderer. She gave birth to her son (who was born with cerebral palsy as a result of the shooting), slipped into a coma, and died a month later, 13 years ago this month. Did you know (remember) her name?
I did not write this piece to offer a commentary on the dangers of hypermasculinity, or to insinuate a direct correlation between athletes and violence (though those are conversations that are worthy of discussion). I did not write this piece to co-opt a space where fans, friends, and family can mourn their loss and seek comfort for the understandable devastation they must feel. I did not write this piece to bad-mouth Jovan, or speak ill of the dead (may he and Kasandra rest in peace). I wrote this piece to adjust the focus away from the famous athlete who “snapped,” and to put it on the true innocent in the case. I wrote this piece as a clarion call to remember Kasandra by her name and not by her relationship. I wrote this piece so that we don’t forget that victims may fall into statistics but they have names! I wrote this piece as a reminder that Kasandra (and Cherica) existed before their relationships with men who did not value their lives. I wrote this piece as a reminder that when a tragedy like this happens, it is not the perpetrator’s name we should remember, but the victim’s. And since Kasandra Perkins’ name is not in the headlines (and Cherica Adams’ name was not in the headlines), but is rather hidden somewhere between the facts of the case and the eulogy of a man deemed the tragic, martyred hero, I wrote this piece to call out her name. I feel like you should know her name. And Cherica’s name. And the name of every other victim who gets lost in the shadows of a murderer’s limelight.
In an article by the Kansas City Star, a close friend of Kasandra said, “I don’t want her to get overshadowed by who he was…she deserves recognition, too.”
Indeed she does. Don’t forget her name!
Please use the comments section to call out the names of any (living or dead) victim/s of a violent crime you want to honor, remember, and/or recognize!
And please…pay attention in your relationships! Look for signs of danger (see Pearl Cleage’s Mad at Miles: A Blackwoman’s Guide to Truth) and escape if/when you see them. If someone threatens to kill you, believe them! If someone is emotionally or verbally abusive, leave the relationship. Love should not hurt, and despite the romanticization of manic love in popular culture, it is not worth dying for.