Behind Nipsey Hussle's Death: CalGang, Parole and Recidivism : Louder Than A Riot After LA rapper Nipsey Hussle was murdered in 2019, city officials praised him for his community advocacy. But NPR has learned that behind the scenes, some law enforcement officers branded Nipsey as a gang member, and that label meant another man from Nipsey's neighborhood would be sent to jail — just for interacting with him. So why did California's Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation lie to us about it? And what does that say about the impact of law enforcement categorizing thousands of Black and brown men as potential criminals?

Captured By The Game: Nipsey Hussle

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Hey, everyone. Thanks for listening to LOUDER THAN A RIOT. Before we begin this episode, we have a quick favor to ask. Tell us what you really think about the show by completing a short, anonymous survey now at


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MADDEN: Heads up before we begin - this podcast is explicit in every way.


MADDEN: Even though April 11, 2019, was a warm day in LA, there was a fog of mourning over the whole city. LA was laying to rest one of their hometown heroes, Nipsey Hussle.

CARMICHAEL: Eleven days earlier, the iconic artist had been murdered in the parking lot of Marathon Clothing, the retail store he owned in the neighborhood he grew up in, Crenshaw.

MADDEN: For his public memorial service, Nipsey's friend, media maven Karen Civil, helped organize a massive gathering at the Staples Center. She was grieving herself when she took the stage in front of thousands. But she had to pull it together.


KAREN CIVIL: We would like to read a letter from the 44th president of the United States, Barack Obama...


CIVIL: ...Sent in regarding the life and celebration of Nipsey Hussle.

All I just kept thinking about is just, like, make Nipsey Hussle proud. He's looking like, Casey, hold it together. This is a letter from Barack. Don't be crying on this paper (laughter). Read it. Get it together. Just hold it down.


CIVIL: While most folks who look at the Crenshaw neighborhood, where he grew up, and only see gangs, bullets and despair, Nipsey saw potential. He saw hope.


CARMICHAEL: And that day at the Staples Center, man, all of Nipsey's family, friends, fans and hip-hop luminaries - from Snoop Dogg to YG - eulogised and revered him. It all went down in front of 20,000 fans and thousands more streaming online. In the aftermath of his death, he achieved what few rappers do. He became larger than life.

MADDEN: Born and raised in LA, Nipsey was a member of the Rollin 60's Crips, one of the city's biggest sets. Even before music, he started banging as a teenager. Once music took off, he repped his set on every song.


NIPSEY HUSSLE: (Rapping) Blue Converse, nigga. Rich rolling from the dirt - just banging my turf like Snoop did. Same color rag, just a new crip - blue bandannas, blue Dickies and a deuce fifth. And Slauson Ave ain't the side you can truce with. Homicide City turned these young niggas ruthless.

CARMICHAEL: Yeah, Nipsey never denied being affiliated. And he was gang. But he was also a community advocate for Crenshaw. Like Karen Civil told us, he was constantly giving back to his hood.

CIVIL: He never lived up to, like, society's expectations of what he should be because society's expectation is, oh, he's just a, quote, unquote, "gangbanger" from the Crenshaw district - not at all. He's an entrepreneur. He's a Grammy Award-winner. He's a father. He's everything in between. And he exceeded the expectations of what society thought.

CARMICHAEL: There's a lot of injustice around Nipsey's murder. I mean, he was taken out on the same block that he was trying to build up just one day before he was scheduled to meet with the LAPD about working together to stop violence in his hood. And that feeling of injustice, it's only grown in the last year since Nipsey's death due to a delayed murder trial and speculation about what the LAPD really thought about him. But the irony about what happened to Nipsey that day at Marathon, it extends beyond his own murder.


MADDEN: That's because, at the same time Nipsey was being revered and remembered at the Staples Center, someone else from Nipsey's same neighborhood was just a few miles away sitting in a jail cell, thinking about how much Nipsey's music mirrored his own life.

KERRY LATHAN: Everything he was saying, it rung true in my heart. That's where I came from back in the days as a kid.

MADDEN: That man is Kerry Lathan. And he has a connection to Nipsey that nobody else does. Kerry also got shot that day at Marathon Clothing. But unlike Nipsey, Kerry survived.

CARMICHAEL: Now, Kerry's an OG crip from Crenshaw. And at the time of the shooting, he'd just come home from a nearly 26-year bid and was out on parole. But just a few days after the shooting, parole officers came knocking on his door. And it had everything to do with Kerry's proximity to the neighborhood icon being laid to rest.

