remembering a writer and friend
It was, at times, a racist and homophobic climate that threatened to tear apart a small city. Many of us knew both Don and Michael or socialized in their overlapping circles. Because of Michael Griffin’s charge that Don raped him, many otherwise-gay-friendly allies remained silent instead of speaking out on behalf on Don. Amazing things happened as well: Don’s somewhat estranged family rallied around his memory. On perhaps the coldest day of the year in 2009, hundreds of Bloomington strangers showed up for an outdoor candlelight vigil, one of the largest crowds in recent years to spontaneously assemble. In the years and the legal trial that followed, it was ultimately a testament to Bloomington that people came together to condemn the violence and honor Don’s life.
Below is the original text from the website as it was written for reporters and visitors. Original comments have also been preserved.
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This site is a living document, built quickly and always developing. It is not affiliated with any organization or educational institution, and its writers are private citizens who do not speak for anyone else on this site or [unless noted] on behalf of any group or university.
The residents of Bloomington, Indiana are deeply saddened by the loss of Don Belton, a gifted writer and a warm, generous man who was loved by everyone who met him. Belton, 53, was stabbed to death by a friend and was discovered in his own kitchen on the morning of December 28, 2009.
photo courtesy of IU
We remember Don as a kind person and a caring person. He was hilariously funny and often the life of the party. He was excited to be in a new tenure-track position as a professor of creative writing at Indiana University, a job that finally gave him some security for the work he had been doing for years. Yet Don was someone who did not limit his relationships to campus: He preferred to be a real part of the entire community in which he lived, was a friend to many people of all backgrounds and ages, and in his short time in Bloomington had already planted some substantial roots.
Police have arrested 25-year-old Michael James Griffin in Belton’s death. This Web site hopes to honor Don Belton’s memory, but it’s also a place to monitor the progress of the criminal case and the media coverage of this horrific act of violence against a member of our community.
In the earliest days after Belton’s death, we were concerned by the way the story was taking shape. Hateful, racist, and homophobic remarks have circulated on messaging boards under articles about Don’s murder. Don was African American and openly gay, and much of his creative work dealt with the intersections of those identities.
Griffin, who pleaded not guilty on Wednesday, December 30, has alleged that Don Belton sexually assaulted him—twice—on Christmas day in Griffin’s home. Two days later, Griffin reportedly went to Don’s house—with his knife and a change of clothes–to demand an apology. The Herald Times is reporting that When Belton would not accept Griffin’s accusations, Griffin stabbed him several times, “until he quit moving.”
While we do not wish to polarize the community, we do want law enforcement to understand that there is a long, established history of suspects invoking a claim of sexual assault and/or a “gay panic” defense to get charges reduced or to win over a jury when the victim was a gay person. This is tactic that has had some success over the years but is increasingly being recognized for what it is: a defense that plays to societal bias and prejudice and is not a justifiable excuse for murder.
We are urging Bloomington officials and law enforcement to reject any notion that Griffin’s claim of sexual assault weakens their case for murder. Prosecutor Robert Miller is at firstname.lastname@example.org, and anyone with relevant information should contact him.
Our intent is to help educate Bloomington law enforcement so that they are in the best possible position to protect their citizens. If such scenarios become acceptable defenses for murder, then nobody in the Bloomington is safe.
We also hope to fill in the gaps about the real Don Belton. Because this crime occurred over the holidays when many people were out of town–and because Don had just moved to a new neighborhood a few blocks from where he used to live—early news articles seemed to suggest that he was not as well-known and well-loved as he was. Contributors to this site have recalled and posted their memories of Don on the site’s initial post.