Vulnerability in America

Six months ago, my yoga teacher decapitated his girlfriend. The police found her torso in the refrigerator of the RV he drove from New Orleans to Black Rock Desert every September for Burning Man. In this mid-size, decidedly regional Southern city — a site of national myth if not national importance — wars take place on Instagram rather than Twitter. There, the usual parties joked that “he tried Burning Man before Freezing Woman.” Injunctions not to read the comments are made for crimes like this, because they are where temptation lives. (I followed temptation.) Progressive commentators found it appalling that the murderer parked his crime scene in a gentrifying neighborhood, with no care for the residents’ fight against displacement. Rightists publicly brayed that he ought to be raped and murdered in prison. Novices on gender violence wondered aloud if they should have known — read the signs, assumed that belligerence was escalating towards murder. Self-appointed experts assured them that they should have. Somewhere in between, we agonized about whether to say they/them or he/his for an accused murderer whose pronouns shifted more than once in the previous year. I confess I chose “his” in the first sentence because once you heard about a dead woman you began looking, like any assiduous detective, for a man with blood on his hands. Both parties, I should note, are white. Despite the details — neck tattoos, semi-naked festivals, meth addiction, and fibrillating pronouns, all placed in a haunted gothic city — the story never attracted national attention. One might count as an exception Reddit, where Burners questioned one another about who had partied with the victim, the murderer, or both on the Festival’s Playa. It is hard to predict what crimes become “red balls”: police slang for cases with sufficient attention and resources

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