Pistorius Update

[Content Note: Violence.]

Oscar Pistorius has been officially charged with premeditated murder, even as he continues to assert that he killed Reeva Steinkamp, who was dating Pistorius, because he mistakenly thought she was an intruder.
Track star Oscar Pistorius killed his girlfriend accidentally, mistaking her for an intruder in the pitch dark of his home, he told a judge in a statement read by his attorney during his bail hearing Tuesday.

"I fail to understand how I could be charged with murder as I had no intention to kill my girlfriend," Pistorius said in the statement.

Pistorius' attorney read the statement because the runner himself was too distraught to speak. He sobbed and heaved so much during the hearing that the magistrate had to stop proceedings and ask him to compose himself. He broke down each time Reeva Steenkamp's name was mentioned.

In the statement, Pistorius said he awoke in the early hours of the morning February 14 to noises in the bathroom and said a "sense of terror overwhelmed me." He said he thought Steenkamp was in bed beside him and that he was too scared to turn on the lights. He said he shouted to her to call police, but she didn't answer.
For a moment, let us presume that Pistorius' account is accurate. That means he's arguing he had no responsibility to turn on the lights, and no urge to make sure someone he knew to be in the house with him was not the person at whom he was shooting before pulling the trigger. That is an extraordinarily low bar for establishing a right of self-defense, or even an accidental shooting. And this comes back, once again, to the difference between feeling scared and actually being under a real threat.

Over and over, we are subjected to men defending having murdered someone by saying they felt threatened, as though merely feeling afraid is the same thing as being in actual danger. Those are not the same things. And the conflation of the two is the inevitable result of privilege, which does not teach most men, especially most white, cis, straight men, how to sit with fear.

To have so little experience with actually being in danger that one cannot discern the difference between feeling afraid and being in clear and present danger is a luxury that most marginalized people do not have.

Pistorius, of course, does not have undiluted privilege. He is a person with a disability, and he stated in court that "he was not wearing his prosthetic legs and felt 'extremely vulnerable' and needed to protect himself and Steenkamp." But feeling vulnerable, with which I can totally empathize, is still not the same thing as actually being in danger.

(It is also Pistoius' rather curious claim that he was not wearing his prosthetic legs while he shot and killed Steenkamp, but, after shooting her, "he then carried Steenkamp downstairs. She died in his arms, he said in the statement read by his lawyer." Which seems to suggest that he put on his prosthetic legs to move her after he'd shot her. Prosecutors believe he was wearing his prosthetics when the shots were fired.)

Anyway. Even if Pistorius' story is accurate (and I'm not arguing that it is or isn't), it is yet another invitation for us to start talking to privileged people about how to sit with fear, and how to distinguish it from real danger.

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