Resisting the Policing of our Pain

It took me five-and-half days to get to the Marathon Store after Nipsey Hussle’s murder. His death hit me hard. I was blessed to build with him a few times. We weren’t close. I don’t even know if he would remember me. I appreciated some of his music, but the diehard fandom was reserved for my daughters. I’m originally from Oakland, a 20+ year transplant to the Crenshaw District. Maybe it’s the “Tupac of my generation,” assertion that resonates with me (even though there only ever will be one ‘Pac). Something about Nipsey’s spirit, his vision, his work, loomed large, and his murder was the theft, not only of his life, but of the collective soul of my people.

I learned of Nipsey’s death almost immediately—a wave traveled through Black Los Angeles; we all knew almost at once. Thandiwe, my 15-year-old daughter was the first to shout the news through the house. She and my 12-year-old, Amara, quickly confirmed on social media. The shock and pain were palpable. We traversed the day in a fog, winding down the evening on the living room floor of Patrisse Cullors, after stopping at Simply Wholesome, a Black-owned health food store and restaurant frequented by Nipsey.

In Patrisse’s living room, with young children running around, a small group of us, including Iddris Sandu, Nipsey’s prodigy and Patrisse’s close friend, mourned together and held space for Nipsey. Iddris, shared stories of Nipsey’s life and rumors about the circumstances of his death. Even in that sacred circle, our phones alerted us to livestreams, news reports, and police stories (which later had to be corrected) of violence in front of Nipsey’s store. None of us believed that the murder was “clean.” It was all too convenient, too beneficial to the state, to police, to white supremacy.

As Black Lives Matter organizers, we have become adept at addressing Black death, Black mourning, and Black pain.

And while we are accustomed to the murders of our people at the hands of police that occur with rapid fire—at least every 28 hours—we have managed to do so while maintaining our own spirits and without becoming numb. Patrisse was clear-eyed and adamant that we needed to gather. A little more than 24-hours after his death, we worked to pull together an intimate Black Lives Matter memorial for Nipsey. We moved in concert to find a location, collect items, invite friends, and plan the program. We gathered in a beautiful enclosed garden just behind Mid-City’s Underground Museum on Monday evening. At dusk, we erected an altar, repurposing two wooden benches, draping them in blue mudcloth, and covering them with flowers, stones and candles. Windchimes were hung from adjacent trees and a food offering was placed at the base of Nipsey’s photo, which stood at the center. About a hundred people cycled in and out, including Iddris, Patrisse, and me, high-school friends, neighborhood comrades, Nipsey’s business partners, and his documentarian. The space was largely Black, teeming with children, parents, community organizers, artists, and a good cross-section of South Los Angeles.

The intimate memorial was for our own souls. It was a place to express our grief, to share love, and to remind each other that the fog will lift; there is still life. The gathering was meant to be a place where mamas could come with their children and cry together, where artists and organizers could share stories and reflect on Nipsey’s vision.

As much as we paid tribute to Nipsey in that magical garden, the space was for us. More remains to be done for him.

Even as we mourned, the Los Angeles Police Department's (LAPD) propaganda machine had taken hold. They issued statements about their alleged collaborations with Nipsey. Police Commission President Steve Soboroff (an old, white, near-billionaire Republican land developer, known for snapping pictures with Black celebrities), tweeted that Nipsey had requested a meeting with him and the police chief. Soboroff claimed that this meeting was set for the day after Nipsey’s murder, and added that he was “so very sad.” Those who knew Nipsey resisted such a theft of his soul. As we struggled for him, and against the distortion of his legacy, his spirit began to engulf us. You could almost hear him crying out, commanding that we stand. We took to social media to do as much as we could to preserve the sanctity of Nipsey’s legacy.

On Friday morning, six days after six bullets riddled his chest (heart) and head (mind), I dropped off my son at school and headed to Crenshaw and Slauson. I breathed in the sight—thousands of candles, huge balloons, flowers, and tribute cars filled the parking lot. Police lines were completely blocking the street with their cars, yellow tape, and their armed bodies, with their hands resting casually on their guns. I found a spot three blocks away from what felt like occupied territory. I parked, prayed, and filled my blue bottle with cool water. This morning was for Nipsey. I absorbed the sun’s rays, as I made my way back to the Marathon Store. Police bullhorns jolted me, “We’re not opening until 10am,” they blasted at the 5 individuals gathered outside. “Who is ‘we?’” I thought, “Nipsey didn’t even like y’all.” Five people. More than thirty cops. How are we to mourn? How was I to pour the libation that Nipsey’s soul cried out for?

I found space in the dirt next to the building; I crouched down, the edges of my skirt turning brown with dust. Two officers walked over, examining me, speaking into their communication devices, eyes molesting the sanctity of what I was there to do. I opened the water bottle, closed my eyes, and sang the ancient song of our homeland, I poured water into the earth. I prayed hard, allowing my spirit to commune with the ancestors, still feeling the stiff, cold blue uniforms, batons, tasers, and guns, at my back. When I opened my eyes I saw Cedric, a friend of Fouzia Almarou—the mother of #KennethRossJr—who had been killed by Gardena police almost a year ago. Cedric worked in the business next door. He embraced me, asked about Fouzia, and diluted the oppressive energy in the space.

