Megan Thee Stallion Is the Victim, Not the Defendant

The acclaimed rapper’s sexual history is wrongly under scrutiny.

Megan Thee Stallion
Mauro Pimentel / AFP / Getty

Daystar Peterson, the performer known as Tory Lanez, is on trial in Los Angeles after he allegedly shot fellow rapper Megan Thee Stallion in both of her feet two years ago. But in the court of public opinion, she is the person who’s really being judged.

The critically acclaimed, top-selling artist, whose real name is Megan Pete, was injured in a July 2020 incident that began as she, Peterson, and others were driving away from a party. Ever since Pete identified Peterson as her attacker, the lack of empathy, concern, and protection for Pete—one of the biggest entertainers in the world and most successful female artists in hip-hop history—has been downright jarring.

On Instagram on Saturday, the rapper 50 Cent posted a meme likening Pete to Jussie Smollett, the disgraced actor who earlier this year was convicted of five counts of lying to police about what Smollett said was a racist and homophobic attack. This isn’t the first time that 50 Cent has harshly mocked Pete. Shortly after the initial incident with Peterson, he posted a meme that featured an image of her running away from a car driven by Peterson. That same month, 50 Cent apologized. But his more recent post suggests that he still thinks jokes about her shooting are funny. This, from a man who was once shot multiple times.

Peterson, who faces more than 20 years in prison if convicted on three felony charges, has pleaded not guilty. His trial has featured a lot of salacious drama. Pete’s bodyguard, Justin Edison, was expected to testify but disappeared before he was scheduled to take the stand. Pete’s former friend Kelsey Harris, who was present at the time of the shooting, gave testimony that backtracked from previous statements in which she’d told prosecutors that Peterson shot Pete. Harris now claims that she doesn’t know who shot Pete, even though the prosecution revealed a text message in which Harris, on the night of the altercation, wrote, “Help. Tory shot Meg. 911.”

Testimony during the trial indicated that Pete and Harris both had been intimate with Peterson. His attorneys have characterized the incident as an out-of-control fight between jealous women, and have resorted to an old, misogynistic tactic: tarring a woman’s character by weaponizing her sexual history. Peterson’s attorney claimed that Pete had been involved with some of the same men whom Harris dated.

The implication was that Pete was both promiscuous and a bad friend—notions likely to erode sympathy for a woman who, in her raps, glories in her sexual freedom. As a statuesque Black woman—the term stallion is slang for a tall, curvy Black woman—Pete refuses to shrink herself for the comfort of others. Her unapologetic confidence and her successful career seem to bother some people. One influential hip-hop podcaster, for instance, dismissed her last year as having been “propelled, overhyped, and also put on a pedestal” because of popular slogans such as “Protect Black women” and “Black-girl magic.”

The attacks on Pete’s character, both in the courtroom and beyond, are an unfortunate and terrible reminder of the price that many Black women pay when they dare to speak out about the harm done to them. The emotional cost is even higher when they accuse Black men of abusing them, because they are frequently put in the awful position of having to choose between racial solidarity and defending themselves. Most Black women are all too aware of the added dangers that Black men face in the criminal-justice system. But, as the popular social-media influencer Lynae Vanee noted in her recent commentary on Pete’s situation, “I cannot protect Black men at all costs when all costs includes me.”

Early reports about the July 2020 incident were murky. On the night of the incident, Pete told police that her injuries occurred because she’d stepped on broken glass. She subsequently said she had lied at first because she didn’t trust the police. “My initial silence about what happened was out of fear for myself and my friends,” she explained that October in a New York Times guest essay.

Her lack of trust in police is entirely plausible. As Pete has noted, her altercation with Peterson occurred not long after a Minneapolis police officer had murdered George Floyd in broad daylight, underscoring the deep unease that so many Black people feel when being questioned by officers. Pete came forward and said that Peterson was her assailant after concluding that he and his supporters were spreading false information about the incident.

The change in her story created doubt in some people’s minds. The frequent questions about her credibility have taken a significant toll on the 27-year-old’s mental health. During her testimony, Pete said: “I can’t even be happy. I can’t hold conversations with people for a long time. I don’t feel like I want to be on this Earth. I wish he would have just shot and killed me, if I knew I would have to go through this torture.”

She had previously publicly denied having a sexual relationship with Peterson. On the stand last week, she testified that she was too embarrassed to disclose her history with a man who, she said, went on to harm her. “How could I share my body,” she asked, “with someone who would shoot me?”

Pete’s account of her ordeal has been heartbreaking. At a time when the hip-hop community has been overwhelmed with the recent murders of some of its biggest stars—Takeoff, PnB Rock, and Young Dolph—you might expect to see much more sensitivity toward a woman who was the victim of gun violence. Instead, Pete has been subjected to malicious gossip and painted as a liar. Her surgeon testified that she had indeed been shot, and insinuations that Pete had lied about her condition were always insidious social-media fodder. Among the people joining in on the cruelty are some of her male counterparts.

The hip-hop star Drake declared in the song “Circo Loco,” which he recorded with 21 Savage and released last month, that “this bitch lie ’bout gettin’ shots, but she still a stallion.” The lyric prompted Pete to unleash a series of tweets defending herself. “Stop using my shooting for clout,” she demanded, adding that some men in rap “dog pile on a black woman when she say one of y’all homeboys abused her.”

The rapper and podcaster Joe Budden said of her in a recent podcast episode: “I’ve seen this woman do horrible things to some really great people that I have [a] long-standing relationship with here in this industry.” But Budden also admitted he’d never met Pete.

The Grammy Award–winning performer has accomplished so much already, and it’s sickening that advocating for justice has, in some circles, become a detriment. Pete was the first rapper ever to be featured on the cover of the Sports Illustrated swimsuit issue. She has hosted Saturday Night Live, appeared in a Super Bowl commercial, and—after achieving celebrity and commercial success—made a point of finishing her college degree. She has always been a woman to be praised, not mocked.

When she decided to come forward with details about her abuse, Pete understood how events would likely play out. In the Times two years ago, she wrote: “Even as a victim, I have been met with skepticism and judgment. The way people have publicly questioned and debated whether I played a role in my own violent assault proves that my fears about discussing what happened were, unfortunately, warranted.”

Black-girl magic sadly doesn’t extend to being believed or treated humanely. That’s why Black women have to fight vehemently—and often alone—for their own dignity.