Over the last two years since my Dad passed away due to complications from a series of strokes, I’ve spent countless nights trying to figure out why. Trying to somehow formulaically trace the factors that went into his demise. What if he hadn’t smoked? What if he had eaten better? What if he had exercised more? Did any of it matter? The most frustrating part was that the doctors, some of the most well-renowned in the world at his hospital, could never quite figure it out, either. So here I’ve been for 24 months looking for an answer. Looking for a culprit that I can, at least in my head, blame things on. And that’s kind of the difficult part about things like the Javon Belcher story and death in general isn’t it? Our ability (or lack thereof) to make sense of any of it. But as we’re sometimes cruelly reminded, there are some things that we’ll just never have an answer to.
So despite the media landscape that’s become so focused on being first, it still struck me at how many people in just a day’s time came rushing to the forefront with their answers to the Javon Belcher case over the weekend. Bob Costas took a moment from farting nuggets of cancer-curing wisdom to grace our TV sets with his referendum on gun violence. Jason Whitlock, in a more palatable (yet equally as idyllic) way, did the same while vilifying the NFL for continuing with their original schedule for the Chiefs/Panthers game.
As anyone who’s lost someone can tell you, coping isn’t done in a linear fashion. It doesn’t require X, Y and Z. It’s not resolved and it sure as hell isn’t understood within just a day or two. And while the sentiment of a gun-free utopian society living in the age of aquarius is fine and dandy, it’s also hopelessly unrealistic. But when faced with things we can’t comprehend, we lose all our bearings and start reaching for even the most black and white answers in situations filled more often than not, with considerable amounts of gray area. In the case of Javon Belcher, it’s the fact that he had a gun and used it to kill his girlfriend, and then himself. Surface level stuff, basically.
Nevermind that Belcher was conceivably suffering from complex issues and illnesses that few of us will ever be able to understand. It was guns. Case closed, people. You can go about your business. And look, I get that the 2nd Amendment’s existence to protect us from a corrupt government attempting to steal our land women and alcohol is about as outdated as Costas’ take itself. But the fact is, it does exist. And in some cases, has even done some good.
No doubt the Javon Belcher case will be another (pun intended) clip of ammo for those who like Whitlock believe that our “gun culture” will inevitably lead to a Wild West society in which “the animals wipe themselves out” and whatever the fuck ever.
But for those of us who have experienced our own tragedies, even as Whitlock insultingly points out, less relevant ones like having someone die in a “car accident”, we know the answers aren’t always so simple. Maybe in the case of Javon Belcher, him not having a gun would have prevented him carrying out that final apoplectic act. People said the same thing about Ratcliffe Haughton, the estranged husband of Zina Haughton, the spa worker who was gunned down in Brookfield, Wisconsin two months ago. But rather than focus on the fact that Ratcliffe Haughton had nearly a decade’s worth of domestic violence history, or the complete systematic negligence and breakdown of the police department in charge of the case prior to Zina Haughton’s shooting, many people saw only one thing: Guns.
In that case, the end result was as predictable as an episode of Glee. Radcliffe Haughton had become a man on a mission.
The tragedy in that case was that there were signs well before that fateful day that had they been heeded, maybe Zina Haughton is still styling someone’s hair today. By all accounts, Javon Belcher was a hard worker, well-liked and a model NFL citizen. Even with the recent troubles that he and his girlfriend, Kasandra Perkins, were having, no one could have seen this coming. Just like no one could predict what would have happened had Belcher been unarmed, or instead, been wielding a knife or some other weapon. The concept of unknowing is a difficult one to grasp, and even more difficult to come to terms with. Certainly, what Belcher did was abhorrent, sad, and in my own personal opinion, not worthy of being ‘honored’ by canceling Sunday’s game. But for the sake of someone who was clearly an extremely troubled young man, Kasandra Perkins and especially, the now parentless three-month old daughter they leave behind, let’s stop painting this as a tragic story of gun violence and call it what it really is.
A tragic story.