LATHAN: I took out the newspaper. They said, Nipsey Hussle, a voice of peace. I said, so y'all going to send me back to prison for talking to a voice of peace? Y'all crazy.

CARMICHAEL: And Nipsey's name has been in the headlines since he died in 2019. So we thought we knew everything there was to know about his case. We thought we knew about Nipsey's effort to meet with the LAPD. We thought we knew how Nipsey's gang affiliation affected the way police saw him. We also thought we knew the whole story of the day Nipsey was killed.

MADDEN: But when we started investigating, we found out it's a lot deeper than we thought.


CARMICHAEL: I'm Rodney Carmichael.

MADDEN: I'm Sidney Madden.


MADDEN: ...Where we trace the collision of rhyme and punishment in America.


CARMICHAEL: Now, this isn't so much a story about death as it is a story about life - the lives of two men in particular in South Central...

MADDEN: ...And how they each got caught up in one of the justice system's most covert practices, mass supervision - the phenomenon of parole and gang databases that affects millions more people than prisons do.


UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #1: I don't make you a gang member. You make yourself a gang member with your attitude, your dress and your actions.

CARMICHAEL: So what happens when law enforcement creates new mechanisms to classify hundreds of thousands of Black and brown people, like Kerry and Nipsey, as potential criminals?

MADDEN: And why did California's Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation lie to us about it?


MADDEN: The first time we meet Kerry Lathan in person is in January 2020 at a nursing home and rehab center out in Long Beach, Calif. He's sitting in a wheelchair under the shade of a small gazebo in a courtyard, waiting for us.

How are you?

LATHAN: I'm fair for a square.

MADDEN: You're fair for a square?


MADDEN: Good, good. I'm Sidney.

LATHAN: Hi, Sidney.

MADDEN: Kerry cracks a lot of jokes. He likes to rap and sing. It's clear looking around that even in his 50s, he's one of the youngest patients in here. He has on a navy sweatsuit, and he got a clean shave for the occasion. His gray goatee is freshly shaped up.

How you feeling?

LATHAN: Like a boulder been dropped on my shoulders.

LISA P: He said, like a boulder been dropped on my shoulders.

MADDEN: Mmm hmm.

CARMICHAEL: And that last voice you hear is Kerry's sister, Ellisa McKnight. She prefers to go by her childhood nickname, Lisa P.

MADDEN: Lisa is 57 years old, about the same age as Kerry. She's rocking a maroon sweatsuit, glitter lash extensions, and her red box braids are pulled up into a bun. She unwraps lunch for Kerry.

LISA P: That's my piece. You can't - cannot have my sandwich. It's in my purse already.

LATHAN: All right. I forgot.

MADDEN: You can hear from their back-and-forth, Lisa treats Kerry very much like a baby brother. She's protective of him, too. She helps him eat, and she wheels him around. Kerry has been in a rehab center recovering from a right-brain stroke for the past month.

Have you been doing physical therapy here?

LATHAN: We have, yeah.

MADDEN: You sound stronger.

LATHAN: I feel stronger.


LATHAN: I feel stronger every time people come visit me. And people have been visiting me since I got here.

MADDEN: This is Kerry's second major stroke in his life, and it happened right before we were scheduled to meet him. When we found out a month before our flight to LA, we called him on the phone to check up on him.

Could you tell us what happened?

LATHAN: I was walking in the supermarket.

MADDEN: Mmm hmm.

LATHAN: I crashed into tin can of beans, knocked the whole row down.

MADDEN: And have they told you anything would have - might have caused this so far?

LATHAN: Stress.

MADDEN: Stress, yeah.

LATHAN: About my living situation.

CARMICHAEL: His stroke had everything to do with the stress that Kerry's felt since coming home. But to really understand how Kerry ended up here and how it connects to Nipsey Hussle, man, we've got to understand their neighborhood - Crenshaw.

MADDEN: And you know what? We got the perfect tour guide to help us.

LISA P: OK, now you getting into our neighborhood. This is 60 hood right here. But you can't go across. That's Bloods over there, and it's Crips over here.

MADDEN: Yep, Kerry's sister, Lisa P. After visiting with Kerry in Long Beach, we drive an hour to get to South Central, riding shotgun in Lisa's old sedan.

LISA P: Now - you in the heart of the hood now. This is the heart right here.