I offered greetings to the others gathered and walked to my car, longing to return. Later, I heard news stories of how the LAPD assembled, forming lines, and establishing a false sense of order. Under the guise of protection, they had taken over our sacred space. They controlled access to the entire area; they established hours of operation, and determined access routes. They policed the mourners and how we were permitted to grieve.

As dusk fell, the police state extended a longer shadow, permeating the entire area: east to the 110 freeway and west to Baldwin Hills. Black and white cars careened down boulevards, lights and sirens blaring. Patrols interrogated teenagers at bus stops. A mother with her child was trapped in her car in the gas station parking lot behind the flashing lights of a police SUV, window down, feigning timidity as a white officer berates her. Police were everywhere—on every block, every corner, in cars, on bikes, on foot. Some glared, others smiled, but there was an exertion of power in each expression.

They claimed that we needed them, that there was “chaos” in the streets, reifying old tropes about Black savagery. Police issued warnings, flanking themselves with “good Negroes,” who wanted to maintain “peace.” But police have never brought peace or protection for Black people, only disdain and oppression—for Nipsey and all of us. They had conspired to evict Nipsey before he “bought the block.” The LAPD marked Slauson and Crenshaw a “hot spot” and used the infamous Metro Division to stop Black folks at five times our population share. Yet these aged white men stood in this same spot, telling us that they are there to protect us from ourselves—from young Black men who look like Nipsey, Iddris, and my son.

Even as they attempted to police our pain, I reflected on how our community has banded together to offer alternative visions. The night Nipsey was killed, community peacemakers, who had deep and meaningful relationships with him, went to work. The Nation of Islam dispatched community-driven forces. OGs (and new-Gs) brokered community and city-wide peace treaties among “gangs.” Despite claims of chaos by the police who were attempting to use this moment to flood our communities with their officers (expanding their force and their budget in the process), despite rumored police instigation of tensions among rival sets, and even despite the painting of our community as savage, there was an overwhelming sense of love and renewed commitment that pervaded all of South LA—from Crenshaw to Watts.

Nipsey’s funeral at Staples Center was one of the most beautiful memorials in the history of the world. Twenty-one thousand people filled the stadium, dressed in blue—and red—wearing t-shirts, some hanging flags from their back pockets, bumping Nipsey from their cars. And then there were the streets. Black Los Angeles lined the published procession route—from Downtown, through Watts, to Inglewood, to Marathon, ending at Angelus Funeral Home. It felt like millions of us—elders, children, some in wheelchairs, others giddy with energy, tattooed faces, dashikis, suits, jeans, Bloods and Crips from all sets, college students, business owners, clergy, and lots of mamas. A flock of white birds flew repeatedly over Angelus. I arrived at 3pm, and for four hours, we shared food and drink, played music, danced, embraced one another, laughed, took pictures, held each other’s children, talked about God, community, school, and romance. When police arrived and in a show of force segmented our space with yellow tape, demanded that children and elders get up from the curbs on which they were sitting, halted the Sister who was cleansing the space with sage, and stood around, taking space and wasting resources, the community pushed back. There were too many of us for them to control—with tape or with guns. Brothers in bowties and Brothers in baseball caps built a sense of safety coupled with respect as they conversed with and directed the community. At the request of Nipsey’s family, police pulled back. Nipsey’s body and procession were escorted by General Jeff Page on his scooter, Brother Zac on his Harley, and the Black motorcycle clubs that find their home every sunny Sunday afternoon on Crenshaw.

Our collective souls opened up to receive Nipsey as he arrived, the top of his hearse covered with hats, flowers, letters, and cards. The sea of brown skin erupted “We love you Nipsey!” Some cried, others held up handsigns. Police became invisible. There was only us, only community, love, and a commitment to build. Darkness fell and we walked to our cars.

Later, I learned that as the crowd disbanded, police moved in, demanding their kind of order, policing our pain. The day after the memorial, Kerry Lathan, one of the other victims in the shooting that stole Nipsey’s life, who is now wheelchair-bound, was arrested for a parole violation. Apparently, Nip was a “known gang member” and associating with him was a parole violation. This was from officials that disingenuously spent weeks touting Nipsey’s contributions.

As the system uses Nipsey’s murder to expand the police state and feed mass incarceration, we are challenged to remember that they are functioning in their role. Social media posts from elected officials praising a Nipsey that they never knew, press conferences touting his work, and symbolic tributes, are all a ruse. When we turn our eye away from the distractions that they present, we can take this moment to see ourselves, and to see the beauty and power of our people. We’ve seen what community solutions can look like and we have a call and a commitment to do something different. Let’s see what it might mean moving forward—what Nipsey meant when he said, “the Marathon continues.”

About the Author

Melina Abdullah is a senior writer for The North Star and professor and chair of Pan-African Studies at California State University, Los Angeles. She was appointed to the Los Angeles County Human Relations Commission in 2014 and is a recognized expert on race, gender, class, and social movements. Abdullah is the author of numerous articles and book chapters, with subjects ranging from political coalition building to womanist mothering.