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Los Angeles Times
Los Angeles Times
Kenan Draughorne and Suzy Exposito

A jury believed Megan Thee Stallion. It's shameful so many social media influencers didn't

LOS ANGELES — Megan Thee Stallion said Tory Lanez shot her in both feet on a July 2020 evening in the Hollywood Hills.

More than two years after the shooting, an L.A. jury said they believed her.

Last week, Lanez, the Canadian rapper born Daystar Peterson, was convicted of all three charges connected to the shooting of hip-hop superstar Megan Thee Stallion: assault with a semi-automatic firearm, carrying an unregistered firearm and discharging a firearm with gross negligence.

Lanez faces more than 20 years in prison and possible deportation.

The verdict arrives after a trial rife with false starts, conflicting testimonies and bizarre plot twists. Megan Thee Stallion's former friend and assistant, Kelsey Nicole, told detectives that Lanez, 30, was the shooter in a lengthy interview in September. She also texted Megan's bodyguard the night of the incident, saying "Help, Tory shot Meg."

But on the stand, she contradicted her previous statements, saying she didn't even know if Megan Thee Stallion, born Megan Pete, had been shot that night, despite sitting next to her in an SUV. She admitted that Lanez had offered her $1 million in the wake of the shooting yet denied it was a bribe and claimed she did not accept it.

Beyond the courtroom, the trial brought out the cancerous misogynoir within hip-hop and its online community. Blogs, personalities and Twitter pages routinely slanted the conversation in favor of Lanez, culminating in several outlets claiming that he was found not guilty while the jury was still deliberating.

Throughout the ordeal, Megan Thee Stallion, 27, has not only persevered but taken her career to new heights. She won three Grammys in 2021 on the strength of her song "Savage," featuring an appearance by Beyoncé on the remix, delivered the sexually liberating No. 1 anthem "WAP" with Cardi B, hosted "Saturday Night Live" and landed lucrative partnerships with Nike, CashApp, Netflix and more.

But the shooting and resulting media circus took a toll. While appearing in court on the second day of the trial, Megan's voice cracked on the stand as she spoke of the turmoil she'd suffered since telling the world who shot her in 2020.

"I wish he would've just shot and killed me if I knew I was going to have to go through this torture," she testified.

The Los Angeles Times' music reporters Kenan Draughorne and Suzy Exposito discuss the trial and fallout.

Draughorne: Guilty! After two and a half years of mess.

Exposito:I think it was basically over for the defense when they called their key witness, Sean Kelly, on Dec. 20. Kelly, a neighbor who saw part of the altercation from his window, said he noticed two women fighting in the street, along with "flashes" that he initially believed were fireworks. He claimed he first saw the muzzle flashes coming from "the girl" but also saw a "short guy" get out of the car to join the fray, eventually taking the gun and firing "four or five" shots. He also brought up events that had not been mentioned in anyone else's testimony: three people beating up a fourth woman, a girl shooting into the car and his own fear that they were going to throw one girl into a river.

It was a ghastly look for the defense — which then turned around and tried to label Kelly a "hostile" witness.

Draughorne: Calling your own witness "hostile" is wild beyond words. Let's not forget how badly the defense fumbled Kelsey's stammering appearance in court, where she denied everything she'd told prosecutors in September, claiming instead that she "couldn't remember" even after being granted use immunity. Had Lanez's lawyer, George Mgdesyan, not been so rapt to prove that prosecutors pressured her into her earlier statements, Judge Herriford wouldn't have allowed the jury to hear Kelsey's entire 80-minute testimony in court.

Also, Mgdesyan might be the only person more obsessed with the two rappers' status than Lanez. Megan couldn't be the victim because she's won Grammys?

Exposito: Mgdesyan approached this trial like a late-night talk show host. He kept trying to yuk it up with the jury — I believe he even cracked a "my wife" joke — which would fly in a scripted series but not in a court of law.

Worse, he relied on misogyny throughout the trial. The defense's whole strategy had been to shift the focus from Lanez' behavior to his alleged dalliances with both Megan and Kelsey, her former assistant.

