I have generally refrained from expressing an opinion on the Oscar Pistorius trial and outcome for the very obvious reason that I wasn’t there the night he killed his girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp, so I couldn’t possibly know what happened. Having followed the trial reasonably closely, it seems to me that it is unlikely Pistorius deliberately murdered Steenkamp for a number of reasons, but should face some sort of punishment for his recklessness. Regardless, my opinion is neither here nor there and I wouldn’t presume to be right about it either. Armchair forensic and criminology abilities aside, I acknowledge my understanding of the case is intrinsically flawed.
However, the confusing and often conflicting evidence hasn’t stopped everyone with access to a computer from projecting their own particular cause onto the case. For some, the death of Steenkamp was actually about race relations in South Africa. In a piece in the Guardiantitled, “The Oscar Pistorius verdict exposes South Africa’s fraught racial history,” Roxane Gay writes:
Since the trial began in March, we’ve watched and waited and hoped for justice. It has been a bit surreal, given the facts of the case, to imagine an outcome where justice would not be served. Or it has been a bit surreal to accept that we live in a world where a man can justify shooting an unarmed woman through a locked door. Then again, this is also a world where an armed police officer can shoot an unarmed young black man. Whether in South Africa or Ferguson, Missouri, the rules most of us live by hardly seem to apply to white men.
According to Gay (who is American), Pistorius’ entire defense rested on racism and the implied fear of ‘blackness’ in South Africa:
“What makes this all the more offensive is how Pistorius has, essentially, framed his defence as a fear of blackness. By evoking an unseen intruder he has exploited the complex and fraught racial history of South Africa to help justify his crime.”
For others, the case is solely about gender and the implications it has for women the world over. In a column on The Huffington Post, feminist writer Kat Lister writes that defending Pistorius or showing sympathy is proof of the “male narrative that dominates our media outlets.” Lister asserts that the case was actually about domestic violence and the legal system’s failure to protect women. She writes:
If you think the South African judiciary system has failed Reeva, it has company: language has failed her too. It fails women time and time again. In South Africa, a woman is killed by domestic violence on average every eight hours. In the UK, on average, 2 women a week are killed by a current or former male partner. Yet how often do we speak their names?
Both Roxane Gay and Kat Lister believe in very worthwhile causes, and the stats they cite and the history they write about are very, very real. South Africa’s history of extreme racial violence and apartheid is very much alive, and violence towards women borders epidemic levels in many countries. While there has been progress in race relations and the treatment of women in the West, the war is far from over and there are many, many more battles to be had.
The problem is, it’s unclear whether any of the above issues have anything to do with the Oscar Pistorius/Reeva Steenkamp case. We saw this type of projecting with the Elliot Rodger tragedy where activists competed to fit their narrative to the story and couldn’t decide whether Rodger’s mass killing was a result of sexist movie culture, access to guns, repressed homosexuality or white male privilege. The reality was of course far more complicated, but that didn’t stop keyboard warriors demanding their pet issue take priority.
While Gay believes that Pistorius offered up the “flimsiest of defences for the indefensible”, one of South Africa’s most respected black, female judges, Thokozile Masipa, ruled otherwise. Summarizing her findings, she stated unequivocally that:
“The state has not proved beyond reasonable doubt that the accused is guilty of premeditated murder…there are just not enough facts to support such a finding.”
Masipa also absolved Pistorius of a lesser murder charge “dolus eventualis,” where according to South African law, “The perpetrator objectively foresees the possibility of his act causing death and persists regardless of the consequences.” Masipa ruled:
“Clearly he did not subjectively foresee this as a possibility that he would kill the person behind the door — let alone the deceased — as he thought she was in the bedroom.”
The facts of the case, at least in my view, are pretty clear: Pistorius had no history whatsoever of domestic violence, no history of violence against another person, no motivation to kill Steenkamp, and lived in one of the most violent nations on earth with the highest rape rate in the world and an astonishingly high (and rising) number of home invasions. Pistorius’s mental health evaluation showed he had high levels of anxiety, and the fact that he was a double amputee makes his claim that he feared for his life at the very least reasonable.
To be clear, I am not saying categorically that Pistorius didn’t intentionally kill Steenkamp, but it seems entirely fair to put the tragic event in context and conclude there really wasn’t enough evidence to convict him of premeditated murder. Pistorius may well be a secret women-beater with an irrational fear of black people, but there isn’t a single piece of evidence publicly available to corroborate those charges.
So how do Gay and Lister know that Pistorius killed Steenkamp in a fit of racist, misogynistic rage?
Simply put, they don’t. But here’s a clue to their absolute certainty: Both writers self-identify as feminists and write about issues from a feminist perspective. Generally speaking, this is a good thing – women are still woefully underrepresented in the media, and feminism provides a much needed lens through which to see generally male-dominated cultures. But it is not a good thing to work backwards from a conclusion that you have already reached and fit the facts to your own particular agenda. Gay and Lister didn’t need to look at the facts because they already knew Pistorius was guilty.
The case wasn’t about feminism, or racism, or any other ideology. It was about facts and evidence, and the judge ruled on Pistorius’s culpability accordingly.
Ben Cohen is the editor and founder of The Daily Banter. He lives in Washington DC where he does podcasts, teaches Martial Arts, and tries to be a good father. He would be extremely disturbed if you took him too seriously.