(Pictured above on the right: Haruka Weiser. Age 18. Left: Weiser at Age 15 performing in the Portland Ballet.)
I give all of my condolences and respect to the Weiser family and to those who were close to Haruka.
Two weeks ago a woman was brutally murdered on the campus that I attended college at, at the place that I used to write at well into the night.
She had just finished leaving a dance class/rehearsal sometime close to 9:30 pm when a man she had never met followed her on her walk back to her dorm and ended her life. She was found two days later in a creek that runs through The University of Texas at Austin after her roommate had reported her missing.
Waller Creek, the scene of this unfathomable crime, was a place I used to walk by periodically on my way to study groups and Longhorn football games.
I know it’s wrong, to relate every single action of hers that night, and where she was found, to myself. I did not personally know this woman or experience violence as she did. But I am a woman who walked her same path when I too was a student. I am a woman whose greatest fear is what she lived through.
Since the murder of Haruka Weiser, 18, Wieser’s name has entered many a conversation in the Austin area. Law enforcement, friends, family, members from the community have reacted in disbelief that this could happen in a close knit environment like UT. The University of Texas might have a population of fifty thousand students but the campus feels very much like a home on the cozy forty acres, and as such people had a lot to say about the devastating situation.
“Weiser was a beautiful and compassionate person. A beautiful woman like that did not deserve to get murdered.” I heard this statement a lot from many different people closely and distantly related to Weiser. I heard this alongside words such as: tragic, disturbing, and heartbreaking.
All saying this mean well. There is no denying that Haruka Weiser was an attractive talented woman. She had gifts not seen in many people her age, and a spirit that shines through her pictures with her love for dance and life. The world was robbed of a very special person for absolutely no reason.
But the world was also robbed of a person, first and foremost. And whether she was perceived as physically beautiful should not matter in the slightest as to how we react to her worth as a person.
Weiser’s life should not be confined to her skills as a ballerina or as her status as a former Texas student.
To remember her and pay her tribute in this way is understandable, especially to those of us who were not fortunate enough to know all the facets of this individual. Her life, unfortunately by default, becomes a number of small points we have to refer to – fast descriptors placed above the fold.
But in describing her as such and not taking the time to discover more about her, rather speaking more of her talent than her beauty, we commit our first mistake. We as a society focus on the physicality of this victim as we often do with good-looking women who are victims of violent murders in the United States.
When we say comments like “Weiser did not deserve to be murdered” we state by default that other people’s lives are worth less – including people who are unattractive, untalented, or not fortunate enough to have a caring family like Weiser. We maintain the narrative of the Missing White Woman Syndrome – a phrase coined by social scientists given to the extensive media coverage of missing attractive females as compared to men and people of color.
Although Weiser, a Japanese-American native from Portland, Oregon has received media attention because of the nature and location of the crime, she can still act as a catalyst of questions we should be asking in the weeks to follow that play into this theory.
For those unware, the suspect in custody for Weiser’s murder is a homeless seventeen-year-old black male named Meechaiel Criner, who was arrested by the Austin Police Department after he was recognized on security footage taken from the night of the murder near Darrell K Royal Memorial Stadium. Caught with Weiser’s laptop and personal belongings his bond is set at 1 million dollars.
Following the arrest of the suspect, comment boards and Reddit forums filled up with divisive comments such as “how about black lives matter now?” But taxing as it is, talking about the alleged killer as being homeless, at the very least, is what might help us prevent future horrendous attacks. This is not to imply that I believe Criner committed this act because of his questionable upbringing and turning to the streets as much as I condone the violent act itself, but to turn the crime into discussion is better than what we inevitably will do with it.
In much the same way that the argument of gun control is ignited by shootings so should the topic of race represented in the media and violence against woman by the murder of Haruka Weiser. This should not be confused as capitalizing on a family’s pain for an agenda but rather implementing what the Weiser family themselves have asked for.
Following the painful task of identifying their daughter, Haruka Weiser’s parents (family) released a press statement with the following: “Although Haruka loved to perform on stage she never sought the spotlight in her daily life. Perhaps the last thing she would want is to be the poster child for any cause. And yet, as we struggle to understand why she was killed, if her death can somehow make it safer for a young woman to walk home, if it will prevent another assault or murder, then at least we could find some meaning behind an otherwise senseless and tragic death.”
With this incredibly passionate and sensitive speech comes a declaration of productivity and not complacency, the key component in how we can make sense of this atrocious act.
It is a fine line to tell people how to mourn. But if the Weiser family can garner the strength so then should the community, creating a call to action that includes not just asking questions simply for the sake of reaffirming the dialogue that surrounds our nation but asking them in hopes that it is the step for a movement.
The first being the issue of race. Weiser, without her consent, has actually become the poster child for brutal crimes committed against white women, at least temporarily. But what if we pose the question of whether or not Weiser would receive as much attention if she was black or if she herself was homeless? Do we denounce homeless people in this country as not being worthy of our nightly news when they are indeed killed at staggering rates? Do we struggle to have the same empathy for an unattractive person or a person of color as we would for a beautiful woman society as least perceives to be white?
