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By Torii MacAdams.
I watched the video so you don’t have to.
A ray of pure yellow Florida sunshine hits the unwrinkled forehead of the black man in the driver’s seat of a BMW i8. His dreadlocks, tamed with braids and tipped with blue, match the accents of the car. It’s filmic in the way Florida is inherently filmic—it’s unsubtle and bright and garish. But the man’s sits perfectly still in a way which humans instinctively know to be troubling—there’s no muscular tension in his slump, no twitches of electricity. He’s dead. Not dying, but dead. Dead before Jesus knew, probably. The man is—or was—XXXTentacion, born Jahseh Onfroy, a 20-year old rapper whose ascent to stardom was inextricable from his repulsive acts of violence toward his ex-girlfriend, Geneva Ayala.
The video should not exist. It’s inhumane. I can explain the temptation to document the murder of a celebrity, but it should remain as such: a temptation unacted upon, a fleeting thought banished for a greater concern for the person basking in the final golden rays of their very short life. Sharing video of a robbery victim’s corpse on social media requires an immense callousness which, on a basic level, I cannot imagine possessing. The robbery which precipitated the murder was purely avaricious, the murder itself was brutal, and the documentation was shameless.
Onfroy deserved judicial punishment for the horrifying tortures and beatings he dispensed.
Onfroy did not deserve to be murdered.
This was not vigilante justice—he was robbed for a Louis Vuitton bag. This was not karmic retribution—karma does not exist. And, importantly, this was not proportional—Onfroy committed heinous, twisted acts of violence, but, for good reason, I cannot name a system of laws in which his actions are punishable by execution. To approve of Onfroy’s murder is to approve of the same lawlessness on which he thrived.
And let me be clear: You cannot simultaneously take joy in Onfroy’s death and claim a vested interest in social justice. The mechanism for which you lust is not justice, but selective, capricious retribution. Real, substantial justice for Geneva Ayala would have been Onfroy’s incarceration in a facility offering robust mental health services, not an extrajudicial execution ostensibly unconnected to his misdeeds. His murder bears as much resemblance to justice as I to a whale.
Moreover, sympathizing with Onfroy is not inherently an endorsement of his actions, but an endorsement of his humanity. The right to live is the fundamental tenet of every progressive value and plainly reasserting that, even when difficult or unfashionable, is essential. Everything else is garnish.
Reducing Onfroy to a monstrous caricature postmortem is a lazy impulse meant to absolve us of responsibility. If he’s a historically unique ghoul like Hitler, we don’t have to confront the saddening commonality of his troubled upbringing and troubling actions.
But he’s not an anachronism. He was created not in a lab, but in a country designed to fail its most vulnerable citizens, of which he was one. Instead of ruthlessly interrogating our country’s faulting, stuttering processes, we’re pouting childishly about their inevitably undesirable results. It’s like cooking with rotting garbage and acting shocked when the food tastes bad.
Americans cannot apprehend the wild, hypnotic shades of the tragedy of Onfroy because we are colorblind oafs—we headbutt delicate things, grunt melodies meant to be sung, and gag on foods which are not brown. We are a round peg-round hole people; his contours were wavy and loose. He was a poisonous toad, venomous and hallucinogenic and beyond our reckoning.
He was a black boy abandoned by a single mother, who entered a bigoted, cyclical judicial system as a child, who became a star in a white-owned industry more concerned with profit than the wellbeing of its black artists. He stomped on the head of a gay cellmate in juvenile hall, nearly beat Ayala blind, and, to the day he died, appeared largely unrepentant.
In a grand feedback loop of racialized trauma and violence, he was a conductor: He was born into violence, traumatized, traumatized others, and died violently. This is not poetic justice, but cruelty temporarily resolving itself before, newly energized, it takes another trip around the circuit.