Raven Gant murder brings home this painful reality
“Anyone need a turkey? I have an extra one…” These were the last recorded words of Raven Gant written on Facebook hours before her senseless murder on Thanksgiving Day. The killing sent shockwaves through much of the Twin Cities and devastated her family and friends.
Heartbreak hung in the air at her vigil, which was organized after many in the community learned of the tragedy through Facebook. Hundreds attended her funeral last weekend. Her best friends described Gant as a fun-loving young woman with lots of style and fashion sense who loved to travel and was a very kind and loving person.
Gant was shot in the back as she attempted to leave the home of a former boyfriend and the father of her child, Randall Watkins. Watkins was charged with second-degree intentional murder.
Adding to the tragedy, Raven’s two-year-old daughter JJ led police to her mother’s body. Her grandmother and Raven’s mother, Lakecia Gant, told the press at her daughter’s vigil that the child had been “freaking out,” saying, “‘Look at this pink [blood] on my hands.’”
Her grandmother said she would wash the child’s hands, but later JJ began crying again, complaining that she couldn’t get it off.
“My sister was a beautiful light,” said Raven’s brother Rhonald Gant III. “If you were at the funeral you see how she brought people out. She was good. If she had it, she would give it to you.
“My sister was real tight with my mom and dad,” he said, jokingly pointing out that “she’s the type of person who would have slept in the bed with them until she was 25.”
According to Rhonald, they first realized that Raven was in a domestic abuse situation when she came to a family dinner about two years ago “bloody and all beat up.” Rhonald said that when his father sought to confront the shooter last summer about abusing his daughter, “He shot my dad, and my dad wasn’t forthcoming with the police when it happened because he wanted to deal with it himself. But it just got worse.
“The Black community must speak more openly about this issue.”
“My mom sent him to jail before [when] she had gone to her house and saw Raven had a black eye and she called the police.” Gant said he is not sure what happened afterward, or if Watkins was prosecuted or sentenced, but that his sister did not testify against Watkins.
“She [Raven] was done. He couldn’t control her. She was hiding a lot of what was going on because of the type of father and brothers that she had.” According to Rhonald, because of this “She endured a lot.”
Explaining that he wanted to put an end to the abuse, Rhonald said, “I ain’t no vigilante, but that’s my sister. But my dad and my sister held me back. My sister told me that he was the father of her daughter. [She told me,] ‘I love you, bro, but if you don’t leave it alone you gonna lose your sister.’”
Raven’s brother said that his family and others are in pain wondering what they could have done differently. “We can’t turn on each other right now,” he said. Rhonald made it clear that he does not want his sister to be forgotten and is open to working to preserve her memory, looking to the community to help in that effort.
Community activist and civil rights attorney Nekima Levy Armstrong brought the tragedy to the Black community’s attention through a Facebook posting. “I was disgusted when I saw that mainstream media had declined to focus on Raven’s story and who she was as a person,” she said. “In light of the excess media coverage of another horrible domestic violence shooting involving a White family that same week, it became obvious that Raven’s life was being under-valued and erased.
“Mainstream media failed to humanize Raven because she was a Black woman,” explained Levy Armstrong. “That erasure compelled me to write a post on Facebook to draw attention to what happened to her and the fact that her life mattered. This [erasure] leads to a lack of empathy from the general public when it comes to Black victims.”
Pain was palpable at Raven’s homegoing as friends wailed sorrowfully. Many appeared to be in disbelief. A few were overwhelmed by their grief and had to leave the service.
Yet, in a spirit of graciousness and genuine concern that this tragedy not occur again, practically everyone who spoke or offered remembrances of Raven’s life mentioned the issue of domestic violence and the need for it to end.
One male friend of Raven’s courageously admitted that he had been an abuser himself and was sorry for what he had done. He encouraged all the men in attendance to stand as he charged them to do the right thing, be patient with their significant others, and walk away when things become tense rather than engage in violence.
According to a report by Violence Free Minnesota, in 49% of cases involving adult women killed by a current or former intimate partner, the perpetrator had a history of domestic violence, with 36% documented and 13% undocumented but known to friends and/or family.
“Domestic violence goes beyond the physical violence we often think of,” said Erica Staab-Absher, executive director of the HOPE Center. “It extends to stalking, coercion, continuing the control in household finances, access to vehicles, children etc. Often a perpetrator will try to control their partner’s social life, often isolating victims and cutting them off from support and reducing the likelihood they will reach out for help.
“They will often threaten suicide or homicide if the victim expresses that they want to leave the relationship, which is often the most dangerous time for the victim, since the perpetrator feels like they are losing control,” said Staab-Absher.
“It’s very important not to ignore the early warning signs of abuse,” said local domestic violence counselor Sandra Freeman. She urged community members to be alert to emotional as well as physical signs of excessive control and possessiveness and take appropriate action before things escalate into actual violence.
“The Black community must speak more openly about this issue and ensure that we have adequate resources available to protect and support victims as well as to teach men and boys to unlearn patterns of verbal, physical and emotional abuse,” said Levy-Armstrong. “We have to hold ourselves and our systems accountable. As we witnessed with Raven, this is a matter of life and death.”