LOS ANGELES — Nipsey Hussle’s memorial had the flowers, messages of love and the votive candles lined in tribute. Emotional mourners came out by the hundreds, some in tears.
Los Angeles officials recently touted the city’s declining annual homicide rate, which, last year, fell below 260 for the first time since 2014. But the shooting death of the beloved rapper on Sunday outside the clothing store he owned in South Los Angeles was an undeniable reminder that violent crime is still a scourge. And this community had been here before.
In the hours after the shooting, in which two others were injured, Los Angeles Police Chief Michel Moore said that in the preceding week, there had been 26 other shooting victims and 10 killings in what he called a “troubling surge” of violence.
“That’s 36 families left picking up the pieces,” Moore wrote on Twitter. “We will work aggressively with our community to quell this senseless loss of life.”
The first homicide in the streak occurred March 27 around 4 p.m., when a woman was shot several times in Leimert Park, police said.
A few hours later, a 22-year-old man was killed in Watts when two people pulled up to the car he was in and began shooting. Soon thereafter, a 40-year-old man was stabbed after an argument near the Echo Park neighborhood. Around that time, a 36-year-old man who had been injured in what the police called a “domestic incident” died of his injuries.
On March 28 around 9:45 a.m., a 40-year-old man was killed in Watts when a suspect drove by his car and shot him. That night, two brothers, Jason and Justin Montes, 24 and 25, respectively, were shot in the city of San Pedro, which is part of the LAPD’s jurisdiction, when a suspect approached them on foot and fired multiple at them multiple times.
The next day about 11 p.m., a 26-year-old man was killed near West Olympic Boulevard and Fedora Street after an argument with three suspects, police said.
And on March 31 around 12:30 a.m., a man died of a stab wound on the 400 block of East Lanzit Avenue. The 10th death was one that occurred in December after two men got into a fight. It was reclassified as a homicide this week after detectives interviewed the suspect.
Aside from the Montes brothers, the LAPD declined to identify the victims when providing information to The Washington Post.
Hussle was shot in his head and chest around 3:25 p.m. Sunday outside his store by a man. Hussle had been scheduled to meet with the Los Angeles Board of Police Commissioners and the city’s chief of police to discuss gang violence the next day.
Instead, Monday was marked by hundreds of friends, fans and neighbors who gathered to memorialize him outside his store. Bass rumbled from cars stuck in traffic next to the corner strip mall. Hussle’s music blared from speakers. Some people smoked blunts and drank out of paper bags as they stared quietly at the memorial. Others were more visibly shaken.
Many recounted how the tall, 33-year-old rapper, who had remained a presence there despite his success, affected them. Melody Barrow, 45, attended the vigil, saying she appreciated seeing Hussle around the neighborhood.
“Devastated,” she said. “He’s always in the neighborhood.”
She said the perception of safety and security that Los Angeles had projected was not a reality in the community around Crenshaw, the neighborhood in which Hussle’s store is located.
“You gotta fend for yourself in this part of the area of the city because there are always drive-by shootings, there’s always shootings and things like that,” she said, and pointed out a spot across the street where she said a taco truck had been robbed several times.
Despite what the chief called a “surge” in violence, homicides in Los Angeles this year are lower to-date than in 2018. According to the most recent statistics available, the number of shootings is even.
Charis E. Kubrin, a professor of criminology law and society at the University of California at Irvine, said that Los Angeles deserved credit for its falling violent crime rates in recent years, but that the crime picture was more complicated on a local level than the citywide decrease that officials like to point to.
“He was getting ready to talk to police about gang violence,” she said. “So that to me suggests there were ongoing challenges that that community was facing.”
The Hyde Park area where Hussle was killed is in the top 25 out of 209 neighborhoods in Los Angeles for its violent crime rate over the last six months, according to the Los Angeles Times’s crime database.
Try to have more faith and less fear
Try to express it to your peers
I’m talkin’ 'bout dreams
Better to do it and let it be seen, 'cause then it’s so clear
Lyrics from "Am I Gonna Make It" by Nipsey Hussle
But Hussle had set himself apart from that world, people at his memorial said.
“He was buying property, he was supporting the community,” said Murrell Green, 42, a community activist who lives in the neighborhood. “So many celebrities, they make their money and they go. I’m trying to make it better as well, and just want people to understand what he was trying to do.”
Hussle had been open about his affiliation with gangs when he was younger in interviews, but he had worked publicly in recent years in more positive ways in South Los Angeles. He said he hoped to show other children, who grew up like him in economically depressed neighborhoods in South Los Angeles, that there was another route to success besides sports or music.
He opened a co-working space to call attention to the lack of diversity in the worlds of science, math and technology in the area last year, telling the Los Angeles Times that he “was looking for somebody — not to give me anything — but somebody that cared” when he was a child.
Though rap as a genre has expanded far beyond its street-wise roots, it still connects with that life. Hussle channeled it in his music, rapping with street swagger about his upbringing.
I’m prolific, so gifted
I’m the type that’s gon’ go get it, no kidding
Breaking down a Swisher in front of yo’ buildin'
Sitting on the steps feeling no feelings
Lyrics from "Victory Lap" by Nipsey Hussle
Ruth Tecle said she knew Hussle from the Eritrean community in Los Angeles. Hussle was at her wedding, she said, showing a reporter a picture of the rapper from 1995. His father, who had emigrated from Eritrea, had been her best man.
“He was a good boy,” Tecle said, citing Hussle’s visit to Eritrea last year, when the rapper met with Eritrean President Isaias Afwerki and sat for an interview that was published by the Ministry of Information. “It’s so sad for Eritrean community, and Americans. He was building a lot of nice things — he put a lot of positive things for kids to grow. It’s very bad that we lost him. It has to stop.”
He spoke eloquently to the Ministry of Information about how much gang culture pervaded life in certain neighborhoods in Los Angeles:
If you come from areas in which gang activities are common then that becomes part of who you are. ... You encounter it as a natural part of life. I guess the equivalent metaphor would be coming from a place of war. If you do you are conscious about war even as a child and later without even realizing it you become part of it. Afterwards these people of war areas become involved in different ways. Some of them become fighters, some become writers, some sing about it and some become politicians. Everyone, one way or another, creates a subliminal link to what he or she has growing up. And the gang culture is similar. It might have all started as self-defense but then everyone became part of it as it was the dominant culture of South Central L.A.
Virgil Grant, 51, an activist, policy writer and entrepreneur, said he had known Hussle for years — since before he started rapping. He compared Hussle to other rappers-turned-entrepreneurs like Russell Simmons and Jay-Z.
“It’s heartbreaking. I knew what he stood for,” Grant said. He said Hussle didn’t let the circumstances of his life “dictate his future.”
“He was really a role model for people in the community,” he said. “He was saying, ‘look man, this is where we came from but this is not who we are,’ and being sure to reach back to kids and show them there is a pathway. You take away a powerful figure like that, that kids look up to, you leave a hole in the community.”
Rosenberg reported from Washington.
Correction: An earlier version of this story erroneously named the neighborhood where Hussle was killed and included crime statistics for that neighborhood. He was not killed in View Park-Windsor Hills but Hyde Park, which has a significantly higher violent crime rate over the last six months.