Saturday, January 2, 2010

Processing Don Belton's Death When Everyone's Focused on the Motive

Indiana University English Professor Don Belton was stabbed to death at his home in Bloomington, Indiana on December 27.  The police have arrested a man who claims that Belton sexually assaulted him twice on December 25.  He says that he stabbed Belton during an argument on the 27th because Belton showed no remorse for the incidents.

If you go looking online for biographical information about Don Belton, you won't find much.  He was a novelist and researcher who was interested in how African-American masculinity is depicted in popular culture.  Before he taught at Indiana, he was at the University of Michigan.  There has been no coverage of a reaction from any family or friends outside of the university community.  Information about his killer, on the other hand, is easy to come by.  He is an Iraq war veteran, ex-Marine and has a girlfriend and a 2 year-old son.  His girlfriend tipped police that he might be the "Michael" they had found reference to in Belton's journals.

The result of this imbalance of information is that Don Belton seems almost like a character in a play, and a poorly developed one at that.  He has a CV, but he is not real.  Not only is he not arround to defend himself against the allegations of assault, but no one else seems to be either.  There is no outraged family making statements for the press.

This vacuum, in turn, has made everyone on the Internet feel entitled to speculate.  The comments on news sites seem to split into two camps.  One camp holds that the killer had consensual sex with Don Belton and regretted it, and the other holds that Belton assaulted him.  Neither side seems very concerned with the question of whether either situation justifies stabbing someone to death.  Neither side seems interested in putting a human face on Belton, either.

This isn't a Law & Order episode.  Someone died.  Someone else claims to have been raped.  We may not be hearing from Belton's family, but somewhere out there Don Belton had people who loved him and are trying to understand his sudden death.  There are two choices these people are left with:  either someone they love did something monstrous and paid with his life, and they must come to terms with that, or someone they love was killed for being who he was and picking the wrong person to love, which has its own set of messy problems.  The lack of acknowledgement in the coverage of who Don Belton was in life has got to make it that much harder for those who loved him to come to terms with his death.


Anonymous said...

there is a website in which many people, including family & friends, post their views on Mr. Belton and his kind, gentle nature. They absolutely do NOT believe the killer's version of this story! Also, many of Belton's former colleagues & students have posted their experiences on Facebook & blogs, which are not frequented by "mainstream" types. A little research on Google shows all of this.

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