Featured, Race & Politics, Theory & Essay

Her Name Was Janese Talton-Jackson. And She Was Killed Because She Said “No”

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 Facebook Friday afternoon, and more and more people spoke of her, I learned there weren’t many degrees of separation between us. Practically none, actually.

She left behind three children. Twin girls and a one-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 happened to be Pennsylvania State Representative Ed Gainey, a man I’ve known for 25 years. I first became acquainted with Ed through basketball. When my dad would take the nine-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. And 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 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 two-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 who 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 can not 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 when 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’ve either had this type of violence happen to them or knew someone who did. I’ve even watched comedy skits about it. In one of his HBO specials, Louis CK jokes that a woman agreeing to go on a date with a man is literally insane. Because, he continues, we (men) are the number one threat to women’s lives. (Man’s biggest threat? Heart disease.) But the continued existence of our species depends on men approaching women, and women eventually saying “Yes, I will agree to meet you somewhere of your choosing while alone and at night. Even though, statistically, you’re my number one threat.” Which, he also jokes, is like a man having to date nothing but half-bears/half-lions and hoping that nothing bad will happen.

But having a daughter (and a wife) introduces another element to my relationship to this danger. Not empathy. That already existed. But fear. Of course, not every boy and man interested in my daughter will express this interest or respond to her disinterest aggressively, disrespectfully, or violently. The vast majority will not. But there is no way of removing those who will from her interactions, no way of avoiding them completely, and that scares the fuck out of me. As I’m sure it scares the fuck out of my wife. And as I’m sure it scares the fuck out of the women who also happened to be at Cliff’s Bar that night. Janese Talton-Jackson is dead because a man was interested in her. And then killed her when that interest wasn’t reciprocated. But she could have been any woman he happened to be interested in that night. The only thing separating her from the women who made it home alive Friday is chance. Sheer luck.

And this, again, is fucking scary. Not just because of how frequently this happens. But also because I know there will be people — men and women — who’ll hear about this murder. And will immediately think “Well, she must have said something disrespectful” or “She didn’t have to embarrass him by saying no. Just give him a fake number” or “How was she dressed?” or “What was she even doing out that late in Homewood?” As if this — men responding to disinterest with violence — wasn’t epidemic. As if any of this was her fault. And as if “What could she have done to prevent this?” matters at all, and “What can and should men do to stop men from doing this?” — which, ultimately, is the only relevant question here — doesn’t.

I did not know this young woman. But I know several people well who knew her well. None of that really matters, though. Who she knew, who knew her, how she could have been my sister; my daughter; my friend; my wife — those are red herrings. What matters is that she existed. She was alive. She was somebody. And now she’s gone, because she said no.

Damon Young

Damon Young is the editor-in-chief of VSB. He is also a contributing editor for EBONY.com. And a columnist for EBONY Magazine. And a founding editor for 1839. Damon is busy. He lives in Pittsburgh, and he really likes pancakes. Reach him at damon@verysmartbrothas.com. Or don't.

  • Erica Nicole Griffin

    You hit on a great point. Perhaps the truest understanding of how women experience the world comes from loving women. Truly loving women. Mother, sister, wife, daughter, friend etc. This is a fitting tribute to your neighbor and family friend. My condolences to all of her loved ones and friends.

  • DebKII

    Damn you Damon, you made me cry this morning, and completely derailed my original anger. My original anger being men having to relate a woman being raped beaten or killed to someone they know before they can understand or care about it.

    • Pinks

      Same ole story – it doesn’t become real until it’s their mom, daughter, sister, etc. The rest of us are just delusional thots with no manners.

    • charisma_supreme

      That was where i was at first too… frustrated.

  • This is so devastating and I hope this man’s remaining days on this planet are filled with the worst life has to offer.

    How hard is it for men like this to just chalk it up to the game and keep it moving? Why does a stranger have to die because they aren’t interested in you? We do so much in the way of policing our daughters to be chaste, dress modestly, travel in groups for safety, etc. I shouldn’t have to travel with a pack of women for my own safety when I’m out but I’d be stupid not to.

    • charisma_supreme

      Now that you mention, ive never seen open rebuke for that type of behavior from men, but have as a woman seen/heard/experienced the policing. Wonder why so 1 sided…

  • Lisa Necole

    #Masculinitysofragile

    • This cat’s ego must have been made of store brand tin foil. #flimsy

      • Sigma_Since 93

        Tin is too strong; more like litmus paper.

    • Asiyah

      Yup. Patriarchy is the problem.

    • MGTOW2884

      not all men are masculine. FAIL

      • Albert Carillo

        #notallmen

  • This is terrible. Way too many weak dudes out here who claim to be hard.

    Coincidentally me and Moneypenny just watched that Louis C.K. special two weeks ago and talked about that exact part of the act.

    Sadly, I’ve heard of dudes going all gorilla pimp when a woman rebuffs their advances. A woman was murdered in North Charleston a few years ago in almost the same manner you described, Champ. The only difference is the dude in question followed her home.

