“Take the L and move on.”
“Fellas, stop being so sensitive.”
“Male insecurity on high alert!”
Those were some of the comments I saw on the web regarding the shocking and heartbreaking story of Janese Talton-Jackson I read late last night:
Pittsburgh Police homicide detectives are looking into the deadly shooting of a woman in Homewood.
Police were called to North Lang Avenue, near Upland Street, around 2 a.m. on Friday.
When crews arrived, they found 29-year-old Janese Jackson Talton lying in the street. She was pronounced dead at the scene.
Police have identified the suspect as 41-year-old Charles McKinney of Penn Hills. He is now facing homicide charges.
Police say Talton was approached by the suspect before closing time at Cliff’s Bar, but she ignored his advances. Police say after closing, he followed her outside and shot her in the chest.
As they were headed to Homewood, a police pursuit with McKinney began.
Officers said the car chase went through several neighborhoods. Pittsburgh Police said they shot the suspect during the pursuit and that he continued to drive until he crashed in the 1800-block of McNary Boulevard in Wilkinsburg.
The suspect was taken to the hospital and is in stable condition. McKinney will also face charges of aggravated assault, fleeing or attempting to elude police, reckless driving, reckless endangerment, possession with intent to deliver and firearms charges.
Incidentally, I was also able to locate her Facebook page which gave me a small glimpse into her life. She was a mother of three beautiful kids. She was a Steelers’ fan. One of her favorite singers was NeYo. She had over 1,100 Facebook friends. In an odd and comforting sense, I actually enjoyed getting to know a little bit about her. Puts a face behind the name, ya know? In fact, in any other time and place in human history, we could have easily been friends.
But then, it happened. Even though I was in the hallowed and testosterone-filled space I call my “man cave”, I cried. No, I wasn’t sobbing uncontrollably. I wasn’t hysterical. But I did shed a couple of tears. Mostly, I cried for her and her babies. But I was also a bit frightened. I started imagining the unthinkable: What if my wife was in that situation? One of my sisters? A grown-up version of my daughter or nieces? One of my cousins? One of my friends? With all those thoughts racing in my head, I had a hard time getting back to sleep.
But to round out my experience, I was also hit with another troubling reality: the only time I felt comfortable enough to cry about this was when I was in “my” section of the house and during an hour when I knew every one else was asleep. That’s a problem which, sadly, represents a part of the reason why I think Janese is no longer with us.
You see, men are generally not given the license to express their hurt, shame, or embarrassment, especially if it’s from something not deemed qualifying…like rejection. We’re told to get over it, man up, and move on. But we – both men and women alike – don’t often respond to romantic rejections very easily. We start by internalizing the rejection, finding fault in ourselves, bemoaning all our inadequacies, etc. But if those rejections are compounded by embarrassment (say, getting rejected and getting put on full blast), it can be concluded that a person’s already-damaged self esteem then gets beaten to a pulp. Rejection can be a painful, powerful, and mind-numbing experience. Studies even suggest that the brain’s response to emotional pain can even be on par with physical pain.
Society doesn’t make it any easier. We live in a world where, frankly, the Alpha male is glorified. We live in a space where men are expected to casually brush off their feelings of hurt. When a woman feels the sting of rejection, she can go to her mama, her girlfriends, her gay BFF, or her book club mates for a release. Men are expected to bottle it up or do “manly stuff” to get over it. Gender inequality doesn’t just swing in an unfavorable direction for women in terms of pay, violence, and social mobility. Men are usually victimized by an environment that doesn’t provide adequate and judgement-free mechanisms for coping with pain and embarrassment.
A few years ago, my ex-girlfriend cheated on me. It wasn’t the first time I was cheated on by a person, but it was the first time being cheated on while in a serious relationship. Those closest to me know I was damaged goods for a while. In response, I used both my blog and Facebook pages as a clearinghouse of sorts. I tapped into my humor, my anger, my misery, and eventually my acceptance of the situation. Though some folks were annoyed by all the postings (with some even telling me to “get over it”), it worked for me. That was my outlet. While I did eventually reconcile with my ex and went on to married the first love of my life as icing on the cake, I won’t lie: my journey wasn’t easy. But I was blessed. Not many men are able to face their difficulties with the same level of success.
That said, as I read the story, I imagined the following scenario:
As McKinney approached Talton-Jackson, he tried to spit game which she politely declined. He was probably resilient, forcing her to be emphatic with her rejection the second and possibly third time around…maybe even to the point where she embarrassed him. Clearly having mental issues – maybe from being rejected by other women in the past – and suffering from a bruised ego (hypermasculity at its worst), he shot and killed her.
I wasn’t there, so I can’t speak to how accurate my assumptions are. But we’re still left with enough details to conclude that this man didn’t have a clue on how to positively channel his rejection.
Earlier, I mentioned how I didn’t feel comfortable crying openly. I should preface this further, though; especially to show juxtapostion to this McKinney guy. I’m actually very blessed to have a wife who actually encourages me to be emotionally expressive. To her, it’s a sign of strength when I’m able to show vulnerability. It proves that I’m human as opposed to a heartless robot. I love her for that. Admittedly, it still doesn’t always make it easy for me to be openly expressive. But it’s comforting to know that when I’m at a low point, she allows me to show it without having my manhood questioned. Honestly, I think more men need that kind of support. No, we don’t need to become this guy. But being allowed to get in touch with our emotions from time to time without social reprisal isn’t always a bad thing. Maybe if McKinney was surrounded by people to remind him of that, he wouldn’t have been so damaged that his only coping mechanism was to kill an innocent woman. At this point, one can only speculate whether or not he already had that kind of support system in place. But I’m guessing not.
By no means am I stripping him of any responsibility. Hurt feelings aside, he was still in control of his own actions (since it was at a bar, he might have been drunk. But still, no excuse). Secondly, there was no “romance” involved here. At worst, he was probably looking for sex. At best, he wanted to date her. And while we’re diagnosing his behavior, it’s important to point out that absolutely none of this falls on the shoulders of Janese. She should be able to say “no” any time she wants to and however she wants to say it; polite or otherwise. But you have to acknowledge that something made this man flip. And if you do that, you must also consider how gender roles impact the way men respond to being let down and rejected. Anything short of that dismisses the male reality in our society and could lead to bigger and even deadlier outcomes down the road (as it has before and before that).
RIP, Janese. McKinney may have pulled the trigger. But the greater society is just as complicit. In one way or another, we all failed you.