On Saturday, Crystal Hamilton called the police during a domestic dispute in her Woodbridge, Va., home. According to officials, her husband Ronald opened fire on the first three Prince William County officers to respond and surrendered when more police arrived at the couple’s home. Hamilton, 29, was then found dead and her 11-year-old son, who may have witnessed the shootings, was found unharmed. Two of the officers are expected to make a full recovery, but Officer Ashley Guindon later died from her injuries.
The story has made national headlines, and it should: it was Guindon’s first day on the job and she lost her life in an incredibly tragic way. The 28-year-old had also served in the Marine Corps Reserve. However, much of the coverage seems to make Hamilton’s death but an inconsequential detail in the story of an officer killed in the line of duty. Reports in places like USAToday, CNN and several others provide examples.
While this is still a very recent event and more probing must be done into the couple’s history, it’s important to consider the problem with reporting on a double homicide if only one victim’s death would be treated with great importance. So it’s hard not to wonder if Hamilton would been more central to even the early reports on this tragedy if she were White.
It is never appropriate to reduce the death of a woman killed at the hands of her husband to a footnote, and this is especially dangerous to do when the victim is Black.
Statistics find Black women more likely than White women to be the victim of partner violence and to be killed by an abusive partner. The need to highlight deaths like that of Hamilton is an urgent one. We need people to look for signs of trouble in the homes of their friends, families and community members and to have the tools to provide assistance. We need people who are being abused to know that their lives matter.
It’s also particularly important that we pay attention to how violence against police officers is treated by the media in the era of Black Lives Matter and widespread calls to end police violence against civilians of color. It isn’t surprising that the story of an female officer and veteran killed on her very first day would make headlines—the circumstances surrounding this young woman’s death are both unique and heartbreaking.
However, there has been an uptick in national coverage of officers killed in the line of duty that seems to be linked to a misguided perception of an uptick in anti-police violence, which seems to imply that both officers and communities that feel targeted by them are equally right to be fearful of each other, or, worse, that the actions of police officers accused of abuse are justified.
The mythological “war on cops” narrative is a dangerous one, and is well positioned to disrupt calls to punish those who have killed unarmed Blacks. Erasing Hamilton from a story that began with her calling the police for help pushes that narrative, branding her husband as a “cop killer” first and the killer of his own wife, second.
This tragedy should not be reduced to simply saying: “Wow, a young officer’s department tweeted about her first day at work and then she died.” Two lives have ended senselessly. A child may have witnessed both the death of his mother and the woman who responded to her cries for help. There are many questions that need answers.
Was domestic violence a common occurrence in the home? Had Hamilton asked for help before? Had her husband been accused of abusing women in the past?
There is enough grief to go around and there is also a need for us to keep a sharp, critical eye when it comes to how stories like this are covered. The public outpouring of grief for Guindon should be matched with the same for Hamilton. It’s also worth noting that the Prince Williams County Police Department’s Twitter account has posted a number of condolences and reflections on the death of the fallen officer, but has not mentioned Hamilton and how these two women are forever linked in death.
We do not honor Guindon’s ultimate sacrifice by failing to connect her with the woman she died trying to save. This is an opportunity for both media and police to highlight how domestic violence devastates families and communities, not to continue swiping at those who want to remain safe from those officers who are as dangerous to civilians as Ronald Hamilton allegedly was to these two women. #AllLivesMatter, feel free to step in at any moment.