A few days ago, the most talked-about trial in the history of Charlottesville, Virginia — ten miles from my home — finished with a guilty verdict of second degree murder of the young woman pictured above, Yeardley Love. The jury found that the defendant, her ex-boyfriend, had caused her death by brutally attacking her after he smashed through her locked bedroom door. Although both were college lacrosse players at the University of Virginia (UVA), and therefore in good shape, the murderer was much taller than Yeardley, and significantly outweighed her.
Had they been boxers, he would never have been allowed in the ring against her. Yeardley and her murderer would have belonged to two entirely different weight classes, and officials would have not permitted a bout between them.
Unfortunately, that night, there was no official present to protest that what the murderer was doing was wrong and unfair. No one beside Yeardley objected, because she was alone against a man strengthened by jealous rage and alcohol. He had already choked her once in the past – that time, he had been pulled off her by another male lacrosse player. Yeardley would have known what was likely to happen once her neck was in his grip. Except that she probably thought she would survive.
After the jury’s verdict, prosecutor Dave Chapman, standing under an umbrella in pouring rain, said, “There are no winners in this case. There’s nothing but loss everywhere.” The permanent loss of a young woman beloved by her family, friends, and teammates. The loss of liberty outside prison in the murderer’s 26-year sentence.
The UVA president has called, sensibly enough, for students – indeed, everyone associated with Thomas Jefferson’s university – to stop ignoring signs of pain, indicators of addiction, and marks of abuse. She has asked that those who are abused speak up. And that those witnessing abuse or addiction also make their voices heard.
“Am I my brother’s keeper?” You can almost hear the traditional complaints.
Damn straight, you are.
Think how many people knew of Yeardley Love’s murderer’s propensity for drunken violence. How many knew of his attacks on her, were aware that he was a binge drinker who mentally lost track of his actions. Even his teammates had talked about staging an intervention.
That’s a lot of people who could have spoken up but didn’t. Quite a few who put up smokescreens – privacy concerns, the good of the men’s lacrosse team, loyalty to a buddy – to hide their inaction.
If those people had spoken up, if there had been some tough love for this binge-drinking alcoholic – starting with his coach, since he highly valued his membership on the lacrosse team – perhaps a murder could have been avoided. A young woman would still be breathing, about to graduate from college. A young man would not be facing decades behind bars.
Where we see pain, we must act. The lives we may save are as valuable as our own.