It Turns Out Jovan Belcher and Kasandra Perkins Weren’t Fighting Over Paternity

Reports of a fight over little Zoey’s paternity have been denied. Liam Day deconstructs them for the journalistic problems they expose.

“Some news stories seem to think the reason this happened might be related to his concern about paternity fraud – i.e. was she cheating on him, or perhaps worse had she attempted to pass someone else’s baby off as his? That would not EXCUSE it, but it might EXPLAIN it.”

This was a comment left on a post we ran over the weekend, in our continued response to the murder-suicide of Jovan Belcher and Kasandra Perkins, by a public health professional who offered ways to reframe conversations about dating violence if you know or suspect someone is committing it, but are uncomfortable about involving yourself. The commenter referred to the post as agitprop.

Now, I am not here to argue whether the revelation, which has since been denied, that Belcher and Perkins fought over the paternity of their three-month old child should change our perspective on the events that unfolded in Kansas City more than two weeks ago.

What I am here to argue is that, as this story has unfolded, what has been revealed, as much as any facts in the case, are the problems that beset journalism in an era of instant and constant information, including the reliance, often overreliance, of reporters on anonymous sources, and the bias in readers’ minds that this type of reporting, or misreporting as may be the case, can engender.

The source of the initial report by the New York Post was an unnamed person close to the Kansas City Chiefs’ organization, a report which was then confirmed by an unnamed law enforcement source. Both reports said the same thing, that Jovan Belcher’s mother told police she overheard her son and his girlfriend fighting about whether he was, in fact, the father of the couple’s daughter.

Now two sources should be enough to run a story of this kind, but like an onion, the report of the mother’s statement to police, though corroborated, contained multiple layers of truth that needed to be peeled back. The first, and most obvious layer, was whether the information itself was true. At this level I do not blame the reporter for running with the information she was given. She had two sources and one would hope she could be assured police would not corroborate, at least not intentionally, misinformation in a case in which the department’s reputation is not at stake.

At the next level, though, there was the question of whether the mother was telling the truth. Remember, the mother has since come out and said she never told police the couple had been fighting over the question of paternity. But, for the sake of argument, let’s assume she hasn’t and stands by what she reportedly told the police. Should the reporter have taken that at face value?

Of course not. Jovan Belcher’s mother is hardly a disinterested bystander. A reporter could reasonably attribute motive to her for saying what she supposedly said to the cops, namely the desire to protect her son’s reputation by imputing to Kasandra Perkins behavior that would make what her son did easier to understand. This motive and, as a result, the true or false nature of the statement should have been more fully investigated.

Finally, even if it turned out that what the police department source said was true and what it was inaccurately reported Jovan Belcher’s mother said was true, there remained the question of whether the accusation itself would have been true. And even here the question is two-pronged, because it would not merely have been a matter of whether Jovan Belcher was little Zoey’s father. It would also have been a matter, as it regards readers’ bias against Kasandra Perkins, of whether there were even grounds for Belcher’s suspicion that he might not be the father.

For it would not have been out of the realm of possibility that, even if the previous suppositions had been true, that the suspicion resided entirely in Jovan Belcher’s head. He was clearly not in a right frame of mind on Saturday, December 1, 2012, when he argued with and then shot Kasandra Perkins. As a reporter, how could one be sure that Belcher wasn’t delusional that morning and, as such, misinterpreting behavior on the part of Perkins that might appear completely innocent from a different perspective?

To automatically assume reasonable grounds for Belcher’s suspicion is to flirt dangerously with a traditional narrative that places the blame on the victim—of course she must have done something to set him off—and by running with the story, without peeling back all of the layers the original source’s single statement contained, reporters have done the equivalent of asking Kasandra Perkins if she still beats her wife.

Photo: Tony Gutierrez, AP

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About Liam Day

Liam Day has been a youth worker, teacher, campaign manager, political pundit, communications director, and professional basketball player. His poems have appeared at Slow Trains Apt, and Wilderness House Literary Review. His op-eds and essays have appeared in Annalemma Stymie, the Boston Globe and Boston Herald. He lives in Boston, where he works as a public health professional. He is the Sports Editor at The Good Men Project. You can follow him on Twitter at @LiamDay7.

