It’s happening again.
As America slowly begins to reopen and restart, our oldest pandemic has re-emerged. Mass shootings and gun violence are happening once again. Eight are dead in Atlanta, Georgia. Ten are dead in Boulder, Colorado. Closer to home, Jackson saw a fatal shooting last week, and shots were fired at the Archive Apartment Complex in Oxford. While the pandemic and its ensuing lockdowns limited opportunities for acts of mass gun violence in public spaces, we are witnessing the consequences of allowing its underlying causes to fester.
As I read headline after headline this week about the deadly events in Georgia, Colorado and Mississippi, I kept coming back to Oxford in the summer of 2019. The unavoidable headlines about spa workers in Atlanta or cashiers in Boulder felt inexplicably reminiscent of two horrendous acts of violence endured by the LOU community.
On May 19, 2019, OPD officer Matthew Kinne allegedly broke into Dominique Clayton’s home and shot her in the head. One month later, Brandon Theesfeld was charged with killing UM student Ally Kostial by allegedly shooting her.
Headlines from the weeks surrounding these senseless murders included the following: “Former student charged in murder of Ally Kostial,” “Mississippi cop allegedly murders woman he had an affair with,” and “Ex-Oxford officer pleads not guilty in woman’s murder.” The structure is subject, verb, object, over and over again.
Everywhere I looked, these women were a thing being acted upon, never the actor. Ally and Dominique were passive witnesses in their own deaths, overshadowed by the men who killed them. Finally, I made the connection between our local losses and mass tragedy: when we normalize the murder of one woman, we make it easier to accept the killing of them in droves.
The way we talk about violence against women begets America’s mass shooting culture. When a woman’s life is ended by a partner, the news often reduces the woman to her relationship with the murderer.
Numerous articles describe Ally and Brandon’s relationship as “complicated” and “on-again off-again,” detailing at length how he “told her he loved her” and they always seemed to “get back together.”
Similarly, it’s impossible to find an article about Dominique’s murder where her relationship with the man who allegedly killed her isn’t framed as a veiled accusation. These headlines, quotes and even the posturing of sentences take autonomy away from the victims and reflect it back onto their attackers.
While Dominique’s and Ally’s romantic relationships are posited as subdued justifications for their murders, female relationships are redeeming qualities for the men who perpetrated these acts. Terms like “crime of passion” and “unrequited love” are used to elicit empathy from the reader.
Who among us hasn’t felt hurt and dejected by someone we love? Even the term “relationship violence” implies a sort of mutual fault or failure, a two-way street of wrongdoing. Of course, none of this is fair or true. By engaging in any sort of relationship, neither Dominique nor Ally were consenting to be murdered.
The problem therein lies in how we distinguish between violence against women and violence against society at large.
Why is opening fire at a grocery store an act of senseless violence, but breaking into someone’s home and shooting her or him in the head an almost understandable act of desperation? When we devalue relationship violence — the vast majority of which is enacted upon women — do we pave the way for a culture that accepts mass death as normal? When we subjugate women as objects to be acted upon, do we dismiss their pain and death as unavoidable?
These are questions we have to grapple with in America, in Mississippi and in Oxford. I don’t know what the answers are, but I do know we have to start treating violence against women as violence against people.
Katie Broten is a sophomore majoring in public policy leadership and economics from Farmington, NM.