Sex. Celebrity. Politics. With Teeth
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Sex. Celebrity. Politics. With Teeth

The Vilification of Megan Thee Stallion Feels Familiar

Like all women who allege violence or abuse by high-profile men, the rapper is being put on trial in the court of public opinion.

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There’s a reason Megan Jovan Ruth Pete goes by as Megan Thee Stallion: in short, lecherous men. The kind who comment on a teen girl’s body and liken her to a quadruped; the type whose cat-calls and hyper-sexualized nicknames she internalizes forever. The world knows “Megan Thee Stallion” as a moniker that beget a boom the likes of which the music industry never anticipated; but for those paying attention, it’s much more than that.

It shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone that even one of the most important rappers (not just female rappers) in the world right now has long taken the patriarchy’s shit. And despite breaking records and winning countless awards and titles—from the first Black woman to cover Forbes’ 30 Under 30 to one of Time’s Most Influential People—she only continues to suffer by it.

Since Megan first alleged via Instagram live on August 20, 2020, that rapper Tory Lanez (Daystar Peterson) shot her in the feet, she’s been put on trial via the court of public opinion—instantaneously pilloried by Peterson’s fans, social media users, and blogs like NoJumper and Hollywood Unlocked. As NBC reported, the blogs are perhaps the most responsible for peddling mis- and disinformation, including rumors meant to sow doubt in Megan’s account. The result? Viral content that continues to generate snide and often nonsensical skepticism of sound reporting from verified journalists inside the Los Angeles courtroom, where Peterson’s felony assault trial has played out for the last two weeks.

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While on the stand during the first day of the proceedings, Megan maintained the same story she has since her 2020 Instagram live: She, her former friend and assistant Kelsey Harris, Peterson, and his driver left a gathering at Kylie Jenner’s mansion, and an argument broke out in the vehicle. As the altercation escalated, Megan asked to be let out of the car and began walking on a residential road near her home. Peterson, she alleged, then aimed a semiautomatic 9mm pistol at her and opened fire from the vehicle. Ultimately, after police were called, she underwent surgery to remove bullet fragments from her feet and was hospitalized overnight. Lanez, she’s repeatedly said, apologized and offered her a million dollars not to speak of the shooting.

“This is a case about a guy who shot a girl, then apologized for it in a tape-recorded call from jail hours later,” Deputy District Attorney Alexander Bott said in his closing argument. “If you believe Megan, that’s enough.”

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But as we learned most recently from the stomach-churning Johnny Depp and Amber Heard defamation trial, believing women, as it’s been repeatedly evidenced by scores of other highly-publicized cases is an increasingly tall order. Hundreds of essays have already drawn enough conclusions about the #MeToo movement and its efficacy. However you define its successes or shortcomings in society, you know the perils of speaking out are evolving—I’d argue, worsening—right along with any collective understanding or empathy for violence perpetrated against women. The internet, as I’ve repeatedly noted in the cases of Heard or any one of Harvey Weinstein’s, Danny Masterson’s, or Bill Cosby’s accusers, is too often as pernicious a venue for survivors as a court of law.

Even bleaker, still, is the fact that this woman—not at all unlike Heard—has been forced to repeatedly recount a traumatic event, post graphic photographs of her wounds, endure grueling cross examination and online vitriol, and pay witness as prosecutors and basic strangers work to substantiate her claims.

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Though Harris waffled on the stand, an 80-minute audio recording of a September interview with prosecution corroborated Megan’s story. “I get out of my side and no sooner do you know, you start hearing gunshots going off. I looked up maybe about the second or third gunshot. You see Tory, he’s now in the front seat. I guess he must have jumped over in a smooth transition, and he’s leaning over the door,” she testified. “He’s shooting over the top of the door,” Harris explained. “(He’s) leaning over the front passenger door, and he was shooting the gun.”

Harris, who later texted Megan’s bodyguard, “Help,’’ “Tory shot meg,’’ and “911,’’ continued: “(Megan) was walking away when this happened, but by the third or fourth shot, she was facing towards us, and I would describe it as like a deer in headlights (look),” she explained to prosecutors. A witness—unconnected to the group—recalled seeing four or five flashes come from an “agitated” Peterson, telling the court: “He was firing everywhere.”

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Dr. Lee Haruno, chief resident in Cedars-Sinai Medical Center’s orthopedic surgery department, testified last week that despite rumors that Megan “stepped on glass,” bullet fragments were removed from both feet and some still remain. Though DNA results of the handgun were inconclusive, the firearm was found “warm” and in “slide-lock position,” indicating it had recently been used and that all of the rounds were fired, according to police.

During her own testimony, Megan told the court Lanez made several attempts to apologize for the altercation—even trying to bribe her and Harris not to speak of the shooting.

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“I can’t go to jail, I’m already on probation,” Megan recalled Lanez pleading that night. She added that he told her and Harris, “I’ll give you a million dollars. Don’t tell on me.” Harris, too, hinted at Lanez offering them money.

Megan’s bodyguard, Justin Edison—who was supposed to testify in the trial last week—mysteriously went “missing,” according to prosecutors. However, Edison reportedly told the prosecution that Lanez also apologized to him for shooting his client in the immediate aftermath of the shooting. Edison, according to Rolling Stone, told authorities that Peterson recalled drunkenly firing multiple shots at the ground before Megan “collapsed.”

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Sure, it’s not an ace-in-the-hole case. While prosecutors presented 47 items of evidence—including Lanez’ apologies to Megan and Harris—there’s no conclusive DNA on the firearm, damning footage implicating Peterson, or airtight witness testimony. Then again, even if all of those things were present, I’m not confident it would matter at this point. Multiple people have affirmed Peterson was the shooter. It’s still not enough.

Personally, I don’t care if Megan wasn’t forthcoming about maintaining an intimate relationship with Peterson. I do, however, care that Peterson has spent years harassing her, so much so that he was arrested for violating both a discovery protective order and personal contact order just months before this trial and in the midst of grieving the deaths of her mother, grandmother, and father. I care that he’s gleefully supplied unsubtianiated fodder for blogs and incites fans on Twitter. I care that he allows for equally powerful men to make a mockery of a woman he purportedly cared about. I care that his defense has masterfully spun a yarn laden with misogynoir, not only putting the onus of the shooting on two women but pitting them against each other in the process. I care that from the very second Megan was shot, she identified who did it, and nearly three years later, swaths of people don’t believe her and, in fact, have actively villianized her. It cannot be stressed enough that when circumstances are this dismal for Megan Thee Stallion, they’re 10 times more ruinous for someone lacking her wealth or status.

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Since becoming a household name, Megan has been lauded by the public for owning things—from her body to her sexuality to her anxiety. Scores of magazine covers, too, will tell you that Megan “won’t quit” or “will not back down.” Though I’m certain of the latter, it’s maddening to watch her have to own all of this, too.