By: Zakiyyah Ibrahim
“Why Toyin body don't embody all the life she wanted?
A baby, just nineteen”
The above lyrics from Song 33 by artist Noname, captures the feelings of hurt, anger and confusion I have felt since I read that her body was found, on June 15th 2020. Oluwatoyin “Toyin” Salau was one of thousands of black women in America who suffered a horrible death that could have been prevented if black women’s lives were valued.
Sadly, had Toyin not tweeted identifying details about her abuser, we probably would have never known her name, and she would have therefore remained another statistic.
Toyin was a high school graduate and Black Lives Matter activist. She was on the frontlines of protests taking place in Florida, which began as a response to the cruel murder of George Floyd and the continuous systematic oppression faced by black people in America.
Toyin fought for and defended the lives of black men who are disproportionately profiled by police, incarcerated, and murdered. Sadly though, some of the same men she fought for were the ones who failed her. A close friend of hers stated on Twitter that her brother and father sexually abused her as well, which led to her leaving home and becoming homeless.
Toyin had tweeted about her abuser with a full description and had also gone to the police about a previous sexual assault that she had shared on social media. Nothing was done. Her last tweet was a description of the man, his age, his apartment and his car. In one tweet Toyin wrote, “I will not be silent.”
After several days of searching, detectives found Toyin’s body. Her killer, Aaron Glee, was arrested and he later confessed to the murder. Her death sparked outrage over the lack of media coverage and negligence on the part of the Tallahassee Police Department. It highlighted the mistreatment of black women at the hands of the very men they defend time and time again. Black women are constantly putting their lives on the line by protesting in a movement that is majorly centered around black men.
I remember thinking to myself: How it must hurt to be marching and protesting for hours for the same people who later target and assault you. Black women suffer on two fronts—as women and as black people. They experience anti-black racism outside their community and face misogyny from men both outside and within their community.
So many emotions ran through me during the time she was missing. I could not sleep properly. I kept checking her profile to see any activity. I prayed and whispered her name at night. But even with the hope I had, a part of me knew that it had already been too late. Toyin was a young black woman on her own in the world. I knew the police would not care. I knew society would not either. Numerous calls had to be made to the Tallahassee Police Department for them to even put her picture up as a missing person. Citizens and friends led search parties instead of police.
Toyin’s untimely death revealed the repeated failure of the police and the justice system in addressing crimes against black women—a demographic that faces an inordinate amount of racism and sexism. I often wonder what would have happened had Toyin not taken to social media to describe her abuser. He would have gotten away with it just like thousands of others have. Today, over 64,000 black women are missing in the United States, with little or no search efforts or media coverage.
What made Toyin’s story resonate with me most was that she could have been me. She could have been my sister. My cousin. My friend. She could have been any of us. I go through her social media and I see pictures of her experimenting with different colors on her hair, or smiling goofily at the camera, and I blink back tears. She deserved a life better than what she was given. And, despite the hardships she faced in her family, she still went out and protested and fought. She fought for us. She fought for a better world.
Oluwatoyin Salau mattered, and we will continue to honor her memory.