MADDEN: One of the first stops we make is to a busy parking lot on the corner of Crenshaw Boulevard and Slauson Ave - Nipsey Hussle's Marathon Clothing.

LISA P: Right here is where Nipsey was trying to build his little empire, you know. And I respect him for that.

MADDEN: We stop in front of a chain-link fence around the parking lot where the shooting went down a year earlier.

Hello. Hello.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #2: Want to buy a T-shirt?

MADDEN: Nah, we're good.

But that barrier - it doesn't stop people from coming here, his fans taking photos and corner hustlers hawking souvenirs.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #2: I've got Nipsey's obituary. You wanna look at it?

MADDEN: On all the walls around this mini-mall, there's huge, gorgeous murals splashed with Nipsey's face, some of his lyrics and some of his most prolific quotes.

CARMICHAEL: At the time of his death, Nipsey owned the entire mini-mall at this busy intersection. He bought it with his older brother, Blacc Sam.

MADDEN: And now, even through the noise of traffic and tourists, you can still hear Nipsey's voice in the air. On this day, it's blasting from a motorcycle passing by.


HUSSLE: (Rapping) ...You tried to squeeze, your gun jammed and then released. Blood on your tee. How many stains I see? Three...

CARMICHAEL: Now, Nipsey's Marathon store - it might be a newly minted hip-hop mecca. But for Lisa, this spot has always been home. She takes just as much pride and ownership in this intersection as Nipsey once did.

MADDEN: Mmm hmm. When someone tries to press us for walking through the alley, Lisa checks them quick.

LISA P: Lisa P, neighborhood Crip. I'm a neighborhood Crip. This is my neighborhood. I'm doing an interview. If they would have been securing the lot when Nipsey got shot, he would still be here.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #3: All right, mama.


LISA P: As you see, this little nigga questioning us, like, where was you the day that he got shot? The security should have been here then.

MADDEN: Growing up here, Lisa and Kerry have seen gang life change a lot over the generations. They got down with the Rollin 60s when the set first started, back in the 1970s.

LATHAN: Family - that's what the gang is, a distant family.

MADDEN: And they were just kids in those early days.

LISA P: I was 11 when I started banging. We weren't really gang-banging. We were a youth club.

CARMICHAEL: Yeah. And I guess it's a good time to point this out, too. Now, despite them calling each other brother and sister, Kerry and Lisa aren't blood relatives.

MADDEN: Right.

CARMICHAEL: You know, just like we all got cousins that ain't really our cousins.

MADDEN: Exactly. They formed this family to escape the ones they had at home, the ones who were neglecting them and sometimes abusing them. Lisa's got a lot of great memories from those early days with her friends.

LISA P: They used to sneak out the window and come and knock on my window like, hey, hey, we need some pillows. Lil Mump, Kerry, Petey - all of them would come, and we'd all gather pillows and blankets.

MADDEN: And they'd hop the fence on the 59th Street schoolyard, push benches together and make one big bed - a sleepover under the stars, kind of like their version of camping in the backyard. But instead of s'mores, they'd all split a chicken dinner between them.

LISA P: We could break the wings and give that person the flat and the wing part and the other person take the drumstick. You get four french fries. I get four french fries. She get four french fries. And that was our dinner.

CARMICHAEL: Man, that's all for one, one for all right there. Now, that same mentality is really the one that the Crips started with when it was first formed. Now, there are a lot of different origin stories about the Crips. But the important thing to know is that they emerged in the void left behind as Black liberation groups like the Black Panthers were being dismantled. Even Lisa P. claims Crip is an acronym for Community Revolution In Progress.

And over the next decade, subsets like the Rollin 60s formed under the Crips umbrella. Some sets broke off entirely, forming brand new gangs with brand new territories, colors and codes. But then, desperate conditions in the neighborhoods started to intensify over the years. And when crack started flooding in - man, gangs went into business selling it. And those territorial beefs became even deeper.

MADDEN: As Lisa drives through the neighborhood now, she still has it all mapped out in her head.

LISA P: Because 59th is right here. You've got 60th, 61st, 62nd - you going to start getting into - you got Six Deuce Brims. And they got a park over there, too. So you might go on the next block around the corner and be in the wrong neighborhood.

CARMICHAEL: By '85, South Central was a hotspot of the crack epidemic in America. Less than 10 years later, in '92, the city's violent crime rate peaked at over 1,100 instances a single year. As a result, incarceration rates skyrocketed.

