The murder of Jo Cox

UnknownJo Cox, the Laboour MP for Batley and Spen, is the 57th woman to be murdered in the UK in 2016 by a male perpetrator.

Whilst the police have yet to confirm the name of the perpetrator, named as Thomas Mair by the media, or eyewitness accounts of Mair shouting ‘Britain First’, what we do know is that the police are investigating the possibility of white supremacist political motivations. We also know that another man had been arrested in March under the malicious communications act. The Times claims that the police were considering changes to Cox’s security due to the three months of harassment leading up to the arrest in March but that there was no link between the harassment and Cox’s murder.

The media are already using terms that minimise Mair’s responsibility such as ‘loner’, and ‘mentally ill’. Sky New has tweeted this headline based on a quote from Mair’s brother Scott who claims Mair was ‘non-violent’ without a hint of irony.

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Because shooting a woman three times, repeatedly stabbing her, kicking her and pulling her by her hair are not somehow multiple acts of violence? Our experience researching media representations of domestic and sexual violence and abuse across multiple media platforms in 4 countries suggests that this refers only to public forms of violence – those committed in the home against intimate partners or other female family members is rarely recognised as forms of violence. Soraya Chemaly’s coverage of the massacre in Orlando evidences just how far the media will go to erase a perpetrator’s history of domestic violence.

The Guardian and BBC are quoting neighbours using the term ‘quiet’ as though not knowing your neighbour socially mitigates personal responsibility for criminal acts of violence.  The Daily Mail summed up much of the current media coverage in this one sentence:

 “There is unconfirmed evidence Mair supported far-Right causes and claims he had mental health problems and had been released recently from psychiatric care.”

The conflation of mental illness with violence is simply not tenable. People who live with mental illnesses are statistically far more likely to be victims of violence rather than perpetrators. Yet, white men who commit crimes of violence are frequently labelled ‘mentally ill’ by the media despite very little evidence to support the label. People who support white supremacist organisations, including paramilitaries, do not suffer from mental illness either. The media linkage of Mair’s history of mental illness as a precursor to femicide is irresponsible; as is ‘humanising’ Mair by writing about his love of gardening.

What we do know is that the vast majority of violence in the UK is committed by men; not because they are ‘mentally ill’ but because we have a culture of hyper-masculinity and male entitlement that not only condones but actively encourages violent behaviour in young boys and men.

Whether or not we learn if this murder was politically motivated act of racist terror or a targeted personal attack, we can contextualise this murder within the framework of violence against woman and girls. The murder of Jo Cox is not an ‘isolated incident’; not when Cox is the 57th woman to have been murdered by a man already this year. It is part of the continuum of violence against women and girls which includes the harassment of Cox and other female MPs who have also received rape and death threats, the 85 000 women will be raped by a male perpetrator in England and Wales, the hundreds of thousands of women who are living with domestic violence, teenage girls who are sexually harassed on the streets by adult men, sexual harassment in schools and workplaces, and the women currently detained in Yarls Wood fleeing sexualised violence in their countries of birth only to be sexually assaulted again whilst supposedly ‘safe’ in detention centres.

Statistically, it is far more likely that the murder of Jo Cox was an act of political terrorism by a man who supports white supremacist organisations and who will have a history of misogyny. As Chimene Suleyman writes for Media Diversified:

In all likeliness this was not symbolic brutality against the system — not an act of a random nature against any old representative of the political class — but a fundamentalist attack on a woman whose ideals, both in her charity work and as MP, placed human rights for disenfranchised Syrians, oppressed Palestinians and immigration at the core of her narrative. What an appallingly upsetting shame then that she should die, not because of her stance on human rights but instead killed within a British climate that has confused social sociopathy for economic debate and scaremongering immigration laws.

Jo Cox was murdered by a man who made a choice to kill – a man who also has a documented history of ties to white supremacist organisations during a political campaign that has seen racism and xenophobia replace debate, whilst we congratulate ourselves on not having a misogynistic and racist candidate like Donald Trump running for political office.

