On Sunday, rapper Nipsey Hussle was shot dead in South Los Angeles, his hometown. Following the death of XXXTentacion in Miami last June, this marks yet another gun death in the mainstream hip hop community in under a year — a reminder of the way the threat of gun violence haunts our communities, especially black ones.
In addition to being a Grammy-nominated musician, Hussle was a philanthropist, business owner, and respected visionary for the advancement of black and brown communities, particularly his own neighborhood. Nip was an inspiration, someone who wanted to “hustle and motivate.” Unfortunately, at just 33 years of age, Neighberhood Nip had his dreams cut short.
From films including 2002′s Paid In Full to my everyday experience — including saying it myself — I’ve heard it said time and time again that black men are shot every day. I know this as someone who grew up in North Philadelphia, who has been shot at and held at gunpoint, and who has lost more than a few friends to gun violence. My experience is not uncommon. The Violence Policy Center reports that black Americans in general make up 13 percent of the population in the U.S. but account for 51 percent of homicide victims. The Giffords Law Center reports that black men make up just 6 percent of the U.S. population yet account for 51 percent of all homicide victims, solidifying that gun violence in the black community is a public health crisis.
But no conspiracy theories are needed to explain Hussle’s death — the real reasons are, tragically, mundane. His alleged assailant is an acquaintance with whom the rapper is believed to have had a personal dispute. And the actual role of the government in this death is its blatant refusal to take the needed action to protect African American communities: tougher firearm policies, gun violence prevention research, and funding and programming to develop neighborhoods. A 2017 study found that in relation to overall mortality rates, gun violence was the least-researched cause of death. The bill to expand background checks being considered by Congress has taken years to get here, and its fate is up in the air.
It also is far from comprehensive reform — we still need other measures, like mandating that people report lost or stolen guns to reduce unsafe and sometimes illegal transfers of firearms.
Meanwhile, in Philadelphia, we are on track to reach a hundred homicides before the start of summer, with the majority of victims being African American men. The fear, the trauma, and the anxiety of the gun violence epidemic continues to perpetuate an arms race among men of color in our city and our country. If you listen closely to the lyrics of some of our lost rappers, you will be reminded that none of us are safe until all of us are safe.
RIP Neighborhood Nip. Last time I checked, you are still an essential voice of the streets out west, and now across our country. We owe you change.