No more "good blokes": a call for guidelines on reporting murder

Somewhere in Australia, right now, there is a man considering killing their entire family, and themselves.

There may, in fact, be more than one. Probably is more than one, in fact. But we know it's a man; perpetrators of familicide, or family annihilation, are almost exclusively male. Maybe he's lost his job, gambled his way into debt, believes the world is an evil and corrupt place; maybe it's for no reason at all. For whatever reason, he's decided that he wants to die. Not only that, but that everyone he loves most should die with him. And why not? If he was to simply kill himself, he'd be leaving them with the debt, with the shame. For that, he may be remembered as a coward.

But the man planning how he can wipe out his entire family can be sure that if he does so, that act of murder will not define him. He'll be remembered as a good bloke.

Like Geoff Hunt, who pointed a gun at the heads each of his three children and his wife, and pulled the trigger. He was remembered as a lovely bloke, a hardworking family man, driven to despair over his wife's traumatic brain injury and sparing his family the pain of their unbearable lives. As with reports from the Margaret River shooting that one or more of the children have autism, the mention of disability adds to the redemption of the murderer; the stress of coping with a loved one's disability makes murder all the more understandable. And when the murder of the Lutz-Manrique children in 2017 was described as "an act of love", it tells us that the lives of people with disabilities are not quite worth living.

Channel 7 journalist Robert Ovadia is apparently angry that people are challenging the good bloke narrative. Ovadia asks whether we need to spell out that mass murderers are bad people, before stating we need to leave Aaron Cockman, who described his former father in law, who'd murdered Cockman's four children, as a good bloke - alone.

The people who needed to leave Aaron Cockman alone are the media who broadcast the words of a man who was obviously in shock hours after losing his children. But no one was challenging Aaron Cockman. They were upset and angry that yet again, a man who murdered their entire family was being remembered as a good bloke - in one case, described as such in the headline of an article despite no one quoted in the article describing him that way. 

The NSW Coroner found that Geoff Hunt murdered his family because of an "egocentric delusion that his wife and children would be better off dying than living without him." That is how we should be talking about family annihilators. Not what great blokes they were. The man planning how he will kill his family does not need to know his actions will be rationalised, explained away, forgiven. In the murderous, egotistical scheme he's devising, he doesn't need encouragement to see himself as a hero.

Do we need to spell out that mass murderers are bad people? Yes. We need to say that good blokes don't kill their wives, their children, their grandchildren. We need the next "ordinary decent bloke" who plans to slaughter his entire family to know he won't be remembered as a good guy. We have guidelines for how suicide is reported in the media, to discourage anyone who may think of copying; we need guidelines on reporting mass murder. Of course family are entitled to remember the deceased however they choose; it doesn't mean the media need to report it. When it happens again - and of course, of course, someone killing their entire family will happen again, cause the world is a bit shit - then at least we can know we are trying a bit harder, as a society, to prevent it. 

Quinceañera

This blog started life from the Xander and Nico pod, so yes I will post to wish my cat a happy birthday. When you have your own blog, you can post whatever you want.

Onward Christian Hypocrites: The strange logic of Trumping God

I don't think there's anyone who, by now, does not believe that at some time in the last 15 years, Donald Trump had sex with Stormy Daniels. The details of who paid how much when to shut who up about what are all a bit hazy, but it's pretty much agreed by everyone that the President of the United States, weeks after his third wife gave birth to his fifth child, had sex with a porn star. 

(And on that, why is everyone in porn a "star"? How come you never hear of "porn extras" or "porn character actors"? No wonder porn stars have all got about 280 film credits to their names; they're busy having to do all the acting. I digress). 

Even Evangelical Christians accept that Trump has been up to some shifty business, what with the Access Hollywood tapes, and now this; never mind that the man hasn't set foot in a church since elected. Evangelical Christians still love him. Prominent Evangelical Franklin Graham, son of the recently departed Billy Graham, has come out declaring that Trump's affair with Daniels is "nobody's business". You probably find it a bit revolting, and pretty baffling, that Evangelicals can protest gay marriage and in many US States make it almost impossible for a woman to access her right to control her own reproductive freedom, whilst seeing Trump as doing the Lord's work. 

There's logic behind it, though. A creepy, weird logic, but a logic nevertheless. You see, God famously moves in mysterious ways. God, in fact, likes to choose flawed and ordinary humans to do his work. St Paul enjoyed torturing the early Christians, before a a funny thing happened on the way to Damascus and he turned to spreading The Word of Jesus. 

