The Martyrdom of Katie Janness

The brutal murder of a woman in Piedmont Park last week raises questions about our safety, and our perspective.

I hate writing this story.

I left journalism once in loathing of stories like this.

The ugly, horrifying murder of Katherine Janness forcefully rubs every horrid nodule in the lizard hind brains of clout-chasing trolls and the malformed gonads of television news directors alike, because they’re both built to smell fear and now we stink of it.

Katherine Janness’ death is going to sell newspapers, goddamn them all.

The shriveled hole where my soul once lived is calling on me to make you uncomfortable.

As of the week ending July 24, 83 people have been murdered in the city of Atlanta this year. That’s eight more people than in the same 30-week period of 2020. It’s 27 more people than the same period in pre-pandemic 2019, before the ”COVID crime wave” as Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms termed it in a press conference this morning.

We wade through a pool slowly filling with dead bodies. We usually ignore the ripples.

But as nearly as I can tell, Katherine Janness is the first white homicide victim in Atlanta this year.

She is one of a handful of women; even accounting for the spa shootings, about 90 percent of Atlanta’s homicide victims are male. She’s resolutely middle-class in a sea of relatively poor, almost-uniformly black victims.

And we all know her name now, because white women in peril draws our attention.

“We are seeing acts of violence that we haven’t seen in decades in this country. Primarily these interactions are between people who know one another,” Bottoms said. “I don’t put this in the category of COVID crimes. This does not fit the description of anything we’ve seen.”

I thought it interesting that Bottoms opened her press conference this morning discussing the murder of Jakari Dillard, a 17-year-old high school senior killed at a public swimming pool on July 24, and not Janness. Both victims were killed in public parks. I found it a subtle acknowledgement of how attention on Janness’ death crowds out interest on the death of a Black kid.

Because those are routine and expected. Right? White women are supposed to be safe in Midtown, after all. Right? They killed the dog! Right?!

News reporters asked no questions about Dillard’s death.

They asked 13 questions related to Janness’ death, many implying a broad threat to public safety because of her murder — questions about cameras, questions about the Dogwood Festival, questions about suspects — even though the city felt it necessary to close city pools and install metal detectors after Dillard’s murder.

I hate writing this story.

I hate that Jakari Dillard exists as a ghost in another person’s story.

I do not hate Katherine Janness. No one should. No one should have.

Her murder as an anti-LGBTQ hate crime remains an open question. The rumors of mutilation and words scrawled on her body do not — it’s all bullshit being circulated by soulless self-interested jackasses who understand exactly how sensational misinformation circulates through social media today.

That’s not to say that we should accept official accounts as the sole gospel, but instead to hold anything else to an equal standard for truth. Shit your cousin heard at the mall doesn’t qualify.

The Atlanta Police Department should not be expected to treat this case any differently than any of the other 82 homicides that have yet to be solved, except as the evidence dictates.

I have nothing but the deepest sympathy for Janness, and for her friends and family, who should not be dragged through hell again by prurient tabloid lobstermen trawling for clicks, simply because Janness happens to match the demography crime junkies care about. They deserve none of this. I do not wish to diminish their profound loss.

But I have to ask where this attention has been, all this time, for all our other honored dead.