Dec. 6: more questions than answers

Why Kasandra Perkins’s murder is about more than mental illness: a Dec. 6 anniversary editorial.

Twenty-three years ago to this day, 14 women were murdered by a guy with a gun who said he was fighting feminism.

A lot has been said since then about the École Polytechnique massacre — about the women, about the killer, about the long-gun registry, about gun control in general, about violence against women. The event was made into a movie, and a heartbreaking one at that. It’s hard to watch.

It’s also hard to explain. Was the shooter insane? Was he guided by unadulterated misogyny?

We don’t know. He’s not here for us to ask him.

What about Jovan Belcher, the Kansas City chiefs linebacker who killed his girlfriend, then himself? Was he depressed? Was he crazy? Did he have his head bashed in so many times he was unable to distinguish right from wrong? Was his killing of Kasandra Perkins the result of a psychotic break?

We don’t know that either.

It is, however, naive to think Belcher’s final act was the only time he’d been violent with Perkins. It’s a fact that domestic violence often goes unreported; according to a 2011 Statistics Canada report, 22 per cent of spousal violence victims said they told police (down from 28 per cent in 2004). And if that many people are afraid to report it, how many more people are afraid to leave because of it?

We could sit here all day and debate whether Belcher was mentally ill. We could look at some pictures of brain scans and talk about how football players are more predisposed to mental illness and committing acts of violence because they’ve been repetitively concussed, or perhaps just conditioned to violence by outside forces. We could talk gun violence in general, and debate the merits of the gun registration.

But does it change the fact that he killed his girlfriend? He shot her nine times — he wanted to make sure she was dead.

Kasandra Perkins

Did he snap? Did he have to? Is that what we need to know to be able to understand why this happened? Can we not cope with this murder, and others like it, unless we have some kind of explanation?

Sometimes there is no explanation, and there’s certainly no excuse. Belcher had access to so many financial and medical resources to get counselling and treatment — resources so many people around the world can’t afford but would love to access. And surely this football player was followed by a medical doctor, like most professional athletes are; he could have easily found help if he truly suffered from mental illness.

The fact is, sometimes sane people kill people (and themselves), too. This debate over whether Belcher or the Polytechnique shooter or any other person who commits a violent crime is mentally ill is beside the point.

Violence against women cannot merely be explained with some CT scans, statistical information and psychiatric hypotheses. It’s a real problem — one of power, of economics, of resources, of family, of fear. Why do people stay in abusive relationships? It’s complicated and hard to explain.

Grasping at straws in the Belcher case, or any other highly publicized (or otherwise) case of domestic violence doesn’t help stop the trend. If anything, it drives it further underground, where victims don’t talk about it for fear of being blamed for their own abuse. This wasn’t solely a matter of mental illness, and people need to stop treating it as such.

Dec. 6 is a day of remembrance for victims of the Polytechnique massacre, but it’s also a day to acknowledge gendered and domestic violence. So let’s remember it, and let’s acknowledge it. But let’s also accept that this kind of violence is a very real and alarming trend, and start working on ways to stop it. 

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