Houston bore witness to a horrific mass murder over the weekend: Valerie Jackson, her six children, and her husband, Dwayne Jackson, were shot to death in their home. Police have arrested David Conley, who is Valerie Jackson’s ex-boyfriend and presumed to be the father of her eldest son and one of the victims, Nathaniel Conley, 13. After negotiating with a hostage team for hours, David Conley finally surrendered and has been charged with murder. Conley had been previously charged with domestic violence for attacking Jackson in the home she shared with her husband.
“We do not and cannot understand the motivations of an individual who would take the lives of so many people, including children,” Chief Deputy Tim W. Cannon said in a news conference about the murders on Sunday. The urge to write off this level of horror as incomprehensible—as a form of unfathomable evil—is understandable.
But the blunt fact is that we can understand the motivations of someone who would do this. Domestic homicide is committed almost entirely by men who feel off-the-charts levels of male entitlement—men who feel so entitled to control a woman just because they’ve dated or married her that they resort to violence to reassert control.
Indeed, the 2015 Pulitzer for Public Service went to the Charleston Post and Courier for its chilling but thorough examination of South Carolina’s domestic homicide problem. For anyone under the illusion that domestic homicide is mysterious—for anyone who cares about preventing violence at all, really—the seven-part series, titled “Till Death Do Us Part,” is a must-read.
One of their interviewees was Therese D’Encarnacao, who survived her husband shooting her in the head after she told him she was leaving. “If I can’t have you, nobody can,” he told her right before he pulled the trigger.
“Some of this is rooted in this notion of women as property,” state Rep. Gilda Cobb-Hunter told the Post and Courier. That notion persists in prominent ways. Just look at the recent dust-up between singer Ciara and her rapper ex-boyfriend Future. As Lonnae O’Neal of the Washington Post pointed out last week, when Ciara posted Instagram pictures of their son cuddling her new boyfriend, Future melted down, and sadly, a lot of people on social media—along with New York radio host Ebro Darden—defended Future’s tantrum. It’s another way of corroborating the idea that a man gains ownership over a woman simply by having a relationship with her.
And if a man feels entitled to control a woman, it’s not a huge leap for him to resort to violence to get his way. Domestic violence, even when it ends in tragedy as horrifying as the Texas murders, is probably the least mysterious form of violence there is.