MADDEN: And while lines are being drawn in the sand, drugs are being shuffled all over the block, and CRASH Police were smashing into homes, yoking up whoever. West Coast hip-hop was steeped in this reality that Lisa and Kerry were living through.

LISA P: You got to understand that hip-hop can't even exist without gangs. Hip-hop wouldn't even exist if it wasn't for gangs. Hip-hop is talking about what we live - drinking, drugs, trying to live the American dream, failing at the American dream, being abused by the system and law enforcement and the government. Without those things, hip-hop wouldn't even exist. You have to understand, we went from rapping about collard greens and chicken with Sugarhill...


SUGARHILL GANG: (Rapping) Have you ever went over a friend's house to eat and the food just ain't no good? I mean, the macaroni's soggy, the peas are mushed, and the chicken tastes like wood.

LISA P: ...To NWA, talkin' about fuck the police.


NWA: (Rapping) ...Comin' straight from the underground, a young nigga got it bad 'cause I'm brown and not the other color, so police think they have the authority to kill a minority...

LISA P: Why are they saying fuck the police, though? They saying fuck the police because we could be sitting in front of a store just minding our own damn business, and they're trained to come and antagonize us. That's why we say fuck the police.


NWA: (Rapping) ...Searchin' my car, lookin' for the product, thinkin' every nigga is selling narcotics.

MADDEN: NWA spoke to everything Lisa was seeing. Their music was giving her pain a new vocabulary. But unlike NWA or third-generation cats like Nip, Lisa says most people coming up in chaos like that, they aren't given the chance to nurture their talent.

LISA P: A lot of people aren't able to understand their purpose in my neighborhood because they're trying to survive. I need milk. I need bread. Damn it, I just got a gas bill. Oh, my God. My lights is off. Oh, my God. Now my lights is off. Now my car broke. How am I going to even think of anything else? I have no room in my mind to think of nothing else because I'm so busy trying to survive.


MADDEN: Kerry was trying to survive, too. In the '80s, he married and had four kids. He tried to hold down jobs like lifeguarding at the pool or sweeping up at a beauty salon. But he was already on the cops' radar. He had been in and out of jail for offenses like robbery and battery by that time. That made it hard for him to get interviews.

LATHAN: When I signed up for the job, they ask you, did you have a felony? Yeah, I stay in South Central. Yeah, I have a felony, a couple of them. You know, they said, don't call us; we'll call you.

CARMICHAEL: So he found an option that was more accessible to him - no background checks, no applications, no boss.

LATHAN: You know, when you really broke and come back with ten or $20,000 in your hand, that became habit-forming. Selling dope was a habit, like a cigarette habit, you know?

CARMICHAEL: By the early '90s, Kerry was slinging dope full-time. But that habit, it soon became a dead end because the dope game - man, it was dangerous.

MADDEN: According to court testimony, Kerry says there were threats from all sides. When customers owed him money, he'd give them a break. But that became a liability.

CARMICHAEL: Now, everybody knew Kerry was getting played. And other dealers, they pushed him into being tougher and more unforgiving.

LATHAN: I was already mad because of that. And they was - you ain't gonna do nothing 'cause you this, you that. No, that's not what I ain't gonna do. You ain't go telling me what I ain't gonna do.

MADDEN: In 1994, all that manifested into one ill-fated encounter. Kerry was suspicious that one of his customers had been cheating him, paying for rock, breaking off a piece of it with their nail and then complaining that the rock was too small. She'd demand a refund. One time, she even called the cops on him, told them Kerry had robbed her. One of the next times she tried this, it was in front of other dealers and his customers. Kerry told her, enough is enough. This has to stop. The two got into an argument, and it got physical.

LATHAN: You know, and they put their hands on me and hit me on the back of the head. That set the alarm off. Good try, wrong guy.

MADDEN: That's when Kerry did something he'd come to regret. While two other dealers held the woman down, Kerry grabbed a knife and stabbed her in the back. Kerry ran away and left the woman to die alone in the street.


CARMICHAEL: The next year, Kerry was convicted of murder in the first degree.

LISA P: Twenty-six years, which really is a lifetime for people in my neighborhood.

CARMICHAEL: And his maximum sentence was life.

MADDEN: And while Kerry was locked up, the next generation around the way was coming up, trying to find their own way to navigate similar conditions.

LISA P: Yeah, that's the Slauson swap meet right there.

