On Boston & Violence: An Intimate Relationship l Esther Armah

Esther Armah

NYC Radio Host, Playwright, Author

 On Boston & Violence: An Intimate Relationship

 04/16/2013

 Boston. Remote in hand, I channel surf, pausing from one horror to another. I’ve just heard the president’s message of unity, swift justice for the perpetrators, and recognition that on this day we are all Americans — not members of different parties, but of one nation.

National horrors like Boston, or Newtown, bring us together in our grief, unite us in our condemnation, stun us, and momentarily silence us because we agree on the brutality. We draw on a collective comfort. When the violence is the kind that is collectively mourned, no focus will rest on the shortness of the women’s running shorts. No one will say because the women voluntarily went to Boston and ran in the marathon they were asking to be blown up. Here’s the thing. We have a contradictory and intimate relationship with violence.

There is the type of violence we mourn and are horrified by, there’s also the type we sanction, sanitize, justify — in life, love, work, sports. We separate that violence according to who the victims are and who perpetrates it in specific ways. We unite in our mourning for the victims of some violence, but we tend to be divided, hostile and accusatory in the face of others. For most of us, violence is relative. Who gets to be the victim? Who is accused of being the perpetrator?

Violence occupies an emotional space; it is at once familiar and horrifying and sanguine. It is individual and institutional. We don’t respond to sexual violence the way we do with the violence of Boston or Newtown, for example. We are not all Americans when a woman or girl is raped or sexually assaulted; we are good girls and bad ones. We will not collectively mourn the shock to her body, the distress, the trauma, and its potential legacy. We will engage in insisting on knowing her potential role in that violence, we will defend the individual perpetrator of that violence, and we will be divided. But the act of violence in Boston produces different responses. We won’t question any of the women’s rights to be in that public space dressed in shorts or in any way suggest that their clothing or presence might arguably be interpreted as an invitation for an act of domestic terrorism. We will agree the perpetrator deserves to face consequences, the full weight of the law. We will not defend the perpetrators right of free and peaceful assembly, we will agree that his freedom should be curtailed.

We will defend the 1st Amendment right of a newspaper when it spews emotional violence masquerading as comedy about an Oscar-nominated brown girl reducing her to a “cunt” — a body part as The Onion did with Quvenzhane Wallis. We will not collectively condemn this emotional violence but engage in 140-character defenses of the 1st Amendment and mockingly Tweet to the constituency of the outraged to pipe down and chill — it’s only comedy. We will, in no way, defend the violence that occurred in Boston, however.

We will mourn the black bodies who came from far and wide to take part in a marathon that goes back to 1897 — provincial and global — as part of an institutional space to be celebrated, respected and revered. The humanity of the black marathon runner will be counted, not disregarded. In this moment, those black bodies morph into our national identity; they are momentarily American bodies with shared goals, ambitions, and dreams. Yet, we are never all American when a black man falls victim to the institutional violence of the state; we are prosecutors, interrogators of his behavior, questioning him, his actions, his words, his intentions, defending the institution. We are divided. We are accusatory. We are hostile. We are defensive when the state enacts violence upon black bodies.

Our horror post-Newtown or Boston is tangible; we can taste it, feel it, and relate to it. Our dismissal of the violence suffered by children on the streets of the south side of Chicago and other urban (and mostly black, brown, and working poor) neighborhoods across the country is equally tangible. We are not allAmerican when it comes to the violence of poverty. We measure, judge, label individuals and communities marked by the violence of economic disenfranchisement. We do not collectively raise our voices against the institutions that contribute to maintaining poverty and inequity in our country.

Our relationship with violence is exactly that, a relationship. We are married to our version of violent events; we are divorced from certain folk’s experiences of violent events. We negotiate what we believe, whom we believe, of whom we are skeptical and who is a liar. We have wakes and obits and sadness in 140 characters on Twitter or FB threads. We may be outraged that this piece would even be written, dismissing it as inappropriate. You maybe right. The real tragedy? So am I.

Our relationship with violence needs ’emotional justice’ — the untangling of a societal and generational inheritance of untreated trauma, this space where we are handed the job of teasing out which violence is which and navigating institutions, systems, individuals and society accordingly. This is our world. What are we willing to do to change our relationship with violence?

Esther Armah

NYC Radio Host, Playwright, Author

Follow Esther Armah on Twitter: www.twitter.com/estherarmah

Remember Their Names: In Memory of Kasandra, Cherica & Others

Remember Their Names: In Memory of Kasandra, Cherica & Others

3DEC

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.”

kasandra

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).

 

Read the full article:  http://crunkfeministcollective.wordpress.com/2012/12/03/remember-their-names-in-memory-of-kasandra-cherica-others/