"3 Shot Dead in Courthouse": Examining News Coverage of Domestic Violence and Mail-Order Brides

Article excerpt

This study examined news coverage of the Blackwell murders in Seattle. This case concerned the domestic violence murder of a "mail-order bride." Mainstream coverage positioned Tim Blackwell as deviant and sick and Susana Blackwell as deserving of the crime, because of stereotypical assumptions about women as well as foreigners. This coverage was compared to two minority presses in Seattle to determine how they succeeded in breaking out of dominant ideological frames.

   "These bullets bury deeper than logic.

   Outside my door
   there is a real enemy
   who hates me."
   (Cervantes, 1990, p. 5)

On the morning of Thursday March 2, 1995, the final arguments in Susana and Timothy Blackwell's divorce proceedings were scheduled to begin. Susana was seated on a bench in the hallway of the King County Courthouse in Seattle, Washington along with two of her friends, Phoebe Dizon and Veronica Laureta Johnson. Tim Blackwell was standing opposite them in the nearly deserted hallway. Suddenly, Tim took a 9mm Taurus semi-automatic handgun from his briefcase. He shot Phoebe Dizon in the head; then, without hesitation, he shot Veronica Laureta Johnson three times. Finally, he shot his wife Susana, seven months pregnant at the time, in the head, chest and abdomen. Susana died at the scene, as did Phoebe Dizon. Veronica Laureta Johnson was rushed to the hospital, but died early the next morning. When police apprehended Tim and arrested him in the hallway, he did not attempt to give any resistance to the officers and showed no emotion while being led away.

Tim Blackwell had originally met Susana Remerata after subscribing to the catalog "Asian Encounters" and seeing her picture in its pages. At the time, she was a 22 year old Filipina woman looking for pen pals. Blackwell and Remerata corresponded for more than a year, then met in the Philippines and got married. Shortly after the marriage, Susana said the violence started, including Tim trying to choke her on more than one occasion. When she finally made it to the United States, they didn't stay together long before Susana left Tim, fearing for her safety. After this, he demanded $10,000- $17,000 from her or he would have the marriage annulled.(1) She wanted a divorce, in order to remain legally in the country.(2) They were in the final day of legal proceedings when Tim shot and killed Susana, her unborn baby, and her two friends.

Intersections of race and gender

The shooting of these three women led to an explosion of media coverage. While mainly a domestic violence murder, news stories surrounding the killings led in many different directions, some of which were sexist and/or racist. These problematic directions demonstrate the continuing need for analyzing discourse surrounding domestic violence and women of color. As Kimberle Crenshaw (1991) argues, the violence that many women experience is shaped by other aspects of their identities, including race and class. Yet, very little feminist research on domestic violence and news coverage of domestic violence addresses how different aspects of women's identities converge to produce these varying experiences. This study proposes to examine these interactions. Just as coverage of domestic violence should be examined for sexist assumptions (such as the woman "asking for" it or men going "out of control" or "crazy with love"), it should also be studied for its racist assumptions. This is especially relevant because Susana Blackwell was a legal immigrant, and racism and fear of foreigners were actively intertwined in coverage of her death and the events that led to it.

To deny the existence of this racism is not only to deny the realities of oppression that people of color face, but also to erase the history of past oppressions. This racism is also a way of creating an "other" who as Rey Chow (1993) explains, serves as a category for those not like us, those who can then be exploited without guilt or fear. …