Columns 2014

Murder in Barrow

The murder in Barrow last week is one of those horrible, horrible moments in time. Most of us can’t imagine walking into someone’s house and blasting a shotgun at another person’s face. So while psychologists may be able to help us understand the mind of someone who does, comprehension will never translate into any empathy. That action will always remain over a line the majority of us will never cross.

Because this happened in Barrow, it feels very personal to me. I still think of Barrow as home. I’ve known the alleged murderer since he was a very young man. I know the rumors and quiet whispers that can often follow someone with a criminal record like his in a small town, the things said in private but never discussed in public.

On the day that Bun Bun Fischer was first arraigned, his family sat in the courtroom in mute support. They’d been advised they could not speak to him in the courtroom. And they didn’t because they respected the courtroom and what it stood for. When the hearing was over and the press asked for comments, Bun Bun’s sister stated that while he had his problems, he was a loving father and a good family man. Earlier in the news article in which her statement appeared, there was a list of Bun Bun’s recent run-ins with the police. Those run-ins included an incident in which he held his 6 year old daughter up as a human shield when faced with being tasered by police.  There are some who might argue that that action is the antithesis of a good family man. And they would be right. Most fathers reading this right now would instinctively push their daughters behind them to protect them.

So what’s reality here? Is this just a loving and distraught sister protesting that her brother is more than a murderer, more than the picture the charges against him paint? I have a brother so I know my instinct would be to always stand up for him. But is there more to it than that? Is this an example of the mentality that exists in communities in which domestic violence is so commonplace that calling someone who abused his family a “good family man and loving father” is viewed as true and appropriate? Is this the new norm? All you have to do is hunt and feed your family. Is that our new minimum standard that forgives all violent acts?

Last week I wrote about my belief that if the good men in our villages do not take a visible and vocal stand against abusers, then the abuse will never stop. Bun Bun’s court records show over twenty years of involvement with the criminal justice system, with most of those encounters involving harassment, domestic violence or other violent charges. Yet Bun Bun was a member of a whaling crew. I’m willing to bed that not one of the men on that crew ever suggested that a man who beat his significant other or was generally so violent should have such a place of honor. Yes, he needed to whale to feed his family. But what a powerful message could have been sent by those whalers if they’d told him he couldn’t have the honor of being a whaler unless he started acting like a true Inupiaq, respecting his cultural values. And then those whalers could have brought his family an extra share of their take to make sure the family did not suffer because of his actions.

Instead, he hunted and whaled during the day and committed repeated acts of violence at night. And again the question must be raised. Why would the good men of any community allow someone with his history to be part of their crews, their hunting parties, their world? Had he been shunned years ago when he first started accumulating a two page criminal court record, had his actions caused him to be ostracized from his peers, maybe he would have had a greater incentive to clean up his act and become a real man.  Instead, everyone looked the other way. Now one man is dead and the other will likely spend the rest of his days just remembering what it felt to be out on the ice in spring, because he will probably never actually be on it again.