I did not know Janese Talton-Jackson on a personal level. There’s a chance I might have seen her before. And a lesser chance I might have spoken to her. But if I did either, I don’t remember.
But after news of her death began to circulate on Facebook on Friday afternoon, and more and more people spoke of her, I learned that there weren’t many degrees of separation between us. Practically none, actually.
She left behind three children. Twin girls and a 1-year-old son. The father of her daughters is the son of my mom’s best friend, Ms. Debbie. She also lived in a house owned by Ms. Debbie—a house right next door to my dad’s house. They’re separated by two driveways and a line of hedges. My dad was devastated by the news. And if that’s not enough of a connection already, Janese’s brother happens to be Pennsylvania state Rep. Ed Gainey, a man I’ve known for 25 years.
I first became acquainted with Ed through basketball. When my dad would take the 9-year-old me to the courts behind Peabody High School to work on my game, Ed was one of the older teens and early-20-somethings who’d often be there, too. Some days, after I was done drilling, my dad would play with them and I’d watch them play. Then, as I got older and better, I’d play with them too. Today Ed is a popular politician and a friend. And now, as of early Friday morning, brother to a murdered sister: a woman shot and killed in the street by a man because she said no.
According to the police report, Janese was at Cliff’s Bar, located in Pittsburgh’s Homewood neighborhood. As the bar neared closing, she was approached by Charles Anthony McKinney, who apparently was interested in her. The interest wasn’t reciprocated, and she left. McKinney allegedly followed her outside, was rebuffed again and then shot her in the chest. She was declared dead at the scene. She was 29.
As I write this, my 2-month-old daughter is 10 feet away in one of her bassinets, fussing. I’ve had to pause from writing twice in the last half hour to check on her. To see if she’s making noise because she’s hungry or cold or hot or wet. But, as I suspected, it’s none of the above. She just wants to be played with, and she’s fussing because she’s bored. So I oblige, stopping every 15 minutes or so to pick her up and make faces at her.
While doing this a moment ago, I noticed that she takes up much more space in her bassinet than she did even a month ago. She will, eventually, outgrow it completely. And then she will learn to walk. And then, years from now, she will leave the house on her own. She will have friends. She will learn to drive. She will go out. And there will be men she is not interested in who will be interested in her. Some might catcall from cars and corners. Some might grab her arm or her waist at the bar. Some might buy her a drink. Some might approach her on the street.
Some of these advances will be ignored or unacknowledged. Some met with kind but deliberate body language to convey her lack of interest. And some will even be met with actual words—her actually saying some form of “I’m not interested” out of her actual mouth.
But while she can control how she responds to the approach and how she communicates her lack of interest, she cannot control the response to her response. She will have no idea if the guy she says no to will cuss her out. Or spit in her face. (Which happened to my wife before.) Or follow her five blocks to her apartment. (Which has happened to a friend before.) Or follow her outside the bar, ask again, get rejected again and kill her. Which happened to Janese Talton-Jackson.
That the world is a specifically dangerous one for women and girls isn’t some grand epiphany I just recently had in having a daughter. I’ve read (and written) enough about it, and I’ve seen enough news about it. I’ve also heard enough first- and second- and third-person stories from friends, girlfriends, cousins and homegirls who have either had this type of violence happen to them or know someone who did. I’ve even watched comedy skits about it.