Today, three months to the day that news first broke about Tory Lanez’s arrest for carrying a firearm in a vehicle, Tory will be arraigned for not just having the gun but also using it on fellow rapper Megan Thee Stallion. Tory stands accused of two felonies — assault with a semiautomatic firearm and carrying a loaded, unregistered firearm in a vehicle — and will appear in court to enter a plea after originally only being charged with the latter. Apparently, an investigation into the widely publicized incident returned enough evidence to charge him with assault.
When the news that Tory had been charged broke on this past Friday, many of Megan Thee Stallion’s supporters took it as a confirmation that Megan’s accusation — that Tory had shot her in both feet, forcing her to have surgery to remove the bullets — was true and celebrated what looked to be a rare instance of the legal system forcing accountability for a man’s violent actions against a Black woman. The moment was incredibly poignant for many due to its timing, just weeks after Kentucky Attorney General Daniel Cameron announced that there would be no murder charges filed against the three police officers involved in the death of local EMT Breonna Taylor.
However, justice, in this case, has yet to be done — in fact, we’re not even sure what justice for Megan Thee Stallion should look like. As 2020 threw the debate over criminal justice reform into stark relief, Megan and Tory’s violent clash highlights the complexities of the discussion while standing at the intersection of multiple movements including the impulses to “protect Black women,” to “defund the police,” to pursue “restorative justice,” and to “cancel” celebrities accused of wrongdoing. What happens next and how will it affect the discourse? No one can know for certain, but here’s some food for thought.
While reactions to Meg and Tory’s saga on social media are decidedly mixed, one thing is for certain: We need to get better at talking about why we need to hold entertainers accountable for their rotten behavior and how that would even work in the modern world. Perhaps inspired by movements to #MuteRKelly, September and early October saw drastic declines in Tory Lanez’s streaming numbers, as well as Tory’s lowest first-week debut ever for Daystar, his album inspired by the incident. Tory certainly saw consequences for his actions, but it doesn’t seem that those have prompted any feelings of remorse from him; instead, he reportedly embarked on a smear campaign designed to undermine Megan’s story.
And while denying him sales and thus royalties from those sales might deplete whatever war chest he’d have to combat the charges against him — and all indications certainly point to a lengthy courtroom battle — do we really want to see another Black man sent to the very prisons we’ve spent the better part of the last five years protesting against? While it’s true that many progressive journalists, including ones at this very publication, have argued that supporting violent artists only gives them more finances to fight legal charges stemming from their actions, trying to cut their support seems to have only made their more hardcore fans more vocal and entrenched, digging in against the perceived encroachment of “cancel culture.”
That persecution complex only seemed to give Tory more ammo to incite his base (a little like a certain public figure with a cult of personality who tries to spin all his missteps into victories for the benefit of his increasingly delusional supporters) — 17 songs worth, in fact. It’s a tiny base, all things considered, but it’s enough to still provide him another top 10 Billboard debut, albeit one in a slow week that saw few other noteworthy releases. Despite authorities finding enough evidence to charge him with the exact crime that Meg accused him of, Tory seems unfazed, arguing on social media that the “truth” will come out — which isn’t to say that the facts will.
If history can be any indication, there’s plenty to draw on to show that even when held accountable for their actions by legal means, abusive stars will always find their supporters and apologists. When Tory was compared to Chris Brown, Brown’s fans rose up to defend him on Twitter, even when the parallel is pretty reasonable to draw. NBA Youngboy, who dragged his girlfriend down the hall on tape just recently celebrated his own No. 1 debut with Top despite a haphazard rollout that saw him get dragged for its uncreative cover art. And XXXTentacion, perhaps the most notorious of them all, basically got a traveling festival in his honor, courtesy of a cadre of Rolling Loud regulars who ensure his music gets turned up but the allegations against him get downplayed whenever possible.
“Canceling” may work in the short term, but as in the case of Chris Brown, it takes less than two years to get back to business as usual, even with a conviction. The ongoing plights of incarcerated entertainers like Bobby Shmurda and the efforts of Meek Mill to reform the prison industry render a 22-year sentence for Tory untenable. Tory apparently can’t be counted on to see the error of his ways unassisted, as he vacillates from deflection to gaslighting, playing the victim all along in his efforts to come out as the “good guy” in all this. “Protecting Black women,” as Megan implored from the SNL stage last week, presents a complex, tangled problem with few solutions as easy as repeating a catchy slogan.
Unfortunately, justice may not look like what many of us want it to look like. It may be needed counseling for offenders like Tory Lanez, rather than prison sentences or (more likely) probation. It may mean curbing our curiosity when abusive entertainers release new material, knowing that we can only ever hope to turn down the volume rather than muting them entirely. It might just mean fending off the tribalistic impulse to paint either side in broad brush strokes because of a few opportunistic trolls — and letting the trolls talk amongst themselves without response, even when it feels like they need correcting.
Because if anything, 2020 has taught us that some folks just won’t learn the lesson, even when it’s staring them in the face. It’s taught us that more often than not, Malcolm X was right — at least when it comes to the so-called “justice system.” Punishment can only work retroactively — after the harm has been committed. Truly protecting Black women — or anyone, really — will mean a commitment to holding ourselves accountable as men, along with our brothers, cousins, fathers, friends, neighbors, nephews, sons, and favorite entertainers. It means reminding each other that we have to do better at mentoring a generation that respects the personhood of every person, regardless of gender, orientation, race, and all the other dumb ways we find to hate each other. It means making hard choices instead of the easy ones. Protection is prevention, getting better now, so there won’t be a “next time.”
Megan Thee Stallion is a Warner Music artist. Uproxx is an independent subsidiary of Warner Music Group.