It was a tragedy, and ought to remind us that there are bad people out there who do bad things, horrible things, to others. In the chorus about ending mass incarceration, it’s often lost that not everyone in prison is a victim of society. Some are there because they’re dangerous people who harm others without remorse, and some dangerous people may well be victims of the many ills of the system, but are still dangerous people.
Ruth George is dead because she was allegedly sexually assaulted and choked to death by Donald Thurman, who was out on parole from a 2016 robbery conviction.
His court-appointed attorney, public defender Valerie Panozzo, said in court Tuesday that he struggled with mental health issues and homelessness.
This could have been a lead-in to the many common issues raised by such tragedies, from the failure to provide help to Thurman for his mental illness while in prison, thus putting him back on the street to murder a 19-year-old college student as sick, if not sicker, than he went in. Or homelessness or vocational training. Perhaps there is a drug problem in there as well.
Or this horrible murder might reflect challenges to those whose concern is limited only to the unfortunate circumstances of those arrested, prosecuted and imprisoned, as a reflection of the reality that no matter what the excuse, a young woman was molested and murdered. Sure, his situation was sad and unfortunate, but she’s dead.
But neither of these approaches informed the Washington Post in their treatment of this tragedy.
She caught the attention of a stranger, Donald Thurman, who tried talking to her after she walked by, said James Murphy, the assistant state’s attorney for Cook County.
“The defendant was angry that he was being ignored,” Murphy said in a statement Tuesday.
There was surveillance video in the parking lot where this happened, but such video almost never includes sound. How would Murphy know what was said or how Thurman felt? It’s possible he talked, but that would be a confession and would have been noted in the article. There was nothing about him talking or confessing.
George’s next moments, according to police, illustrate the nightmarish, harrowing reality that women can face on any given day, particularly when encountering a man, alone, on a darkened street.
Thurman, 26, pursued George and closed in while he “catcalled” her throughout the garage, Murphy said. She arrived at her car, but Thurman choked her from behind and dragged her into the car, where he sexually assaulted her before fleeing in a distinctive white jacket, Murphy said, citing images on captured on surveillance videos.
And that’s the story in the Washington Post, about a guy who “catcalled.” About how the “harrowing reality” that a woman can “face on any given day” from a guy who “catcalled.” And should you not get the critical point of the story from the way it was presented, the WaPo headline made it impossible to ignore.
A woman ignored a man’s catcalls — so he chased her down and killed her, prosecutors say
Is every guy who catcalls a killer? In the absence of sound on the surveillance video, how they arrive at the conclusion that Thurman “catcalled” at all is remarkable. If the video showed him speaking to her, that doesn’t mean he “catcalled.” Maybe he asked her if she had the time, or had a smoke. Or maybe he yelled something rude at her from across the parking lot. Since Ruth George was murdered, it’s not as if she can tell the story of what led Thurman to kill her.
To what end would George’s death be twisted into a story to “illustrate the nightmarish, harrowing reality that women can face on any given day”? Is it possible that a woman can find herself in a parking lot with a violent, mentally ill person on parole who will sexually assault and choke her? Sure. Fortunately, it’s an extremely rare event, but for Ruth George, its rarity is irrelevant. It happened to her, and that’s all that matters to her and her bereaved family.
But instead of recognizing that violent crime can, and does happen, or the myriad other considerations that might have been reflected by this tragic event, it was used as a device to raise hysteria about the threat men present, in general, and catcalling men, in particular.
And, indeed, the insipid went with it.
Some jerk catcalling a woman isn’t a big deal, but women can’t differentiate between which ones are just losers and which are dangerous people.
And it swiftly morphed from the murder of Ruth George to the general horror of men catcalling.
This rape/murder is an extreme outlier. But I know lots of women who have ignored a catcaller and been followed down the street by him, been verbally threatened, have him block her path and force her to go around, etc..
It’s not irrational to find that behavior threatening.
Whether Thurman catcalled Ruth George at all is questionable, but the thrust had nothing to do with the killing, “an extreme outlier” even though that was the reason the story appeared in the paper, that was the critical fact giving rise to it being a story at all.
This isn’t to say that “catcalling” is an acceptable way to behave. But this is about a sexual assault and murder, not the “nightmarish, harrowing reality” of catcalling. Should every catcall give rise to a woman’s not-irrational fear that she’s about to be murdered? Should women carry guns and shoot at male catcallers so they aren’t murdered, because this is the “nightmarish, harrowing reality that women can face on any given day”? If women are unable to distinguish “losers” from “dangerous people,” what are they to do, wait until they’re murdered to find out who to shoot?
Or is the message that women should live in constant fear and dread because they may run into a violent, mentally ill guy on parole named Thurman? That can happen. It happened to Ruth George. A 19-year-old college student was tragically murdered, and yet the Washington Post uses her death as a means to launch a generic attack on women suffering the nightmare of catcalling.