Just typing that word, saying it out loud or reading it elicits too much fear, too much anguish and too much anger.
Jovan Belcher was not a “coward.” He was a man and he was suffering.
On Saturday Dec. 1, the Kansas City Chiefs’ linebacker, Jovan Belcher, killed himself after shooting and killing his girlfriend, Kasandra Perkins, in front of their 3-month-old daughter.
The outrage was stifling.
Belcher, a highly respected and admired pro football player, had committed murder and, regardless of his status and fame, should be chastised just like anyone else.
But what Belcher did after he killed his girlfriend is what needs to be focused on. Belcher’s suicide changes this tragedy from a heartless act to a cry for help, and we should learn from Belcher instead of just labeling him a cold-blooded killer.
Suicide is not a light topic, but that does not mean it should be taboo.
According to the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, every 13.7 minutes, someone in the United States dies as a result of suicide.
Every 40 seconds, someone, somewhere in this world, commits suicide.
In 2010, 38,364 Americans committed suicide.
Those numbers are not small. They are significant statistics, and we should not feel ashamed or embarrassed to talk about them.
By ignoring Belcher’s final act, we are further embellishing the stigma that is associated with suicide and mental illness and we are further distancing ourselves from those suffering. We should learn from it, talk about it and not live in fear of it.
By no means should Perkins’ name be dismissed, because what Belcher did to her is horrific and wholly unacceptable. But both Perkins and Belcher deserve our sympathy and our respect.
After the tragedy, Kevin Powell, a former Real World star and present-day writer and activist, wrote an article in response.
After many were quick to call Belcher a coward, Powell argued that what Belcher was going through was certainly anything but cowardly. Belcher was struggling with financial problems, relationship issues and specifically, Powell wrote, with the unyielding stress of maintaining his perceived masculine identity.
The reactions Powell received were harsh and offensive, so he started a Twitter feed to respond to all feedback.
One tweet said, “I get the idea that you are actually sticking up for someone who murdered his wife.”
Powell responded with, “That is absolutely untrue. I do not condone violence, and I hope for peace and love toward all. But as someone who has overcome personal challenges in grappling with violence and anger, I know that there are some serious issues around manhood and mental illness that we are not fully addressing as a nation. We need to start talking about how to help those in need.”
Powell is right.
Belcher’s poignant and disturbing actions should not be condoned, but they should not be disregarded either. Instead of avoiding the complex reasons that drove Belcher to commit murder-suicide, we should have the courage to learn from this tragedy and help others in similar situations.
May both Jovan Belcher and Kasandra Perkins rest peacefully, and may the rest of us learn to accept what we can’t always understand.