After Nipsey Hussle’s killing, gang members call for an end to violence
After the rapper Nipsey Hussle was killed on March 31, there was an outpouring of grief in Los Angeles and across the country. Hussle has been applauded as the rare star who remained rooted in his community and committed to it through his art, entrepreneurship, and activism. (Hussle was posthumously honored with the 2019 Humanitarian Award at the BET awards yesterday.) As Lanaisha Edwards, a South LA organizer, told The Guardian in April, “He didn’t take his money and run. He stayed in the community.”
Hussle’s business ventures were estimated to have employed tens of thousands of people, many of them formerly incarcerated. When he was killed he had been engaged in planning to build low-income housing and was scheduled to meet with the Los Angeles Police Department about anti-violence measures.
Hussle, born Ermias Asghedom, had been a member of the Rollin’ 60s, a Crips group, but in death he was mourned across gangs. And in the shared grief, many have seen an opportunity for peace.
Since April, gang members in LA, the Bronx, and Newark, New Jersey, have called for an end to violence. A month after Hussle’s death, Sam Levin of The Guardian reported on efforts, then four weeks old, to end aggression between rival gangs. Levin spoke with LaTanya Ward, an activist and organizer affiliated with a Bloods gang. It was Ward and Shamond Bennett, a friend of Hussle, who made calls after his death and brought people together in the days after he was killed. As Ward told Levin, “We all share the same struggles … the systemic racism, all of that s**t that we victims to,” she said. “Nipsey is from Los Angeles … he one of our own, even if he is, amongst us, one of our enemies.”
The first meeting had 15 people. The second had over 100, representing more than 30 gangs. Later that week hundreds of members of rival gangs attended a vigil for Hussle. Edward Scott, one former gang member, told Levin, “This is history, because they got to stand on the same square, not incarcerated, but on the streets, coming together.”
Skipp Townsend, a 55-year-old former Bloods member who now works in gang intervention, told Levin: “There are so many people who want peace, but they did not want to be the first to say it. So many people were living in fear.”
In yesterday’s Los Angeles Times, Nicole Santa Cruz and Cindy Chang provided a close look at the peacemaking efforts between gangs that have continued since then. It is too early to say what the outcome of these talks will be. Summer, when violence often escalates, has just set in. But as they write, “Not since the landmark truces of 1992, which followed the devastation of the L.A. riots, has such a concerted wave of peacemaking swept through the area’s hundreds of black gangs.”
There are concerns, of course. The older gang members, who have been spearheading the talks, have talked about the need to get buy-in from younger members, in their teens and 20s. As one put it at one of the talks: “I see one or two youngsters. There ain’t no shooters in here. How are we going to get to the shooters? How are we going to get to the vast majority of the shooters, the dudes that ain’t listening?”
A detective who spoke to the LA Times expressed skepticism, saying, “I just don’t have any faith. You didn’t talk to this clique or that dude—how are you going to bring anybody together?”
But the efforts have, Santa Cruz and Chang write, “already yielded tangible results.” Ceasefire talks are underway between the Hussle’s former gang, the Rollin’ 60s, and their rivals, the Rollin’ 40s. One gang recently held a family day, with bouncy castles for kids.
“We’re going to still be Bloods. They’re going to still be Crips,” Melinda Lockhart, 49, one of the organizers of the family day told the Los Angeles Times. “But put the guns down and let’s live.”
Over on the East Coast, in New York, weeks after Hussle’s death, a #KingsStopKillingKings march took place in the Bronx. Hundreds of current and former gang members came together in April with anti-violence activists in the South Bronx. Ruben Diaz Jr., the Bronx borough president, also marched, carrying a Kings Stop Killing Kings flag. Anti-violence groups and violence interrupters, often former gang members themselves, played a major role.
This month, Newark had its own #KingsStopKillingKings march. In a meeting before the march, gang members sat down and agreed on a truce. NJ Advance Media reported that a draft of the agreement stated that certain public places would be “designated buffer or neutral zones against violence.” This included schools, places of worship, recreation centers, and funeral homes. The agreement included expectations for gang members regarding the use of social media, saying members would not “dispute, call for, glorify or insinuate the killing of a member of another organization.”
The hopes and pain people have brought to these efforts—captured in the Los Angeles Times and Guardian reporting—are a reminder that gang members, often painted by the media exclusively as perpetrators of violence, live with life-altering violence and in dread of it. Their efforts toward peace are a reminder that they are some of the people best placed to end the violence and that those efforts are worth supporting.
At a Compton gang summit last month, Santa Cruz and Chang reported, one attendee called the situation “an emergency.”
“We can’t be nonchalant about our lives, our kids’ lives, our sons’ lives,” he said. “Why are we here? Are we here to stop the killing, or are we here just to holler at each other, network a little bit, powwow? I’m here because I’m tired of going to funerals.”