Whilst we mourn the loss of Jo Cox, some reflection on why people living in glass houses shouldn’t throw stones is required. Men like Thomas Mair are not aberrations. Racism and misogyny are not ‘isolated incidents’. They are British culture and we need to fix this.

An African-American girl has a rope wrapped around her neck – school suggests its just ‘an accident’

The family of a 6th grade* girl living in Texas have filed a $3 million dollar lawsuit against Live Oak Classical School in Waco, an expensive private school that the child attended through scholarships, accusing them of “negligence, gross negligence, and intentional infliction of emotional distress”.

The lawsuit lists a history of bullying behaviour by other children leading up to the final assault on the child known as KP. The lawsuit alleges that one incident of bullying, in which another boy repeatedly kicked and pushed KP whilst in a play rehearsal, was dismissed by the school’s principal Allison Buras with the following statements:

“It sounds like he may have pushed on the back of her leg to make her leg buckle, which is something the kids sometimes do,” Buras wrote. “Rarely is that done out of meanness but more out of a desire for sport.”**

This minimisation of inappropriate behaviour is, in and of itself, deeply concerning. Suggesting that children deliberately push a child into making their legs buckle, which inevitably results in falling over, as ‘sport’ fails to recognise that this is frequently undertaken by children to humiliate others. It can be used between groups of close friends, particularly boys, playing because we socialise boys to believe that physical actions that can result in harm to other children is ‘normal’; that is part of being a ‘boy’. It is done out of ‘meanness’ because we socialise boys to believe that cruelty to one another is funny.

We need schools to challenge the idea that pushing, shoving and kicking other children is ‘sport’. And, we need schools to step up when children (or their parents) report such behaviour as part of a pattern of bullying.

This is how the Daily Beast has reported the most serious assault:

But the main complaint against the school comes from an April field trip to Germer Ranch in Blanco County, Texas. KP and several other children were said to have come across a swing with long rope was attached so children could pull it, the lawsuit states.

The lawsuit states KP was standing to the side of the swing when three white males, including one who allegedly bullied her in the past, pulled the rope back and wrapped it around her neck. The boys then violently jerked KP to the ground, the family claims, leaving abrasions on her neck.

The lawsuit alleges that the school failed to access appropriate healthcare for KP and did not inform the parents, at any point, of the assault and injury. As this happened during a school residential trip, the parents did not find out about the injury until the following day. They immediately took KP to the hospital and it was the hospital who informed the police due to the severity of the injury. The police investigation is ongoing. This a huge failing of child protection.

The school itself claims that the incident was an accident.

Make no mistake, this is an assault. Children of 11-12 years of age know perfectly well the consequences of wrapping any material around the neck of themselves or another child. Their cavalier attitude to the safety of another child does not reflect well on their parents or the school demonstrating a failure of safe-guarding. It also speaks to a culture of bullying being excused by the school.

This is without addressing the issue of racism.

Even without the history of lynching in the US, children who wrap a rope around the neck of another classmate and then pull should be sending huge red flags about their propensity to violence. That the victim was an African-American child attending a prestigious and mostly white private school and the perpetrators white boys only reinforces the schools failure to deal with this incident appropriately and to recognise the role of racism in the assault and in how the school dealt with it.

Whilst the erasure of African-American history in schools is well-documented, these children were sixth graders. They will have seen films, television and video games in which the lynching of African-American people is used as entertainment. Criminalising children is not appropriate as it does address the real issues at play: racism, hyper-masculinity and white, male privilege. But we cannot pretend that these boys did not understand the potential consequences of wrapping a rope around the neck of any child or that they were not aware of the specific history of lynching in the US.

 

What this story demonstrates is the failure of schools to deal appropriately with violence committed by boys and an unwillingness to recognise the role of racism in bullying and in the failure of child protection.

 

*The average age of a sixth grader in the US is 11-12 years old.

** Raw Story claims this comment was made in relation to the assault involving the rope swing, whilst Daily Beast and New York Mag suggests it was made in response to a previous incident. I am assuming that the Daily Beast’s version is correct insofar as I can not believe anyone would suggest that wrapping a rope around the neck of a child could be construed as ‘sport’.