Why It Matters That Both Civilian Victims of the Planned Parenthood Shooting were People of Colour

One of the three victims killed in the shooting Friday at a Planned Parenthood clinic in Colorado is from the islands, her family has confirmed. Family members identified the woman as Jennifer Markovsky, a 1997 Waianae High School graduate. (Photo credit: handout, via Denver Post)
Jennifer Markovsky, one of the three victims killed in the shooting Friday at a Planned Parenthood clinic in Colorado. (Photo credit: handout, via Denver Post)

On Friday, 57-year-old Robert Lewis Dear entered a Colorado Springs Planned Parenthood and opened fire with a long gun. For hours, Dear exchanged gunfire with police officials, killing two civilians and one police officer. Dear was taken into custody after the day-long standoff, and is scheduled to appear in court tomorrow. Dear’s motive remains unclear, but news media are reporting an unnamed police official source who claims that Dear made remarks about “baby parts” upon his arrest suggesting that the crime might have something to do with the unfounded accusation by anti-abortionists earlier this year that Planned Parenthood sold fetal tissue for profit (they don’t).

News coverage over the weekend has focused on the identity of the police officer — Officer Garrett Swasey — who was killed by Dear during the shoot-out. As of today, however, the identities of the two civilians killed by Dear has also now been released, and it should not go unnoticed that both victims were people of colour.

Ke'Arre Stewart in a photo published on Twitter by KOAA News 5.
Ke’Arre Stewart in a photo published on Twitter by KOAA News 5.

35-year-old Jennifer Markovsky grew up in Hawaii, where she met her husband Paul Markovsky who was stationed there. After they married, the couple had two children and were living in Colorado where Paul had been reassigned several years ago. She was at the Planned Parenthood clinic accompanying a friend when she was killed by Dear on Friday. Her father John Ah-King told the Denver Post:

“She was the most lovable person,” Ah-King said from his home in Hawaii. “So kind-hearted, just always there when I needed her.”

29-year-old Ke’Arre Stewart was an Iraq War veteran and father of two when he was also killed by Dear on Friday. KKTV reports:

Stewart’s wife said he leaves behind his children whose lives will now never be the same.

She said all the family wants right now is justice for Stewart.

Mass shootings are heartbreaking, but perhaps most upsetting about Friday’s shooting is how it focuses attention specifically on those who are most affected by anti-abortionists’ enduring war on reproductive rights. Since Roe v. Wade first established our constitutional right to reproductive choice, anti-abortionists have deployed whatever tools they can muster to try and turn back reproductive rights. They have waged a war on multiple fronts — legislative, grassroots, cultural — to attempt to restrict the abortion access of women and to stigmatize the women who exercise their right to reproductive health and choice. Just this year, the Supreme Court has agreed to hear yet another case that could close many of the nation’s abortion providers.

What often goes missing in the fight to preserve reproductive rights for American women is that this is not just about reproductive justice; it — like so many issues — intersects with race. The Right’s war to shutter the doors of Planned Parenthood is a war on poor women of colour.

The simple facts are these: the vast majority of Planned Parenthood’s patients are low-income. Although national racial demographic data are largely unavailable for Planned Parenthood, in New York City, 70% of those who received services from a Planned Parenthood clinic was a person of colour.

Planned Parenthood provides a host of reproductive health services that serve as direct interventions for a number of public health issues that disproportionately impact communities of colour. For the Asian American and Native Hawaiian community alone, breast cancer, cervical cancer and sexually transmitted infection rates are disparately high, and Planned Parenthood clinics offers affordable early screening and treatment for each.

When a domestic terrorist takes the partisan agenda of anti-abortionists to disturbing and violent extremes, we must be saddened and outraged that it was people of colour who lost their lives; but, it might be disingenuous to express surprise. When the Right declares war on clinics like Planned Parenthood, they seek to end health services that specifically serve our communities. When they pass laws that close community health clinics and eliminate access to the life-saving healthcare that we need, it is us — lower-income men and women of colour, not wealthy White men and women — who are disproportionately forced to endure the consequences.

So let us take note today: two civilians victims were killed on Friday for doing nothing more than going to their local community health clinic seeking healthcare for themselves or their loved ones. They were married. They were devoted parents. They were veterans or married to military personnel. And, yes, they were both people of colour. And, they deserved better than this.

I #StandWithPP today and every day because we must no longer tolerate this nation’s unending war on the lives of people of colour. I #StandWithPP because the unrelenting efforts to close the health clinics that serve our communities are just one of many ways this country repeats its favourite mantra that we do not deserve our basic right to life and health. I #StandWithPP because I believe we all deserve better than this.

Update (11/30/2015): This post was written before details about Ke’Arre Stewart were widely available. We now know that Stewart was also accompanying a friend to the clinic, and that he stepped out to make a phone call when he was wounded by Dear. However, it was when he returned to the clinic to try and help others that he was killed. I’m also reading conflicting reports on Stewart’s marital status — the article originally used as a source for this post quoted someone identified as his wife, whereas this more recent NBC News article mentions a fiancee. I will update this article with a correction when Stewart’s marital status can be confirmed.

Also, this post has been syndicated at BlogHer, and I urge you to click through and share that link as well as this one.

Robert Lewis Dear, in his booking photo. (Photo Credit: Associated Press)

Update (12/9/2015): At a court appearance today to face 179 charges including first degree murder, Robert Lewis Dear erupted into a spontaneous outburst, shouting “I am a warrior for babies”. He also cried out, “I am guilty, there will be no trial”, and reportedly later said, “You’ll never know the amount of blood I saw in that place.”

The statement reaffirms popular suspicions that Dear was motivated to commit the shooting last month by his viewpoints on reproductive choice, and might have been specifically referencing efforts by anti-abortion activists to falsely accuse Planned Parenthood of profiting off the sale of fetal tissue. Since the shooting, conservative anti-choice movement members have attempted to distance themselves from Dear and to downplay or deny a connection between their ideology and Dear’s actions. It will be interesting to see if, and how, they react to this latest development.

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