To quote a headline written by Buzzfeed writer Shamira Ibrahim: "Tory Lanez is on trial, not Megan Thee Stallion." When Mgdesyan tried to diminish the shooting as a quarrel between paramours or said things like, "This case is about sexual relationships," he was not just insulting the jury's intelligence — he was trying to move the burden of proof away from Lanez and onto Megan, both in court and for those following online. Misogyny is a cheap trick. And misogynoir, the acute misogyny aimed at Black women, is all too abundant.

Draughorne: It's a very cheap trick, and it's embarrassing how many "outlets" and commenters fell into it. From the beginning, bloggers and personalities have cherry-picked statements and misrepresented facts: Podcaster and YouTube host DJ Akademiks said in February that Lanez's DNA "was not found" on the gun, when the actual results were inconclusive; rapper-turned-podcaster Joe Budden made light of Megan's mental health struggles despite the fact that she was the victim of a shooting (he later apologized); and media personality Jason Lee of Hollywood Unlocked said Megan had been acting "aggressive" toward Lanez when the incident took place.

On the stand, Megan talked about the burden she's had to carry since publicly naming her shooter. The whole trial, people flooded her comments section to mock her, asking "why you lied" and claiming her career would be over once "the truth came out." The misogynoir (and ego) is so strong that those same parties have already turned to the "Roc Nation paid the jury" line instead of accepting the evidence. Milagro Gramz, a Houston-based hip-hop news personality who showed no remorse for pushing the "Megan might have stepped on glass" theory long after a surgeon had found bullet fragments in her foot, just called the verdict "one of the greatest miscarriages of justice."

Exposito: The online chatter surrounding this trial evoked memories of the social-media clout-chasing surrounding the trial of Johnny Depp and his ex-wife, Amber Heard. In the wake of the #MeToo movement, both trials became vehicles for anti-woman opportunists to boost their audience (and revenue).

Many journalists, namely NBC News reporters Kat Tenbarge and Char Adams, have addressed the roles of bloggers and other online voices in the Lanez trial in proliferating disinformation and bad-faith readings on domestic violence or assault survivors. Going back to my point about misogyny, it's become a quick and lucrative scheme for content farming: Earlier this year, Vice reported that the Daily Wire, a conservative website, spent tens of thousands of dollars to circulate dubious claims about Amber Heard and generated 4 million impressions. Disinfo pays.

Draughorne: I'm glad to hear Megan and her team are exploring legal action against the disinfo spreaders. On Thursday, "NOT GUILTY" was trending for a brief minute because of a false report that said Lanez had been acquitted, despite the fact that the jury was still very much in deliberations. It seemed to stem from a blank verdict form that went around the courthouse, of which the first option read "not guilty" as a choice for the jury. And people online were celebrating like they'd beat the case themselves!

Kat Tenbarge had a very poignant tweet about how these media personalities don't face the same accountability you and I would when they send inaccurate information. I'd probably be fired if I falsely tweeted that Lanez was not guilty, especially if The Times ran with the story and blasted the wrong verdict far and wide. Rap sites like No Jumper and Say Cheese get to delete the tweet and move on to the next hip-hop drama. I doubt their core audience even cares about the mistake.

Also, I remember the long delay before Megan publicly accused Lanez of shooting her. The incident took place on July 12, 2020, but she didn't ID him as the shooter until Aug. 20 of that year — and she spoke out only because Lanez's team had been pushing false narratives through blogs and Instagram pages. Her first instinct after being shot was to protect her shooter, telling police she'd stepped on glass when they first arrived on scene.

While he should have been preparing for the trial of his life, Lanez was accused of assaulting singer August Alsina because he didn't shake his hand. In court, he was caught smirking and shaking his head when Deputy District Attorney Kathy Ta correctly said that Megan was more famous and successful than him.

The whole debacle started because of his drunken temper and worsened because of his fragile ego. I'm just glad it's finally over.


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