The killing of rapper Nipsey Hussle on Sunday afternoon was especially heartbreaking because of his journey — from his participation in Los Angeles street gang life in his young adulthood to musical and commercial success and ultimately leadership in the fight against violence. He emerged, he created, he invested in his neighborhood, and he led, only to be shot dead in the bright afternoon outside his own clothing store in what police suspect was a gang killing.
Born Ermias Davidson Asghedom, Hussle earned the deep respect of other artists, many of whom paid him tribute in the aftermath of the killing. That’s as it should be, but in mourning his death and decrying the killing, it’s essential to remember that too many young men whose names are known only to their families and friends are lost to violence before they have a chance to make their own mark in the world. Some of the most gifted hip-hop artists have come from the streets of South Los Angeles and used their considerable talents to document and comment upon a life that a modern, wealthy society like our own should not countenance. Young African American men deserve the same life as their counterparts in other parts of town, without guns, without gangs, without hustling, with education rather than incarceration, with safe streets, with adults able to find good jobs. Struggle and inequality can make for great art among a select few; but as Hussle’s killing reminds us, their artistry and their success does not necessarily free them.
So how do we make it better? The Los Angeles Police Department responds to spikes in gang violence by swarming the streets with cops to search cars for guns and question young men who might look like perpetrators or victims. And it works — in the sense that guns are found and confiscated, crime abates and residents are safer from gun violence for a period of time. But the police often leave behind a community that feels invaded, violated, disrespected. Hurt and anger grow. Violence returns.