As the funeral procession for rapper Nipsey Hussle made its way from downtown L.A. to Watts and then to Inglewood on Thursday, groups of mourners gathered at several intersections along the 25.5-mile route, some leaning out to touch the silver hearse as it passed and others dodging a long line of cars and motorcycles to snap photos.
The procession, which began about 2:30 p.m. after the three-hour memorial, headed south on Vermont Avenue and is traveling west to Inglewood before making a stop at Hussle’s Marathon Clothing store, where he was fatally shot March 31.
Earlier in the day, guests cheered and danced to Hussle’s music during his memorial, the energy electrifying Staples Center.
Although the 21,000-seat stadium was filled with mourners — including celebrities such as Snoop Dogg, Meek Mill and Puff Daddy — many of Hussle’s fans in the South L.A. communities he helped lift up could not make it inside. For them, Hussle’s family wanted the celebration of the artist’s life to continue outside in the procession.
Family and friends praised Hussle’s ability to bring worlds together — rival gangs, law enforcement officials and music lovers. As the hearse motored down the streets of South L.A., people once again came together to say their final goodbyes.
Traveling down South Vermont Avenue near West 49th Street, the procession quickly became quintessentially L.A., full of flashy cars performing showy maneuvers.
At 49th Street, a lowrider car tilted onto one side. Other cars sped and swerved as passengers dangled precariously from open windows, some waving programs from the memorial service.
A woman hanging out of a car while clutching a bottle yelled, “Neighborhoods!” — an apparent reference to the Neighborhood Crips, a collection of local gangs that includes the Rollin’ 60s, a group that once claimed Hussle as a member.
“Get out of the street! You’re going to get hit!” a man in a car shouted to a woman on a Lime scooter.
A small crowd that had gathered whipped out their smartphones to capture the spectacle.
Marie Durrah watched the memorial service on television, then came out to see the procession. She lives in the Athens area but grew up on 67th Street in Crenshaw, which would later become Hussle’s turf.
“It was beautiful in its own right — different neighborhoods gathering together to pay homage to someone who did a lot for his community,” said Durrah, 53, who works for the county.
Motorists were urged to avoid the areas of the procession on Thursday afternoon:
From Staples Center south on Vermont Avenue to Century Boulevard.
Century east to Wilmington Avenue through Watts.
Century west to La Brea Avenue and Manchester Boulevard in Inglewood.
Slauson Avenue north to Hussle’s Marathon Clothing store at Crenshaw Boulevard, where he was fatally shot two weeks ago.
Crenshaw north to Angelus Funeral Home in the Crenshaw district.
Police and members of the Nation of Islam were on hand to help with traffic control and security.
On Twitter, many people criticized the Los Angeles Police Department, saying officers should have cleared the way for the procession before it was halted several times along the route, including once near Century Boulevard and South Vermont Avenue.
The Los Angeles Fire Department responded to 15 patients, including five people taken to a hospital, with health issues related to the event. An department spokesman said it didn’t seem that any of these injuries were caused by weapons or trampling. Generally at large events such as Thursday’s gathering, people become dehydrated or suffer from weakness or leg pain from standing for long periods of time.
Hundreds of people gathered along West Slauson Avenue outside the South L.A. property Hussle owned, which was home to his clothing store.
Some stood on rooftops of stores, others on cars and dumpsters, watching the crowd on the street as helicopters and drones hovered overhead. Music boomed from various rooftops and curbs as barbecue smoke wafted in the breeze.
At one point Thursday evening, a crowd of spectators at Slauson and Crenshaw began running after they were startled by a loud noise. However, the incident was far less severe than the one that occurred at a memorial in the same area on April 1, when a stampede injured several people.
“We understand emotions may be running high, but we are asking all attendees to remain calm and continue to peacefully mourn as the Nipsey Hussle procession approaches,” the LAPD tweeted at 4:33 p.m. Thursday.
