A couple of weeks ago I awoke to two news stories of senseless murders. According to the first report, Samantha Josephson, a young female college student, was kidnapped and murdered when she mistakenly jumped in the wrong car, thinking it was her Uber. The second involved Nipsey Hussle, a young rapper from Los Angeles who was gunned down outside of a clothing store he owned. These two shocking murders were portrayed in very different ways.
Nipsey was a nationally known figure, and after his murder thousands of people took to the streets to mourn his passing. Coverage of his death though, seemed to occur only because of the many celebrities who spoke out publicly about the tragedy, and the fact that he was “grammy-nominated”. First off, to be grammy nominated as a black rap artist is a poor indicator of how influential or talented an artist is. Grammy voters are notoriously clueless when it comes to the music they seem to deem unimportant. But saying someone is grammy-nominated is code for saying they have legitimacy, because it is understood that legitimacy must be bestowed from outside of the culture, by the dominant culture.
Nipsey grew up in an area that has a heavy gang presence and he had ties to a gang in his neighborhood. I know this because it was mentioned in every news story I saw about his murder. It is curious to me that the stories mentioned this fact, but not that he was unarmed when he was gunned down. The mentioning of his alleged gang ties is subtle shade; it implies that he was perhaps not a simple victim, but perhaps a participant in something that contributed to his death. Keep in mind that this is a person who beat the odds that people from his neighborhood face and was in fact contributing to creating more opportunities for people from his neighborhood. His is the type of “American” story we should be celebrating. He’s the kid from a bad neighborhood who used a pen, a notebook, and his creativity to make millions. Then went and created jobs for others who came from similar circumstances.
But what of the story just before it? Of the young college woman who was kidnapped and killed by a black man, seemingly by blind, stupid, chance? Every life lost to violence is a national tragedy that we should all insist is unacceptable. I don’t care if it’s the white college student, the sex worker killed by their traffickers, or the immigrant killed by unscrupulous coyotes. The truth is however, we abhor some killings more than others. Her story was at the top of the national news because of who she was, which was an ordinary college student who something like this was never supposed to happen to. News stories prominently showed pictures of Samantha with her family, and her with a puppy (there were no similar pictures of Nipsey Hussle with a puppy m or his two daughters for that matter). To the reporters’ credit, there were no insinuations that the young girl had played a role in her own murder because she had perhaps been hitting the clubs and mistakenly got into the wrong car. After all, going to clubs, and drinking are in no way indicative to who she was as a person and is irrelevant to why she was murdered. Just as Nipsey’s supposed ties to gags were irrelevant. Just so the reader knows, when you grow up in certain neighborhoods, everybody has ties to gangs, because it’s hard to live in a neighborhood and not have ties to the people you live alongside, If you live most of your childhood in a community with a strong gang presence, at some point future gang members will be your grade school classmates, you’ll play with them in the playground, and you’ll grow up side by side until at some point in your life either does or doesn’t go in different directions.
The original reporting of these two tragedies reveals an implicit bias that perhaps would be helped by the hiring of more diverse reporters, and by more effective reporting. I’m glad Ms. Josephson’s story was given such prominent attention, and was reported in such a compassionate manner, I just wish everybody received that same treatment from the media.
James King is a writer. Some of his influences are James Baldwin, Angela Davis, his hometown of Ferguson, Mo, and that all oppression must be eradicated. He writes to introduce marginalized perspectives, and he writes to feel whole. Read more about James.