by Sarah Devine
“The tragic suicide of Jovan Belcher” is a line that has appeared in many news articles in the past weeks. People were shocked, saddened, and maybe even confused by this tragedy. The first couple of articles I read barely mentioned Kasandra Perkins, his girlfriend and the mother of his child, whom Jovan Belcher killed before taking his own life.
The usual narrative after an event like this includes various media outlets throwing up their hands (so to speak) and saying something along the lines of “How could this happen?” In fact, we know how this could happen. Because similar events happen every day. What’s missing from this narrative is an accurate description of the events that took place that Saturday morning: a domestic violence murder-suicide. To put this in perspective, every day in the US more than three women are murdered by their partners or ex-partners. Murder-suicides are less common than outright murders, but when an abusive man does commit suicide, he is more likely than a non-abusive man to kill his partner as well. About 10 murder-suicides occur each week in America, and about two-thirds of those involve an intimate partner.
Reading between the lines in the Jovan Belcher-Perkins story, it isn’t especially surprising to anyone who understands the dynamics of domestic violence that Belcher ended up killing his girlfriend. According to one article, “Belcher and his girlfriend had been known to argue in the past and had argued the morning of the shooting.” (“Argue” is often a euphemism in mainstream media for abusive behavior.) And what do Perkins’ friends think set off the incident? She stayed out at a concert later than Belcher would have liked the night before. Already, the red flags pointing to abuse are everywhere. Furthermore, Jovan Belcher has a history of violence; he punched out a window during an argument with a previous girlfriend in 2006, badly injuring his hand. In 2007, neighbors called the police due to concern over his and a girlfriend’s raised voices. From what the police report describes, it sounds like that argument started because his girlfriend didn’t contact him when she said she would–very similar to what set off the “argument” that ended in Perkins’ murder. Monitoring his partner’s social life, punching walls and windows, and yelling are all very typical behaviors of abusive men, but they are often misinterpreted by society (and, sadly, friends and family) as merely markers of a “turbulent” or “troubled” relationship, rather than a pattern of abuse.
Many of Belcher’s teammates took to Twitter to express their condolences, including encouraging fans to donate to a suicide prevention foundation. Of course, that is a worthy cause. But their recommendation fails to grasp that domestic abuse was one of the central components of this tragedy. It’s understandable that the Chiefs players mourn the loss of their teammate, but I wish they would pay equal attention to the woman he murdered and the child he orphaned.