By Casey Gwinn, Esq.
As the news stories continue to flood my Yahoo and Google Alerts about the recent murder-suicide in Kansas City, three things trouble me about the stories. First, the name of Jovan Belcher comes up over and over in headlines and sub-headings but Kasandra Perkins’ life and background is rarely mentioned. Second, NFL experts and others are trying to focus on head trauma and concussive injuries as a likely cause instead of the domestic violence and the actions of an abusive man that form the true foundation of this tragedy. Third, this one murder-suicide is getting tremendous coverage when the many other women, men, and children dying each day in the United States from domestic violence do not merit any national media attention.
Remembering Kasandra Perkins
Jovan Belcher’s history as a Kansas City Chief linebacker, his college football career, and his family are all discussed with many column inches of text in the stories currently circulating. Missing from most stories is the life story of Kasandra Perkins, the young 22 year old mother that Jovan Belcher killed. Kasandra was not on television every week, she was not famous, and she was not a well-known personality in Kansas City. Her name has been often misspelled, but her story is not central in most media accounts to what happened last Saturday when she lost her life. Her friends called her Kasi.
Kasandra grew up in Austin, Texas and graduated from Anderson High School. We don’t know much else yet about her childhood but her cousin Whitney Charles convinced Kasandra to visit Kansas City after high school where she met Jovan Belcher in 2009 at a Christmas dinner for the Chiefs’ players and families. They started dating and two months later, Jovan convinced Kasandra to move to Kansas City. Kasandra loved living in Kansas City, Mexican food, pool parties, bonfires, and hanging out with her girlfriends. Kasandra was young and full of life and she loved being a mother.
She deserves to be remembered for her life and honored and esteemed in death. She deserves far more attention and far more honor and column inches than Jovan Belcher. She was the victim of a heinous crime by a man who claimed to love her and then he shot her many times. We don’t know how many times yet. She, not Jovan Belcher, deserves our honor, our sympathy, and our respect.
A Clear Case of Domestic Violence
Second, we must reject efforts to make this murder about head trauma or gun control. Bob Costas this week pushed for the gun control angle and many have pushed the NFL head trauma angle. But the truth is very clear. It was a clear case of domestic violence homicide and it was done by a man with a history of domestic violence. Indeed, the first news report has already surfaced from the University of Maine where Belcher put his fist through a window in a dispute with a woman – no charges were filed. And a second incident has surfaced during Belcher’s time at the University of Maine where Belcher and his girlfriend were arguing because she had not called him at the time she had promised. His rage led to a police response but no charges were filed. I have little doubt more will surface over time about the history of Jovan Belcher. It will likely have a link to his childhood and to other abusive behaviors with Kasandra Perkins before he killed her.
She died at the hands of man who was likely verbally and emotionally abusive to her. We know he was suicidal now. We know he was homicidal. We know he had access to firearms. We know he was jealous and possessive. Police and friends have already reported a history of arguments and disputes between them before the murder. His rage towards her motivated what he did to her. The killing was the ultimate act of power and control. It was not about head trauma and hopelessness.
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. The escalating conflict did not get addressed with the help of outside professionals. And the result? Jovan Belcher consciously chose to kill the mother of his daughter after years of little or no accountability for his rage and abuse. Only then, after becoming a domestic violence murderer, did he choose hopelessness and take his own life.
Many Others Are Also Dying
Finally, Jovan Belcher’s murderous acts and the stories about the tragedy ignore the reality that occurs every day across this country. Kasandra has not been the only woman to die in recent months in the United States of America. There have been hundreds killed since August. Most people did not pay attention and most Americans don’t even know. My friend Cathy Church keeps a website at: http://intimateviolencedeathnews.blogspot.com. She tries to track as many news stories on domestic violence homicides that she can in the country. She has 421 entries since August 1st. But there are many more suspected murders and attempted murders that she is not able to catch. I see them often in more than ten Yahoo and Google alerts that notify me of “domestic violence homicides”, “woman murdered”, “wife killed”, “wife shot”, “girlfriend shot”, “girlfriend killed”, “wife strangled to death”, “girlfriend strangled to death”, “man kills woman”, and a variety of others.
In the last week, more than twenty women have been murdered in the United States in domestic violence homicides. In the holiday season now upon us, even more will die between now and the end of the year. They won’t make the national news and no one will eulogize them on national television. They might rate a local news story but it will fade in a day. The national media should focus on the bigger picture. Most women are killed by a man with a history of violence against women and there is often a failure by friends, family, and professionals to intervene and prevent the death. Today, we know, more than ever based on tremendous work being done by domestic violence professionals across the United States in shelters, Family Justice Centers, law enforcement agencies, community-based sexual assault and domestic violence agencies, and by others that domestic violence homicides are predictable and preventable. It is only a question of resources and priorities. When communities make family violence prevention a major focus area, when agencies work together collaboratively to help victims and their children, and when enough money is dedicated to early intervention and prevention, less women, men, and children die.
Thanks to the leadership of the Obama Administration, the Department of Justice’s Office on Violence Against Women, passionate federal, state, and local legislators, corporate support to stop violence against women and girls, and many dedicated advocates and survivors working across the country we are seeing progress in raising awareness about the impacts of family violence. But core to this effort is telling the truth when high profile tragedies like the killing of Kasandra Perkins’ occurs. Obfuscating, ignoring, refusing to acknowledge the truth and the work we still have ahead of us will not help. The current Republican refusal to pass the comprehensive version of the Violence Against Women Act that all of us in the field support does not help. Failing to shine the light on the problem except when there is an interesting national news tragedy will not help. We need far more and we must all demand far more from the media, our legislators, and the community. Kasandra Perkins' life deserves to be honored by what we do now with all that we know.
The National Domestic Violence Hotline is 1-800-799-SAFE (7232). For information on how to help a friend, go to www.familyjusticecenter.org/jdownloads/viewcategory/56-domestic-violence-101.html. For more information on how to support the re-authorization of VAWA, go to 4vawa.org.
Casey Gwinn is the President of the National Family Justice Center Alliance (www.familyjusticecenter.org). He has authored or co-authored six books and many articles on domestic violence and related abuse during his thirty year career as a prosecutor, social change advocate, and speaker on issues regarding violence against women and girls.