“Who Shot Meg” is trending on social media more than two years after gunshots allegedly rang out in the Hollywood Hills during the early morning hours of July 12, 2020. The incident has sparked speculation and deep division across social media. Tory Lanez, whose legal name is Daystar Peterson, is charged with shooting Megan Pete, professionally known as Megan Thee Stallion, in her feet after an argument that capped a night of drinking and partying in Kylie Jenner’s pool. He has pleaded not guilty to felony assault charges; if convicted, he could face up to 22 years in prison.
Above the social media chatter, a devastating truth rings true: the trial has proved just how heavy the burden of proof falls on Black women.
Pete has been accused of nothing, but somehow every personal choice she has made is on trial in the court of public opinion.
Ironically, the incident occurred as both Pete and Lanez were making names for themselves in the midst of a global pandemic. The release of “Savage” — followed by a remix of the hit with Beyoncé — catapulted Pete to the top of the charts with the help of her viral TikTok dance. Lanez’s mixtapes and musical collaborations were also making a buzz, along with his wildly popular and raunchy Instagram Live show, “Quarantine Radio.” As both Pete and Lanez’s stars were on the rise, they’d become fast friends, reportedly bonding over the shared tragedy of losing their mothers. However, an argument that occurred that hot summer night allegedly culminated in Pete being shot and police arriving at the scene.
Since the incident, the two artists couldn’t be further apart — they are separated in court as victim and accused, and their camps of fans have splintered as well. Supporters for Pete vow to #StandWithMeg, while Lanez backers claim he is not only being falsely accused but framed.
With the trial underway, what has struck me most about this case is the onslaught of scrutiny and harassment Pete has endured. In the case, misinformation abounds, along with the ugly and predictable responses to a Black woman seeking justice in the wake of a violent act. The fan fodder around the alleged shooting of Pete by Lanez is a vivid example of why so many women are hesitant to report acts of violence and pursue pressing charges.
Pete has been accused of nothing, but somehow every personal choice she has made is on trial in the court of public opinion. She’s had her sexual history picked apart, her credibility debated ad nauseam, and her character called into question — all while having her humanity and trauma denied. How easy it has been for people to question her injury while ignoring the physical and emotional damage she has experienced. Despite medical evidence, many believe she was never shot at all, let alone by Lanez. Because of her celebrity status, the world has witnessed the type of vitriol many victims of violence face after reporting a criminal assault — particularly Black women, and especially when the accused is wealthy and well-liked.
Pete’s treatment mirrors what many everyday women go through when they report an act of violence, and moreover why that backlash often causes them to avoid reporting in the first place. As the burden of proof falls on their shoulders, it has the potential to damage them even more in their pursuit of justice.
And what we’ve learned so far in the trial is that this type of vitriol has real and destructive consequences. On Dec. 13, Pete testified that the experience led her to have suicidal thoughts. “I don’t feel like I want to be on this earth,” she said. “I wish he would have just shot and killed me if I knew I would have to go through this torture.”
Imagine walking around with bullet fragments in your feet for more than two years — and millions of people online don’t even believe you were shot! Imagine waiting for two years to have a chance at justice. Imagine being asked to perfectly recount the details of your attack while you were scared, intoxicated, embarrassed, injured, and surely in shock. Imagine the court fees, the work missed, the damaged relationships with former friends. Now imagine this for women who lack financial, community, legal, and mental health resources; imagine this for women who aren’t one of the most famous music artists in the world.
Of course, victim blaming and shaming is not solely reserved for Black women. Women across demographics must be prepared to defend their allegations with details about the crime itself, but also to offer reasons for why they drank so much, or dressed so sexy, or spoke so loudly, or slept with someone, or why they lied that one time. The justice system and the media throw so many intrusions their way that distract from the fact that they were hurt by the hands of another person, often someone they once trusted and cared for.
There’s a similarity in the way the justice system and media treat Black male victims of violence, more than ever when that violence is perpetrated by police. I believe that harsh reality is at the core of some of Lanez’s supporters’ outrage, but it does not justify the mean and illogical attempts to diminish Pete’s pain and deny her justice.
“Believe Black Women” is more than a hashtag. “Protect Black Women” is a battle cry. These statements must remind us how the lives and spirits of women are damaged when we don’t. The burden of proof is too heavy on shoulders that already carry the weight of the world — yet still make magic happen.
Image Source: Jason Armond / Los Angeles Times via Getty Images