remembering a writer and friend
1. Legal justice in this case cannot begin to do justice to Don Belton and all of us who have been victimized by our loss of him and his future writing. Nothing can set right the wrong that has been done to Don, to his community, and to the world. But Don was neither violent nor vindictive; we must not be either. And particularly with regard to this man, Mr. Griffin, whom he must have cared for very deeply.
Don was not naïve. He’d thought long and hard about varieties of masculinity, about male violence and its apparent necessity, about homophobia. He had written about these things—and published them—and taught them. And yet he was taken in, hoodwinked, by Mr. Griffin —if Mr. Griffin could deceive DB so thoroughly, this can only mean that Mr. Griffin is very dangerous to others. We cannot assume is was only Don who set Mr. Griffin off (for whatever reason).
2. And so it is especially important that we protect the community from Mr. Griffin, who is an exceptionally dangerous person, because…..
a. This act was apparently out of character—no one anticipated this violence from him—and Don would have avoided anyone he thought would be violent;
b. It was done in cold blood;
c. It was unusually vicious—22 stab-wounds with a double-edged fighting knife;
d. He chose a victim who was very vulnerable—physically & emotionally. & finally,
e. it was done to someone who could not have provoked such violence.
This brings me to my 3rd point:
3. You—& even the jury & the prosecutors—cannot know what I know about Don, so I want to make a few points about Don & the allegations that were made against him. Before I do that, I’d like to explain HOW I know these things. We were very close friends over 8 or 10 years, & discussed all kinds of things but especially the things that bothered him—made him angry or self-righteous, sad, or scared; that humiliated him; worried him. I saw him handle all kinds of situations, including nasty racial ones.
So when I tell you what I know about Don, my evidence is:
a. Seeing his behavior when he had been given reason to be angry, a number of times over the many years of our friendship. I was able to see his immediate reactions and also his follow-up behavior and thinking.
b. Discussing with him possible courses of action when he was in situations he didn’t like (both on-going and immediate, work and personal), and hearing his analyses. He NEVER chose an adversarial position if it could be avoided–much less anything that could be construed as an “attack.”
c. Even in private conversation with me, he would not even swear at those who were doing wrong by him or acting like racists, would not use bad language, never used expressions such as “I could kill him” that many of us consider harmless when they’re purely verbal.
What I know is that:
1. Temperamentally, Don was gentle, a peaceful person.
2. As an African-American he was made aware of injustice, which he had experienced personally & witnessed over and over; as an African-American committed to justice and civil rights for all people, he followed Martin Luther King’s teachings and was politically, morally, and personally committed to peaceful resolution of all kinds of disagreements.
3. He also had a religious commitment to non-violence: he was a Buddhist (with a daily meditation practice)–and therefore committed to non-violence for religious reasons, and also therefore was supported by the wealth of Buddhist teachings on non-violence, including how to avoid violence, how to become more peaceful oneself, etc.
4. Don strongly believed (as I do) in the use of rational analysis to amend social injustice (and other evils). He believed in persuasion of others toward one’s point of view–NEVER in violence to get people to do what you wanted. We talked over many times how to get bullies in the workplace to back down—
5. Because Don & I believed in correcting situations that are wrong or unjust, in persuading people—in a non-adversarial way, Don and I have for years studied—and practiced—ways of confronting people about such situations without being adversarial.
6. But he also avoided confrontation whenever possible, out of personal preference—much more than I. When someone acted with racial bias against him, & it made him very uncomfortable, he did NOT want me to confront the person—even when it was someone I knew personally, or someone I had business with.
7. He also hated any possibility of being rejected. Even with me, if he wanted something, he was very careful to avoid rejection in the way he asked. He would never have “come on” to someone sexually if he wasn’t sure of being accepted. If Mr. Griffin had at any time given the slightest indication that he did not want Don’s advances—IF he made advances—Don would have been away from him in a flash.
8. I never saw any sign that Don was attracted to violent men as sexual partners (or in any other way). (There are still those old myths lingering about gay men & violence—that did NOT apply in this case.)
Finally, I would like to point out what’s been lost in this case. The first 2 or 3 are the usual:
1. Don’s life, irreplaceable—to Don.
2. And to his students, his colleagues, his friends. Don’s life-long friend & second mother Ella Torrey in Philadelphia, who also lost two of her natural children in their prime, wrote to me: “I loved Don as one of my children…and we grew into an adult friendship which I will always cherish…I miss him every day and am so proud of his extraordinary achievements.”
You may remember that my husband Scott Robertson, who wanted to be here but couldn’t make the trip from Hawaii—Scott & I were the friends Don was packing to go visit in Hawaii. When we moved there we bought a tiny condo on Waikiki instead of a big place inland so we could go to the beach every day. And we haven’t been able to bring ourselves to go to the beach the past 15 months, because that’s where we were going to take Don when he joined us. It has just made us sick to go to any of the places we’d planned on taking Don. I cannot tell you what it was like to live for those first few weeks in that place that Don was supposed to be—without him.
But such losses are typical, if you will. And the losses here in this case are not just those of the typical murder. There are also:
3. The sense of terror such a crime brings to the Gay & Lesbian & Bi- & Transgender communities, & to African-Americans and other people of color. Please remember to think about the various impacts such a murder has on communities—Can we ever feel safe again? Do we start to think it’s OK to kill gay men–or at least, those who provoke us?, etc.
There are stunningly similar cases, such as that of Prof. Linden Barrett, the African-American history professor at the University of California at Davis, also killed by a younger white working-class man within a sexualized context.
Loss 4. And whether you realize it or not, you—all of us—personally are deprived by not having Don in the world–the ripple effect of having such a good person in the world means they suffer from the loss of his presence—these are losses not only to beloved friends, students, colleagues, but also the whole wider community of Bloomington, where Don affected many people
Loss 5. In cases like Don’s and Prof. Barrett’s, we—the whole United States—whether we ever read Don’s books or not, we also lose an important cultural asset—a force for understanding and knowledge and wisdom in the world—by someone who contributes to all of us things that most people cannot contribute. This murder is a terrible loss to his readers—and his wider public—those in Ireland and the Ivory Coast, in Italy and Brazil—who heard him speak or would have in the future.
6. Finally, murder is always dreadful. But in this case, the loss is especially terrible & deep, because in addition we suffer from the loss of the work Don will never complete. This is a terrible deprivation—again to the whole world, and whether they would read him or not.
He was growing so much recently–as a person and as an author. He read me over the phone one night a long passage from an essay he had been struggling with for months. I’d like to go on record as saying that that passage was as good as anything I’ve ever read—as good as the very best that has ever been written in English—or any other language I’ve read. As he read it, my knees got wobbly. It was jaw-droppingly good—the kind of thing that makes you thing, “You can DO that in language?” Other people have written as well as that—as beautifully, as powerfully. But no one will write better.
One of our worst losses is of all the work he did not live to write.