Letter to the Editor: On Victim Blaming and the Sharing of a Killer's Words
Trigger warning: this piece discusses the recent tragedy in the context of other acts of violence and victim blaming. I hope that it also provides a ray of hope for victims of all types.
In writing this piece, I do not want to politicize our tragedy, nor do I want to demonstrate undue hatred for the perpetrator of these acts, nor do I want to introduce negativity into what has been an important time of unity for the Skidmore community. But, as Hannah Seidlitz '19 wrote in a related blog post, "there are things that need to be said and need to be said now."
Specifically, I am writing about the killer's statement on his acts which was reported on multiple sources, including News10 ABC and the Skidmore News. First, let me say that I strongly object to the posting and sharing of these words without contextualization or response. In a vague attempt at neutrality, media sources reporting this provided no context or comment on the material, further exacerbating the harmful impact that these words could have on our community. I have written to both News10 ABC and the Skidmore News asking them to take these statements out of the public sphere, but they continue to allow this man to shout his words loudly at our community in the name of journalism, saying "we leave it to the reader to draw their own conclusions" (Jacob Reiskin, Skidmore News). In a deliberate defiance of such journalistic standards, I will not use the killer's name or quote his words, nor will I use the term "alleged".
In his statement to investigators, the killer suggested two key things, both of which shift responsibility towards the victims of this accident, our friends Michael, Oban and Toby. This is a cruel but human response to the pressures of guilt; it would take the best and bravest of us to take responsibility for such a horrific accident. What the killer implied was inexcusably inappropriate - that he thought the students may have been drinking, and that they should have known not to walk home in the dark. The hypocrisy of this is extreme: PSAs and other drunk driving prevention campaigns routinely advise walking home as one alternative to driving while drunk. In any sane world, this man would have walked home himself along the same dark street as our friends, or taken a taxi, or any of a dozen alternatives which could have saved lives. It hardly needs to be said that no level of intoxication or sobriety on the part of our friends could have enabled them to escape a speeding car.
There is a common chord struck among all those who engage in victim blaming, whether it be against a young black man shot dead by an officer of the law, a young black woman beaten in a classroom, a victim of sexual assault, or any other suffering or deceased young person. That chord is the denial of the victims’ fundamental right to occupy public space - rape victims considered partly responsible for being on certain streets at the wrong time of night, victims shot by police for existing in a crime filled neighborhood or living in the wrong home. Now, we are asked publicly whether we will hold Michael, Oban, and Toby partly responsible for existing on a road on the edge of Skidmore's property, on a night when misguided adults might be on a drunken vehicular rampage. I would not dream of our community coming to any other conclusion than that responsibility falls solely on the shoulders of the man in jail; as previously stated, I am shocked that our media has even presented us with the question.
I hope that we would go so far as to advocate against drunk driving, and even further in accepting community responsibility by establishing street lights and sidewalks along the road so many of us have walked along on the way home after a party. These minor actions are fundamentally about our right to safely occupy open spaces of all types, to raise our voices loudly and to stand proudly on this Earth.
I believe strongly in the power of this community to support each other by allowing each other to speak but also by enforcing communal standards on that freedom. We are under no obligation to spread and magnify speech-acts that would fracture our community; our obligation is to speak up against speech that violates ours and our friends’ humanity. This week more than ever, I believe we will not forget that power and responsibility, and I would not give up Skidmore College for any campus on earth.