Morgan was arrested yesterday. His journals were also confiscated as part of the investigation. Apparently, he had been planning to kill Justin-Jinich for some time. Had police actively looked for/located Morgan when she filed her harassment complaint, they may have seen scribbled threats like “kill Johanna. She must die.” (NY Daily News) much sooner. And this is why, I tied this case to the general backward movement we have done on domestic and sexual violence (which includes stalking) cases in the U.S. The cases that receive national level attention are rising but the way they are discussed and/or dealt with fails to deal with the oppression of women in general or, often, in the specific cases discussed. The result is the dampening of discussion and new strategies for combating DSV in the U.S. at a time when the leadership in this country is most open to dealing with violence against women, as evidenced by the VP’s longstanding work on the issue.
Johanna’s death is particularly disturbing b/c she had not only filed a complaint against her killer but the police actually questioned him moments after her shooting. Since there appears to be limited action on her initial complaint and no DSV in the workplace plan at the bookstore, the management of which may have been unaware of Morgan’s threats, no one recognized Morgan and police let him go.
I cannot stress enough how this case highlights the research I mentioned in the previous post about women’s safety and the connection to workplace safety. In the same way that college campuses were tasked with educating students about sexual assault on campus and implementing programs to help mediate the issue (this is not to say all of these programs are effective or focused in the right places), they need to be charged with addressing and developing DSV safety plans. Though Justin-Jinich was the only victim in Morgan’s attack, many other DSV cases have resulted in other workers or passersby being shot. One needs only look back to the UGA case to find a recent example. And if you cannot care about violence against women, and the innocent bystanders, then care about the fact that Morgan’s notebooks also contained the following statement, “I think it is ok to kill Jews and go on a killing spree” (ibid). Morgan’s car contained two magazines and his home had a box of ammo; in other words, he had enough fire power to “go on a killing spree” and the hatred to fuel it.
Worse, Morgan appears to have become obsessed with Justin-Jinich b/c of their interactions in a Women’s Studies related summer program called Sexual Diversity. Morgan began emailing Justin-Jinich when she disagreed with him in class over the rights of women and queer sexualities. He criticized her opinions and warned that she was “going to have more problems” if she continued to think the way she did, lacing each increasingly hostile email with foul language and eventually degenerating into open threats. This kind of communication is becoming all too common in not only Identity Studies classrooms but also on the internet between female bloggers and their, often male, trolls. The exact same language attributed to Morgan hasd appeared in emails from male students to me and my colleagues in the course of any single academic year and shows up regularly on the blog as well. (In fact, I just banned my first comment maker in 3.5 years after he first insulted my intelligence while claiming to “help me understand,” then insulted me using the same foul language as Morgan, then tried to appear more intelligent than me outright, then word bombed the blog b/c he was banned.) While blogging and real life are thankfully separate for many of us, the reality is that these verbally violent, misogynist, encounters reflect both a longstanding and growing disdain for women, especially female intellectuals. The ease with which students, seminar participants, and/or blog commenters move from the sexist idea that women are less intelligent to verbal assault to threats of physical assault is way too easy, and in this era of school shootings and mass shootings, we cannot afford to continue to ignore them or take them as part of the average day being female in N. America.
I’ve shrugged off a lot of things in my time. To survive in a world in which you are marginalized and your abuse can be ignored or excused away, shrugging things off is a survival skill. However, oppression is the reason that “ignoring it” is often the first and only option marginalized groups have, b/c they cannot count on others to take their situation seriously or to not blame the victim. (In fact, the cited article for this piece, ends by pointing out that Justin-Jinich didn’t press charges against Morgan when campus police at NYU interviewed both about his initial menacing emails, implying that she was somehow responsible for both his behavior and her own death.) When Johanna Justin-Jinich alerted authorities to Stephen Morgan and nothing substantial was done, either to track down her stalker or to raise her awareness about stalking so that she would consider discussing a safety plan with her employer, she was accessing a different kind of survival skill and saying that other tactics were not working. Her death serves as yet another wake up call about violence against women and shoring up safety protocols.
Let’s hope that Justin-Jinich’s death does not turn into another Rhianna moment, where people stared, pointed, gossiped, victim-blamed, and then finally went on about their day as if nothing had happened. We have a chance to reflect on where we are failing women and work to change that at both the societal and the local level. Here is hoping the WS folk at Wesleyan, will lead the way. (I’ve put the case on the agenda for our last staff meeting as well, in the hopes of opening discussion about DSV related safety issues on our campus.)
- AP Photo/Courtesy of the Justin-Junich Family