Trigger Warning: Sexual assault, kidnapping, & murder
Black women are strong and Black women are relentless, but sometimes at the end of another day of working to protect and provide, Black women just need a hot shower and a safe place to lay their heads at night.
This was the case for 19-year-old Oluwatoyin “Toyin” Salau who was a prominent activist and vocal in the fight against police brutality.
Whatever I do, I cannot stop thinking about her. I saw myself within her. I saw my friends within her. I will never forget Oluwatoyin Salau.
She had fled from her abusive household and committed herself to the frontlines of Black Lives Matter (BLM) demonstrations. Salau had no place to call home and desperately needed help, but in the end a man from the same community in which she spent days protesting for raped and killed her.
“Right now, our lives matter, Black lives matter,” Salau was heard saying in a viral video at a protest before her death. “We are doing this for our brothers and our sisters who got shot but we are doing this for every Black person.”
In it, Salau detailed how after a day of protesting she was in need of a ride to a nearby church in which she had recently found refuge in and that held her belongings. When a Black man “disguised as a man of God” offered to help her, Salau wrote that she “trusted the holy spirit to keep [her] safe.” On this night, Salau was sexually assaulted by this man, despite her explaining her history with abuse to him.
Anyways I was molested in Tallahassee, Florida by a black man this morning at 5:30 on Richview and Park Ave. The man offered to give me a ride to find someplace to sleep and recollect my belongings from a church I refuged to a couple days back to escape unjust living conditions.
— Oluwatoyin (@virgingrltoyin) June 6, 2020
Salau was last heard from on June 6. Her friends and other activists spread her information on Twitter in hopes to locate the 19-year-old for days.
On June 15, Salau was found murdered in 45-year-old Aaron Glee Jr’s home. Alongside her killed was also a 75-year-old AARP volunteer named Victoria Sims. Glee has since been charged and has confessed to both murders and kidnapping.
Black women need protection too. Black women should not always have to be strong.
Salau deserved safety. She was a 19-year-old girl who was failed after dedicating herself to her people.
Her circumstance is not unique, though. Black women have been failed by a country that has waged war on us time and time again. Our fight will be continuous so long as there is oppression, disrespect, and neglect that is pressed upon our very lives, sometimes by those in our own community.
According to the American Psychological Association, one in five Black women are rape survivors and for each Black woman who reports a sexual assault, there are at least 15 others who will not report it. One in four Black girls will be sexually abused before they even turn 18. More than 20 percent of Black women are raped during their lifetimes which is significantly higher than other women. Black women are also two and a half times more likely to be murdered by men than their white counterparts.
And, from these tragic realities, the only takeaway is that Black women are resilient – which we are – but instead, I think, the systems in place that make these numbers possible should be of core focus. We must spit on and destroy this institutionalized oppression forced upon us with the same swiftness that this society has when it degrades, fetishizes, and abuses Black women.
We must spit on and destroy this institutionalized oppression forced upon us with the same swiftness that this society has when it degrades, fetishizes, and abuses Black women.
Somehow through it all, this strength and pain that we’ve experienced and have had passed down onto us is weaponized into coded language that tells us to watch our tone. Somehow we’re just angry Black women. Somehow our femininity is ridiculed and slandered.
How can we scream from the rooftops that Black Lives Matter when in the same breath we allow Black women like Salau to blatantly cry out for help and go on to simply bat an eye?
How can we tackle white supremacy when colorism and patriarchy still fuel the murders and molestation within our own community?
How can we make a change when there are men who literally wear BLM T-shirts dumping Black women into dumpsters, laughing, and recording it for their followers to see in the midst of a civil rights revolution? Or when there are rappers consistently demeaning us and calling us “bitches” or saying to watch our tones when we express ourselves? How can we move forward?
This bigoted country and the Black community failed Oluwatoyin Salau during the height of the Black Lives Matter movement. There is blood on our hands. Recognize it. Process it. Say her name and don’t stop.