Column: The death of rapper Takeoff is a grim reminder for America

Malik Harvey, Staff writer

Kirshnik Khari Ball and Thomas Lamar Harris are two people who never met, grew up in different eras and led different lives. But the tragic end to both of their stories strikes a familiar bone.

Ball and Harris grew up nearly a thousand miles apart – Lawrenceville, Georgia and Romulus, MI, respectively. Ball grew up in a single-parent household (alongside his uncle, Quavious Keyate Marshall, and cousin, Kiari Kendrell Cephus) and began making beats and rhyming words in the seventh grade. Harris grew up in what was to become a single-family household once his parents divorced when he was 11. In seventh grade, Harris chose football to express himself and soon began showing promise as a running back.

Eventually, Ball encouraged his uncle and cousin to start taking their craft more seriously – leading to them forming a rap group together called “Migos,” with each group member assuming an alias. Ball became known as “Takeoff,” Marshall as “Quavo” and Cephus as “Offset.” 

Though Harris had the characteristics of being a leader, he seemed to always find himself in trouble: fights, selling weed and poor grades. In his senior year, with less than six months left to graduate, Harris was expelled from Romulus High School after starting a brawl during a basketball game. Without a high school diploma, Harris dove deeper into drug dealing and moved his nascent operation to Grand Rapids, MI. It was there that Harris assumed the street name “Pierre.” 

Ball and his groupmates would go on to leave an indelible mark on the music industry; rapping mostly about the kind of lifestyle my uncle was living while in Grand Rapids. The life of a dope peddler. 

It was on the night of June 9, 2013 – nine days before Ball turned 19 – when my uncle, Harris, came home from picking up medicine for his daughter. He was ambushed by two teens, robbed, shot and left for dead in the driveway of his own home. 

This past Tuesday morning – hours after my uncle would’ve celebrated his 56th birthday – Ball was killed by a stray bullet over an argument about a dice game.

These stories aren’t unfamiliar to the Black community and fit into a larger conversation being had in America about gun violence. The Second Amendment has led us down a rather dark road, only being lit by multiple interpretations surrounding it, the majority of which protect an individual’s right to “keep and bear arms.” 

The conversation around gun laws become more complex under the 14th Amendment, which, in layman terms, disqualifies states from enacting any law that may diminish the concessions or rights of citizens in the United States. Furthermore, this Amendment protects individuals from being stripped of any life, liberty and, most importantly – in this instance – property, without due process of law.

Our Constitution further grants each state the sovereignty to form its own laws, in addition to federal laws; making the conversation around uniformed gun laws across our country even gauzier. One thing that appears cogent amongst the melange of statistics encompassing gun violence is the relationship between states with strong gun laws as opposed to weak gun laws. 

For instance, California, Hawaii, New York and Massachusetts are at the top of the list for having the strictest gun laws; jointly carrying an average of 5.23 gun deaths per 100,000 residents. On the opposite end of the spectrum, Arkansas, Wyoming, Idaho and Missouri were rated as having the weakest gun control laws; jointly averaging 19.25 gun deaths per 100,000 residents.

In the cases of my uncle and Ball, they only compound the disproportionate rate African Americans are affected by gun violence. The Center for American Progress noted in 2020 that Black Americans made up 12.5% of the U.S. population, but were victims in 61% of all gun homicides, making Black Americans 10 times more likely to die by gun homicides than white Americans. 

Similarly, Hispanic and Latino people face this disproportionate impact. 60% of gun deaths among the Hispanic and Latino population are a result of gun homicides. While only representing 4% of the population, Hispanic Americans between the ages of 15 and 29 made up 8% of all gun homicide victims in 2020.

These statistics, the stories of Takeoff and my uncle, and countless other lives lost to gun violence point to our country being sick. Yet, ironically, we refuse to take our vaccine.