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Say her name: The death of Oluwatoyin Salau, why we must protect Black Women

Say her name: The death of Oluwatoyin Salau, why we must protect Black Women

Say her name: The death of Oluwatoyin Salau, why we must protect Black Women
June 24
12:30 2021

Oluwatoyin Salau once stood in front of a police department before a group of protestors as she recited the names of all the Black lives that had been unjustly taken.

I don’t want their names to go in vain,” she said in a Tallahassee protest last June. “Those lives might be lost, but we cannot be scared.” 

A short, yet powerful statement ultimately gave great insight into her character: fearless and determined. The public watched in awe as the young activist did all she could to bring attention to the Black Lives Matter movement and the United States’ corrupt system — they had no idea her name would soon be on the list of Black lives unjustly taken too soon. 

Salau was only 19 years old when her body was found along a Tallahassee road. The discovery came nine days after her disappearance and after she tweeted about a sexual assault she experienced walking down the street.

The man responsible for the murder, Aaron Glee Jr., was brought into custody and charged on June 16, 2020. It goes without saying how devastating Salau’s death was not only to the movement but to the community as a whole. Her speeches were ardent and invoked intense emotion that did nothing but uplift the crowd she spoke to. 

Even so, she was subjected to violence and abuse. Though incredibly tragic, Salau’s death and what she endured was not and is not an isolated incident, especially for two of the most vulnerable demographics in this country: Black cis-gendered and trans women. Her murder highlighted the notion that despite being the backbones of communities and large movements, Black women still face a high risk of facing a violent end. 

More than 4 in 10 Black women face some form of physical violence, experience psychological abuse at higher rates and have a high risk of being killed by the hands of a man, according to a study by the Institute for Women’s Policy Research. Because of the intersections between racism, transphobia and misogyny, these rates only increase for black trans women. In fact, the average lifespan of a black trans woman is only 35 years old

 Salau’s meeting such a tragic death despite all she did for her community is an example of how Black women are treated on a regular basis. When the words “Black Lives Matter” are spoken, it means all Black lives matter. It means we acknowledge intersectionality and the risk Black cis-gendered women, Black queer women and Black trans women face every day for simply existing. It means we must protect our most vulnerable and we do not silence their voices or make a mockery of them. 

It is scary that it took the death of a young woman to solidify just how disrespected and disregarded we are. It is also incredibly sad that had it not been for the power of social media, Salua’s hard work and death would have gone unnoticed by the world. 

It has been over a year since her murder and Oluwatoyin Salau’s name continues to live on. It is impossible to forget her words and her actions when they invoked such great progress.

Featured Illustration by Miranda Thomas

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Briahna Henry

Briahna Henry

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