The Murder of Mary Spears: When Will a Woman’s “No” Be Enough?

Mary “Unique” Spears, a 27-year-old African American mother of three, was shot and killed on October 5, 2014 after turning down a man’s romantic advances. The shooting happened at Joe Louis Post 375, the Sons of American Legion. Joe Louis Post 375 was a nightclub in Detroit, Michigan where Spears and several of her family members were spending the evening after having attended a family funeral earlier that day. Per family witnesses, Spears was approached by a man who asked for her name and phone number. Spears, who was engaged, reportedly told the male pursuer the following—“I have a man. I can’t talk to you.”

Spears’s family shared that the man continued to harass Spears throughout the night and that this harassment culminated at 2:00am when the man grabbed and hit Spears as she and her fiancée were attempting to leave the nightclub. The man who had been pursuing Spears then retaliated by pulling out a gun, aiming at Spears, and shooting her multiple times in the head. The man also released a spray of bullets into the crowd that injured Spears’s fiancée and several other members of her family.

I was literally left speechless when I first received news of Mary Spears’s death as I perused some of my favorite feminist-oriented websites. Mary was murdered because she declined a man’s romantic advances. Mary was murdered because she exercised her basic human right to say “no” to something that she did not desire.

One of the pieces of Mary’s story that stood out the most to me was Mary reportedly trying to fend off the man that was harassing her by proclaiming that she was already in a relationship with another man. Mary’s statement of “I have a man” was her inherent truth. However, I can think of several times that I have been approached by men either at school, at a nightclub, at a restaurant, or simply walking from store to store in my city’s downtown area, and have tried to decline a man’s advances by simply saying “that’s so kind, but no thanks” only to be met with major dissension in the form of verbal abuse. It has only been after I make a statement such as “oh I’m sorry, but I have a boyfriend” or “I’m taken” that a man has halted his romantic advances and respected my verbalized “no.”

Why is it that the men who have approached me with romantic interests do not respect my personal “no thanks” with regards to sharing my phone number with them or returning their flirtatious invitations? Why is it that these men who approach me will only stop their advances once I make the verbal statement—that is sometimes false, depending on my relationship status at the time—that “I have a man?” Why is it that my own personal and articulate decline of a man’s romantic advances isn’t enough, and it must be accompanied by showing that I am, in some way, shape, or form, already “taken” by another man?

What absolutely scares me the most regarding the death of Mary Spears is that Mary could have easily been ME. I identify as an African American woman. I am just one year older than Mary was at the time of her murder. I too have turned down men’s romantic advances by using the (oftentimes fabricated) statement that “I have a man. I can’t talk to you.”

The only difference between Mary and I is that I have been fortunate enough to not encounter a man who has turned to physical violence in the face of my rejecting his romantic advances. As a woman in our society, I should not have to fear that male privilege and socialized sexual expectations regarding male-female interactions could undermine my autonomy as a woman who has a right to say “no” to situations or people that I do not desire. I should not have to fear that my “no’s” may one day be met with physical violence, and in Mary Spears’s case, murder.

I challenge all of you to commit your professional and personal work as feminists to furthering the development of safe spaces where a woman’s “no” is honored, respected, and upheld without her having to fear retaliation in its most nefarious forms. 

- Written by Ciera V. Scott, MS

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