In that same regard we are already classifying people in their murder based on their talents rather than the fact that they are simply humans. But we shouldn’t be surprised at this. We do this also in terms of what sex is targeted in an attack such as Weiser’s.
The missing white women syndrome could be a misrepresentation of those unaware of the fear that woman feel every time they walk alone at night. Because the facts point to that assaulted women are not overrepresented in the media, they are underrepresented. They are simply not discussed enough because their case is not as public as Weiser’s. Although it may be against social conventions to discuss the confirmed sexual assault of the victim it poses a significance that Weiser was targeted for many reasons – but the most important being that she was seen as a defenseless woman at night, particularly on the night of Sunday, April 4th.
To those, and there are many, saying that all people should be more vigilant, I raise the question of whether Criner would have attacked a man of similar stature to Weiser? The answer of course is no. Weiser was attacked and assaulted because of the perceived power that Criner felt he had when he saw her alone and distracted by her phone. Surveillance cameras show him waiting for hours for what he felt was the “perfect” victim. The perfect victim was a woman first and foremost. And Weiser’s family make a reference to this in their statement about women, not men’s safety, in particular.
But what if Weiser survived? In a more just-filled world this would happen, but the significance of the crime would have been diminished to nothing more than a campus email about an assault that happened near San Jacinto Street. As devastating as Weiser’s death is, it shines a light to where many sensitive issues can be discussed. Beauty as inherently a more devastating loss, race, a lack of disregard towards homeless sexual assault victims, and also how we deal with assault that does not end in the taking of a life. Weiser’s death can then act as a representation of the struggles that women face daily, and the dismissal of inflicted violence on them if it does not indeed reach the peril of “nightly news.”
It’s not enough to state that this is a random act that can happen anywhere and anytime, two contrasting lives that intersected as a result of nothing more than chance. Criner (allegedly) killed Wesier because of her accessibility in being a woman. Not because she was drinking too much, because she wore provocative clothing, or even because she was beautiful. And that is not chance, it is choice.
Is that why this case lingers in the air? Is that why it terrifies us? Because no matter what, we as women can’t be “blamed” at all as rape culture states they should? Even if you do not believe it there are people who highlight the idea that she should not have been glancing down at her phone, who scoff at the idea that she walked through a wooded area with less lighting when there was an alternate but longer path back to her dorm with brighter lighting. These people who say this are terrible humans, there is hardly a better insult that would not end up with me writing explicates, but they still pose the idea of change – an idea of productivity as stated rather than complacency.
Because mourning, being sad, not wanting to talk about it is complacency for the idea that women need to protect themselves more, or worse accept that in all protection these things simply just…happen.
My first thought after hearing the initial news about the missing girl who would later be identified as Weiser was “This is disgusting. This is terrible. This breaks my heart. I need to take even more precautions about going out late because you never who might be around. I need to stop looking at my phone. Guess I am not writing at UT anymore.” My feelings were genuine and my intentions were in the right place to think of Haruka’s autonomy being violated even if I focused on myself as well, but in relation to me vigilance is never enough, and unfortunately sadness in reflecting on this is fleeting. And comments that I made and others made are often lazy. We can honor a life, and fight back without violence to the suspect and to people who commit these crimes by speaking passionately about the victim. But we have to learn to fight back in our own way. In a productive way.
And we need to do this by maintaining our anger, because it is the anger towards the injustice in this case that will demand action. An eighteen-year-old woman with a talented spirit that could help the world was brutally murdered on a college campus walking back to her dorm. A .3 mile walk at 9:30 pm. She was overpowered by a knife, sexually assaulted, and then thrown into a creek like she was a piece of trash. As a result her parents will never spend another day with her. Her brother and sister will never have another conversation with her. Why is that not making us livid?
Disregard the need to say that she was someone’s sister, daughter, or girlfriend when the context makes you feel more for her because she might be your daughter, sister, or girlfriend. Consider her a person of the world instead, and realize that being sad is never good enough.
I’ve come across a few options in the recent days of how to better preserve Haruka Weiser’s memory. The first is a suggestion to create a program called Weiser Walk, in which alumni donate to make a free program for students who need an escort to walk with at any time of the day. This is empowering rather than giving into fear, as we make it a part of a campus lifestyle not just temporary emphasized because of what happened. This is something I would donate to in a heartbeat.
We create programs that educate people on the assaults that happen that do not get as much coverage given that victims are willing to speak about them. And then we have programs geared particularly towards men that focus on stopping rape culture in small ways (jokes at a women’s expense and acknowledging their privilege) to big ways (stopping an assault even if he believes he might see a sexual activity of two other drunk people as not his problem.)
These may or not have helped Haruka Weiser that night but they establish a world that Haruka Weiser should have lived in and that the rest of women should live in.
We can retain lessons beyond lessons from the murder of Haruka Weiser. And we can turn once again to her parents, who created a scholarship in her name for dancers who want to be further trained in her hometown of Portland. They are exemplifying what we should do. They were more effected than we could ever think to be; they are doing something about it though.
They are not simply releasing a press statement flourished in the word “beautiful” or speaking of the prayers they seek.
See, I’ll say it even if you mean the best.
Your sadness is wasted if it never morphs into anything else.
Rest in peace Haruka Weiser. Dance in heaven.