Comments

  1. My comment was pretty clearly labeled speculation, and contained additional speculation concerning head injuries as potentially being another cause. And yes, Nicole Daley’s article was anti-domestic violence agit-prop as shown by its exclusive use of “he” as the pronoun for the abuser. But then conventional anti-dv organizations, with their reliance on the rad-fem theory of patriarchy and the Duluth Power and Control wheel that basically asserts that all DV is based on patriarchal power and control have hardly been of any use to male survivors of domestic abuse, nor have they shown any results reducing the incidence of such crimes. They also are rather useless when it comes to dealing with reciprocal violence in domestic abuse relationships and those that involve violence between two men or two women.

    If you want to try to prevent these things from happening in the future you have to do better than sentences like this:
    “1) I don’t know the whole story. You don’t need to know the whole story. Hitting, cursing out a partner, etc. is not an appropriate way to treat that partner or deal with a relationship conflict. If you are uncomfortable calling out the abuse, spend the conversation focusing on encouraging healthy ways to deal with conflict.”

    Without understanding if there might be underlying causes such as drinking, mental illness, suspicion (which of course could be paranoid or warranted) you are left with the following rather useless options, esp for minor stuff such as shoving,shouting,slapping,pushing , punching/hitting an inanimate object or grabbing:
    A. Threaten violence yourself either via yourself or using the police as proxy. Of course calling the cops when it’s not clearly a life-threatening situation has potentially life changing circumstances as the Mirkarimi case in San Francisco illustrates.
    B. Scold the abuser ineffectively: “You were wrong, wrong, WRONG! to shout at your significant other. I don’t care if she/he wrecked your car and ran over your family dog first! Shame, shame, SHAME on you! Do you want to be a domestic abuser? How dare YOU mention YOUR hurt feelings! This community CANNOT TOLERATE abusers shouting at their significant others! So stop making excuses about being “upset” and raising your voice and apologize right now!”
    C. Assume that every abuser is the Perfect Template of the Duluth Wheel. Might as well just say that all abusers are male , then, and all have nefarious motives.

    Yeah, somehow I don’t think A, B, or C here is going to do much to reduce domestic violence, esp that of the extreme kind. Indeed, involving restraining orders and the cops (and maybe a small amount of jail and prison rape) at the slightest amount of conflict and basically blaming only one side (without even asking WHY or any kind of investigation) would seem to increase conflict, not decrease it.
    .2) Their relationship is their relationship; it’s private.
    What’s the counterpoint here – that every relationship is the property or responsibility of the community?
    If I think my neighbors in danger then I act. Otherwise, I stay out of it.
    4) My own relationship isn’t perfect:
    No, but if you are not willing to assert that every time you’ve raised your voice at a partner (or he/she at you) it requires the immediate intervention of the criminal justice system or a bunch of your friends to get together to stage “an intervention”, I don’t see why you should automatically assume different for your neighbors.
    5) He was just drunk, he didn’t mean it:
    Despite the ridiculous gendered language here -which I’ll overlook- I think we can all agree that drunkeness (acquired via free-will of course) is not an excuse for criminality. That being said, the level of drunkeness matters, because generally the more extreme the less likely one is to be able to accurately gauge the reality of the world one inhabits, and hallucinations are possible. Thus it’s unlikely the drunk was merely getting drunk in order to lower his/her inhibitions towards hitting their partner. Indeed, I find this funny: Many purported anti-rape crusaders will have a hissy fit if you tell them
    that many women and some men get drunk in order to purposely lower their inhibitions to have freely consented sex. You know the “all drunk sex is rape!” people. But change the situation to domestic violence, and make the gender mostly or entirely “male” and suddenly all drunks are just plotting for violence and control. Sometimes a drunk is just a drunk, and solving THAT issue, solves the domestic violence issue as well. Who woulda thought?!

    Here’s the final paragraph of that article:
    “There are so many “reasons” to not speak out, but imagine where Kasi and Jovan would be now if enough people had said something to him about engaging in a healthy relationship, or called out his need to control her along the way.”

    Note the assumptions built in as to his reasons for doing what he did? Assumptions based on no evidence of course? If questioning and trying to find the why as to the reason or reasons an abuser or killer acts the way they do is “victim blaming” then that term has no meaning.

  2. Imagine where Jovan & Kasi would be if they weren’t too lazy, dumb or megalomaniacal to use birth control…
    Fading images in each other’s rear view mirrors….

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