Let's Talk About Kasandra Perkins for a Change

A lot of people are talking about the murder of Kasandra Perkins. But not so many people are talking about Perkins herself. Maybe this is because she was murdered by a famous man, NFL linebacker Jovan Belcher, who subsequently killed himself—because we want to forgive our heroes, salvage their characters, and absolve ourselves of the guilt of loving someone who did something very bad. Maybe it's because our culture is still uncomfortable acknowledging patterns of domestic violence that routinely (and often predictably) take the lives of women, particularly women of color. Maybe we simply don't have access to that much information about Perkins, relative to the very public life of her killer. Maybe we just prefer luridness over sadness.

But whatever the reason, we have minute-by-minute breakdowns of Belcher's last hours. We have solemn accounts of Belcher's funeral. We have opportunistic, victim-blaming pro-gun screeds, claiming we'd have seen a happy ending if only there'd been more guns in the house, not fewer. We have former White House press secretary Dana Perino saying that female domestic violence victims should "make better decisions." Most notably, we have numerous explorations of what a swell, genuine guy Belcher was, and how shocking and out-of-character his crime. Collectively, we are more focused on the last 12 hours of Belcher's life than we are about the last 22 years of Perkins's.

Jessica Valenti has a must-read piece in the Nation:

A good person. Genuine. Pleasant. Nice. Hard-working. A family man. The media has used all of these terms to describe Jovan Belcher after he murdered Kasandra Perkins, shooting her nine times. In fact, these glowing descriptors are all from just one article in The New York Times. But don't worry, there are plenty of pieces sharing lovely sentiments about the man who killed his girlfriend, the mother of his barely 3-month-old daughter.

While mainstream media and supporters of Belcher have no problem spouting off flattery, most are hesitant to call what happened domestic violence. They've gone out of their way to suggest that Belcher murdered Perkins-who friends called ‘Kasi'-because of sustained head injuries or because of alcohol or drug abuse. A police officer, Sgt. Richard Sharp, has even suggested that Belcher committed suicide after killing Kasi because "he cared about her."

"I don't think he could live with himself," he said. What a romantic.

Now, it's not that we shouldn't be reporting on Belcher. If the coverage was more balanced, these Belcher-centric stories wouldn't be problematic. Belcher's final hours are unquestionably newsworthy; I'm sure his friends and family loved him very much; I feel deeply for his mother (she's now lost a daughter figure at the hands of a son—a confluence of pain and guilt that must be bewildering); and I can speak with absolutely no authority as to whether head injuries or drug abuse or depression contributed to his decision to take the life of Kasandra Perkins. But what I can say, echoing Valenti, is this: We, the American public, need to examine the fact that our first instinct, upon learning of Perkins and Belcher's deaths, was to cast about for any reason that it might not be a classic domestic violence narrative. That is a problem. Our priorities, here, are broken.

So the rest of this post will be solely about Perkins—what can be gleaned about her life based on scraps of news reports about the man who killed her. It's not much, but here you go:

Kansas City Star:

Perkins graduated from Anderson High School in 2009 in Austin, Texas. She was an instructor with Lone Star Dance Team and taught praise dance in her church, according to her obituary. She was a member of the Chiefs' women's organization and was involved in after-school programs and volunteer organizations.

Washington Post:

Perkins was a native of Texas who...had been attending college and planned to become a teacher. She loved being a mother, according to her friends.

ESPN:

Perkins is survived by the couple's 3-month-old daughter, Zoey. According to the Turrentine Jackson Morrow funeral home, she is also survived by two siblings, her parents, grandparents and a great-grandmother.

KMBC:

Nikki Vivas, an on-air host at KCWE, said she and Perkins went to a Trey Songz concert at the Midland Theater on Friday night. She said Perkins was in a great mood and they spent the night dancing and having fun.

...Vivas said she is thankful for the last few hours she spent with her friend.

"Why I was the special one, I don't know, but I feel blessed," she said. "I see that smile and think of us laughing and making jokes at the concert and that's what I'm going to hold onto forever."

NFL.com:

She was a loyal friend who brought joy to others with her smiles and laughter.

Kasandra Perkins' great-uncle Ted Downing also told mourners at a funeral service that the 22-year-old Perkins loved her family and considered her 3-month-old daughter, Zoey, to be the love of her life.

"She had a deep, deep understanding about the important things in life," Downing said during a memorial at a rural North Texas church.

...Downing said Perkins was a loyal friend, recalling a time when she was a child when she was upset that a friend of hers did not get a desired part in a play.

"She always had no shortage of friends and I mean good friends," Downing said.

CBS:

"She was the quintessential happy person. Its hard to not picture Kasi smiling. She was always laughing. She liked to tease," Downing said. "She's just a happy girl who loved everybody and wanted everybody to love each other."

Her friends called her Kasi.