Earlier in the procession, a small altar bloomed in the shadow of the Watts Towers, beneath a large paper sign painted with the words “From Watts with love: RIP Ermias Nipsey Hussle Asghedom.”
A young girl with a fluorescent green bow in her hair knelt on the pavement and burned a smudge stick near framed photos of Hussle.
“Sage is normally used for cleansing of spirit,” Elizabeth Paredes, 30, said as her daughter tended to the altar, which included a small green ceramic skull and a 40-ounce bottle of Miller High Life as mementos.
Paredes put the altar together on Sunday with her friends Sylvia Urdiano, 30, and Venecia Yanez, 31. Urdiano and Paredes have been friends since their days at Watts’ Markham Middle School, which locals said Hussle once attended.
Urdiano, a graduate student and community organizer, said her parents still lived four blocks from the towers in a home they bought 30 years ago. Unlike many others who gathered across L.A. to memorialize Hussle, she did not identify herself as a fan.
“Did I listen to his music? Yes. Do I know the names of his songs? Probably not,” she said. The music wasn't what motivated her to create the small altar for the slain rapper, she said. It was Hussle's role in the community that moved her.
“I looked to him from a distance from a community organizer stance,” she said.
Hussle's work gave her hope and encouraged her to keep pushing forward to make change in Watts.
“This is where I'm from. And I'm never going to run away from this place,” she said. “I'm always coming back.”
In the minutes before the funeral procession made its way past the Watts Towers, Reggie Stoneham, 32, took to the open street to dance while the crowd cheered him on.
“I just felt the music,” said Stoneham, who has the words “Watts Life” tattooed across his stomach.
The flags outside the Watts Towers Arts Center were flying at half-staff, but there was a block party atmosphere in the park and on the street where everyone seemed to know one another.
Monica Collier, a 52-year-old retiree who was raised in Watts but lives in Orange County, had been at the edge of the park playing music since before noon.
Hussle wasn’t from Watts, but he had ties to the community, and more than 100 people gathered at the southern tip of the procession route to pay their respects.
“In his trajectory to success, this was one of his destinations,” said Daude Sherrills, a member of the Watts Neighborhood Council.
Standing at the edge of the park in a jean vest with curls delicately gelled to each side of her temple, Mary Anne Duran, 32, tried to explain why three generations of her family had come from Compton to see Hussle's funeral procession.
“He was a positive energy,” she said. “He was trying to provide for the community.”
The phrase “for the community” came up frequently when people on the corner of 107th and Santa Ana Boulevard shared their memories and thoughts about Hussle, including why they attended the procession.
Everyone had their own phrasing, but the sentiment remained the same: Hussle cared about where he was from, and he cared about them.
Girls holding blue flowers, men drinking pineapple Fanta soda out of Styrofoam cups and spitting sunflower seeds, and gang intervention workers all spoke about what “community” had meant to Hussle, and what he meant to them.
“This is heartfelt. This is touching everybody. It's bigger than gang violence,” said Ron Preyer, a 48-year-old who lives down the street from the Watts Towers. “Some people are out here just celebrating life. You have to celebrate while it's alive.”
Just before the procession came into sight near Slauson Avenue, friends Leticia Rowe, 51, and Jackie Pitts, 52, stood alert, ready to catch sight of the motorcade. The pair drove to Vermont Avenue as soon as they could after watching the memorial on TV.
Pitts said Hussle did more by age 33 than many people do in a lifetime.
“He brought so many people together — the gangs and the Crips and the Bloods,” said Pitts, of Mid-City. “He was the president of South L.A.”
Rowe grew up in South L.A. and attended Crenshaw High School and still has family in the area, she said.
“This is bigger than Tupac and Biggie,” said Rowe, eyeing the crowd.
White doves were released from the retail building Hussle owned as the procession rolled down Slauson Avenue and some members of the crowd stood atop police cruisers to catch a glimpse of the hearse. “Nips in Paradize” was spray-painted on one of the cruisers.
Times photographer Gary Coronado contributed to this report.