But there's another Biblical figure Evangelicals have in mind when it comes to Trump. Specifically, Evangelical leaders are speaking of Trump as Cyrus, a 6th Century BCE Persian King who, whilst not a Jew, ended the Babylonian Exile, allowing the Jews to return to Israel and build the Temple. Whilst not being religious himself, Cyrus was used by God as a "vessel" to achieve His aims. Similarly, as a "flawed vessel", Trump is being used by God to achieve His aims, restoring America's place as a Christian nation.

How is Trump doing the Lord's work? First of all, by stopping Hilary. They can't quite articulate why - some furious spittle about gas pipelines, Benghazi, Monica Lewinsky and headbands - but they're convinced that Hilary Clinton is evil, actually evil, an instrument of the devil; and Trump, by selflessly putting aside his own interests to run for President, has saved America from this scourge. 

Then he announced plans to move the American embassy to Jerusalem; also good stuff. In Evangelical theology, it's all part of the plan to kick off with the end times and bring on the second coming of Christ. (Seeing Ultra Zionists and Fundamentalist Christians happily shaking hands over this when their end goals run at cross purposes is creepy, to say the least). 

And Trump won't take away their God given right to have guns. (I mostly read an ESV Bible, and it seems to be missing the part of the Sermon on the Mount where Jesus sang the praises of the AR-15; maybe that's why the fundamentalists tend to prefer King James). They're not worried about their kids getting shot just for going to school, because their kids don't go to school; they're at home, getting homeschooled, not being "handed over to the state to raise". 

But Trump's real opportunity to do God's work is yet to come. The Fundies are counting on him to stay President long enough to appoint at least one more, conservative, justice to the Supreme Court. There's 9 Justices on the Supreme court, and they've basically had a balance of 4 conservative Republican, 4 Democrat and one Independent for the past few decades; this has been useful in ensuring judgements tend not to fall on the ends of the political spectrum. When Justice Anthony Scalia, a conservative Republican, died in early 2016, normal procedure should have been for Barack Obama to nominate a replacement; but the Republicans infamously held the seat open for a year, refusing all nominees until after the election, when they got their wish of a Republican president who nominated another conservative judge, Neil Gorsuch; keeping the ideological balance. 

The reason all this is an issue is because, if any of the Liberal leaning justices die or retire, Trump will replace them with a conservative, and the composition of the court will be 5 conservatives, 3 liberals and an independent  - paving the way for the Supreme Court, so the Evangelicals hope, to overturn Roe vs Wade, the judgement that mandates a woman's right to abortion. If Roe vs Wade is overturned, the right to legislate abortion devolves to the States, and you best believe the likes of OhioIowaKentucky and Alabama would be wetting themselves in the rush to make abortion illegal.

This is the issue Evangelicals care about more than just about any other. Not poverty or schooling or rising rates of maternal death or Presidents bumping uglies (a term that was rarely more apt) with a star of the adult film industry. Trump has been put in office to protect the millions of unborn babies liberals hate so much, and if the man has paid for or provoked an abortion or several himself over the years, well, that's none of their damn business. 

Not a good look

I felt annoyed, kinda disgusted and above all, tired when I saw this photo of NSW Greens MP Jeremy Buckingham at a Greens trivia fundraiser:



(I debated whether I should include the actual photo, but decided to because the post won't make much sense unless you've seen it and anyway, with all the stuff I've discussed over the years, this isn't exactly a safe space.)

I felt disgusted because it sure looks to me like he's making a lewd gesture that refers to cunnilingus. And that makes me tired. I'm sure it would make many other women feel tired as well, because we're so tired of the graphic abusive messages we receive online. Just recently, a man added me as a friend on Facebook. I don't normally accept friend requests from people I don't know or share any mutual friends with, but in this case, I'd seen him commenting on several political posts and he seemed okay, so I accepted this one. Well, he started with messages saying he wanted to meet me and when I demurred, it escalated to vile messages with graphic descriptions of sexual acts. And then again I felt annoyed, but also exhausted by the amount of misogyny women encounter online.

So I felt pretty revolted and disappointed by what Mr Buckingham appears to be doing in this photo, and it seems I wasn't alone. There was fairly lively discussion on a (public) Greens supporters Facebook page, with defenders of Mr Buckingham stating that he is simply making an "up yours" gesture at the losing trivia team - and that inner city types wouldn't understand. Now, I'm from Newcastle, and I've never seen anyone give an inverted v salute to indicate up yours. It is always the middle finger. I guess things are different in other, non-inner city parts of NSW.