    I’ve actually seen dudes react to getting curved with stinging insults and threats after being told no. Seriously, insulting a woman after she tells you “nah” whether subtly or not is high-level fcuk boyism. Her looks, weight, or hair didn’t change the instance you got curved, hoss so insulting her about it only makes you look like a fool. Then again, I always thought that yelling at random women on the street made you look like a fool too.

    • I just can’t understand how a man justifies rejection with murder. It’s a 50/50 call!!! Yes or no. If you aren’t prepared for the possibility of “no” you don’t deserve to be out in public attempting to function amongst normal human beings.

      • One of my cousins told me a long time ago that the worse a girl or woman can tell you when you holler at them is “no” and if that’s what they say just keep it moving.

        • Truly, it can’t get any worse than no. She is a complete stranger and unless you frequent the same spot you won’t ever have to see her again.

          One day these fools will run into the “right” one and she’ll come through with one clean shot and they’ll wish they would’ve said “you enjoy your night”

      • stopthekilling

        The crazy part is hes married. Has girlfriends. He’s also a father of all girls.

    • TeeChantel

      If I had a nickel for every time I’ve been called a b*tch after telling a man “Sorry I’m not interested.” I could probably pay off my student loans. It is sad how men act after getting rejected. If a woman isn’t interested, she’s not into you bro. But to murder someone… that is downright crazy.

      • Pinks

        Or an ugly h oe, or stupid, or something equally lame. I wasn’t ugly when you just chased me down these 2 blocks, was I?

        • Damon Young

          I was talking to the wife person about this last night, and she told me about a time years ago when a guy approached her at a bus stop and didn’t even wait for her to say no before he started cussing her out. He just assumed she’d say no. Which she would have, but he didn’t even give her a chance to.

          • Pinks

            Wow. The frightening part is that we all have some experience such as this. It’s rare, but there are women who’ve never experienced intimate/partner violence, rape, or some other atrocity, but almost ALL of us have been on the receiving end of some rejected man’s scorn that could’ve become dangerous at the turn of a word.

        • laddibugg

          Fat is the one that gets me… You liked these rolls when you hollered didn’t you….

      • CNotes

        Brings me back to my NYC days where I would be walking towards my block and had to mentally prepare myself to walk pass the group of guys on the corner. Do I ignore the cat calls? Do I gently respond? In the majority of cases, I was cursed out/disrespected regardless of which route I took. Fellas, a lot of us are scared…..even if we don’t show it.

        • jess-s

          I read you comment and felt your anxiety… the stress of just trying to get where you need to go can hurt … “even if we don’t show it”

        • Selena

          Man I know the feeling to literally have to gear up to walk by a guy or group of guys. Running over all the way you can say no without him thinking that means try again or saying something effed up. Sigh. This happened to me weekly. Sigh

        • WiserWords2

          I grew up in NYC. That’s why I feel the Sony Walkman was the greatest invention known to women. Whenever I walked down the street or got on the train, I made sure my headphones were planted firmly over my ears. Most of the time there was nothing playing (I needed to hear what was going on around me). I would say it worked for the most part but every now and then some guy would stop in front of me and ask me loudly, what I was listening to?

  • Jennifer

    I’m so tired of these stories.

  • Gibbous

    Thank you Damon.

  • cakes_and_pies

    And men wonder why some of us catch an attitude. I’ve been in a few situations where I thought “If he kills me right now, there will be no witness.” I’ve been stalked, cornered, and block in my parking space because a man doesn’t like the word “no.”

    • L8Comer

      Ugh it’s terrifying to have those thoughts run through your head… no witnesses, wondering if you scream will someone hear you? I’m supposed to tell Fire right? Not Help.

      This is why I do my best to NOT catch an attitude and it’s terrible. It’s terrorizing. I knew a girl who got yanked back and punched in the face by a guy she rejected in the mall. I want to catch an attitude sometimes, but I’m not tryna get hit. Clearly for some men it doesn’t matter how you respond to them, but I’m out here shook cuz of other people’s stories. On the flip side of that, a gracious “no thank you” or whatever is seen by some men as encouragement!

      In cat calling I don’t think enough men take their physicality into account at all. You can’t compare it to women doing the same thing to you. At the end of the day, walking on a quiet sidewalk, day or night, if a man rolls up next to me and gets rejected and then wants to yank me into his car there is nothing I can do about it.

      • fxd8424

        ” if a man rolls up next to me and gets rejected and then wants to yank me into his car there is nothing I can do about it”
        You run and scream when you see him about to exit the car.

    • miss t-lee

      Or we have to play nice just to make sure there’s no issues and we get out of the situation.

  • TeeChantel

    Sakia Gunn.

    She was killed in Newark some years ago for turning down two men. She was 15 years old. The two men approached her at a bus stop one night, she told them she was not interested and that she was a lesbian. One of the men stabbed her and she was rushed to the hospital where she later died.

    This is happening too much.

    • Asiyah

      That’s devastating!

  • KL Moore

    Wonderfully written. “What matters is that she existed. ” Tears for her and all who loved her.

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