But I always try to see the good in people. I know things can be misinterpreted and people make mistakes. I decided to reserve judgment until Jeremy Buckingham had a chance to respond to allegations he, as an NSW MP, is making graphic reference to a sex act in a photo - not a good look. This is the kind of thing I wanted to see:

I want to apologise for being photographed in what I now understand is an inappropriate and offensive pose. Whilst no offence was intended, I apologise unreservedly to anyone who was hurt or offended by this gesture. I understand we all have a part to play in eliminating sexual harassment and assault from society. The Greens are committed to providing a safe environment free of assault. Anyone who wishes to discuss this further is welcome to contact my office. A link to the Greens Sexual Harassment policy and resources for those needing assistance can be found here:
https://nsw.greens.org.au/nsw/preventing-and-responding-sexual-harassment 

That was pretty much what I was hoping for. No blame shifting, no victim blaming, simple, gets the job done, offers help to anyone who needs it. I've cribbed this from John Scalzi's excellent guide to apologies, which lays out what a good apology should and shouldn't contain.

You might argue that this is all a bit of an overreaction to a simple photo. Do we all have to issue formal apologies for everything we do in life now? In this case, no, it really isn't over the top. Jeremy Buckingham is a Greens MP, a public representative, a group we would hope is held to higher standards of public conduct. He also represents the Greens, a party which stands for progressivism and human rights. I know for me, there's no "confected outrage"; I simply saw the photo, prior to most of the discussion on the matter, and felt disturbed and disappointed, and didn't really appreciate being told my visceral reaction was petty, prudish or over reacting.

In the case of Mr Buckingham, there ought to be an extra level  of sensitivity to these matters. The topics of sexual harassment and assault have been much discussed in recent times due to the #MeToo movement; in the case of the Greens, these discussions have been the more necessary and painful due to several incidents involving Greens members. High profile Greens member Jarah Crook, a former staffer of Jeremy Buckingham's, was accused of sexual assault by several young women, who allege the Greens failed to take proper action when alerted to the offences.

There was also the case of the ACT Greens volunteer allegedly assaulted by a senior Greens member, with Greens founder Bob Brown appearing in the media attacking the victim for her public anonymity and not going to police sooner. At a recent "meet the candidates" forum for the NSW State election, candidates were asked about Brown's comments in light of Greens harassment policies; all disavowed the comments except Mr Buckingham, who stated he was unaware of any such comments, which seems slightly disingenuous considering they were the talk of Greens' circles for weeks (I never know anything that's going on, but I was well aware of this). At any rate, I hope that Mr Buckingham took the opportunity to fully inform himself of what Bob Brown said and shared the view that it smacked of victim blaming.

So yes, I would expect Jeremy Buckingham to be more sensitive to matters surrounding sexual harassment and abuse; and to realise the hurt this photo caused and react appropriately.

Instead what we got was this:

“Attributable to Jeremy Buckingham: “This was a light-hearted up-yours and raspberry blown to the opposing trivia team after we won a trivia night. It was not intended to be anything else. I have apologised to anyone who has interpreted this gesture differently and any offense that it has caused.”

and

“I am a fan of 1970s punk rock and Rick Mayall from The Young Ones who often used the two finger up-yours as a cheeky gesture.”

and

“Hi Chris, Background (not for attribution) the photo was taken of the winning trivia team at a Greens trivia night. Jeremy is giving a light-hearted up-yours and blowing a raspberry at the opposing teams. It was not intended as any kind of sexual gesture. Perhaps it is the camera angle that makes it look like something it is not. It was posted by one of the other members of the trivia team to a private Facebook but then taken and publicised by former Shoebridge staffer Lauren Gillin.”

Said responses being provided by email to a journalist from New Matilda as outlined here. No ownership, no real apology - it's not I'm sorry for what I did but I'm sorry that you took offence. And all finished with an attempt to paint this as some sort of factional smear in an internal NSW Greens battle I'm not even going to start trying to explain here.

I was upset and disappointed by this photo, but I was willing to give Jeremy Buckingham the benefit of the doubt here, I really was. Instead, a learning opportunity and a chance to take the dialogue on sexual harassment in healthy directions regarding respect and a chance to link survivors with helpful resources  has turned into a disaster which does nothing to correct impressions that the Greens are a boys' club like any other party, that women can never feel entirely safe in politics, that concerns regarding harassment are not taken seriously or that as a Greens MP, Jeremy Buckingham understands the importance of his role in all of this. The photo was bad, but the obfuscation and cover up are so very much worse. And I'm feeling even sadder and more worn out than before.

Edit: an earlier version of this post showed an uncropped version of the above photo.