MADDEN: Driving around Crenshaw with Lisa P. after our stop at Marathon, we passed Slauson swap meet, one of Crenshaw's unofficial landmarks. It's here where Lisa tells us a story, something that she remembers from the mid-'90s, around the same time Kerry went away to prison.

LISA P: He was 10 years old standing in front of the swap meet right here.

MADDEN: She remembers seeing a little kid outside on the block.

LISA P: See the sign where it say Slauson Super Mall?


LISA P: He stood right there, right there by that pole - skinny little scrawny little kid selling incense.

MADDEN: Yeah, he was scrawny. But he was crafty, creative, hungry and a good salesman, too. A little hustler.

LISA P: Because he had little trinkets, little shit to give you. Like, here, you can have an extra incense, you know, or you can have - you know, you buy oil, I'll give you this.

MADDEN: Remembering that little moment, it makes Lisa smile, not only because it gave her a glimmer of hope for the next generation, but also because of who that scrawny, skinny little kid grew up to be.


HUSSLE: (Rapping) All my life, been grindin' all my life. Sacrificed, Hussle paid the price Want a slice? Got to roll the dice. That's why, all my life, I been grindin' all my life...

LISA P: Grinding all my life. I was like, this nigga is not lying. He did that. He really did that. He not lying in none of them songs.

MADDEN: That kid was Ermias Asghedom, better known as Nipsey Hussle.

CARMICHAEL: Over time, he'd move on from selling incense to slinging dope, from slinging dope to making music and from making music to being a leader for his whole community. It was a new era for the Rollin 60s.

MADDEN: Lisa saw Nipsey's potential. But she wasn't the only one watching. Police saw potential in Nipsey, too. But to them, he was a potential threat.


CARMICHAEL: Even though Nipsey and Kerry represent two different eras, the shadow of surveillance only got bigger over the years in South Central.

MADDEN: The war on drugs unleashed a war on Black and brown people like Kerry and Lisa, and that left the next generation even more desperate. When Nipsey was coming up in the early 2000s, police continued to crack down on gang violence.


HUSSLE: You know, if we checked the stats and just - the murder rate in the years I was a teenager and the incarceration rate in LA in my section of the Crenshaw district and the Rollin 60s when I was 15, 14 - none of my peers survived. None of my peers avoided prison - none of them.

CARMICHAEL: Now, those tape is from a phone interview that I had with Nipsey just a year before he died. It's when he told me all about growing up in Crenshaw and what gave him that early drive. Nipsey grew up the son of an immigrant in a family that couldn't really even afford back-to-school clothes. And like Kerry, Nipsey didn't have many options to support himself or his family. He joined the Rollin 60s when he was a young buck, around 14. He broke down his induction into the life for Hot 97 in a 2018 interview.


HUSSLE: I adapted to the culture. Naturally, that's not who I am - naturally. The culture of gangbanging in LA, that's not - none of us grow up - as kids, we come from nurturing. But there's a lack of that in the coldness you get from going outside. The world said we was wrong, but the set embraced you for who you was. You know what I mean? And that's the allure of gangbanging.

CARMICHAEL: Being in a set gave him a brotherhood, and it afforded him protection. He wore his pride in his colors, his Slauson boy tattoos, which also made him a mark for police surveillance.

MADDEN: The gang was Nipsey's world until 2004. That's when Nipsey, who had spent his whole life in South Central, finally had a chance to spend a few months in his father's homeland, Eritrea.


DAWIT ASGHEDOM: (Unintelligible).

MADDEN: He went with his dad and his brother, Blacc Sam. What you're hearing is a home video from that trip.


ASGHEDOM: Ermias, (non-English language spoken). How you doing?


HUSSLE: It was profound going over there. It was - it made a huge impact. I was different. There's me before I went, and there's me after I came back.


ASGHEDOM: (Non-English language spoken).

HUSSLE: (Non-English language spoken).

ASGHEDOM: See? You're learning. That's great (laughter).

MADDEN: When he was there, Nipsey saw a whole country of people who looked just like him living autonomously, taking pride in their country. It lit a fire in him to build community like that back home in South Central.


HUSSLE: I was 19 when I came back. So I was still knee deep in what was going on in LA when I came back. But I had a different - you know, you got those two voices? This one became a lot louder because I couldn't fake like I wasn't exposed to the way things could be, you know. I think it led to me making decisions that brought me into music.

MADDEN: From then on, he was 10 toes down.


HUSSLE: (Rapping) Y'all niggas got me fucked up, thinking it's a game. You know my name, and nigga, I ain't playing. So here's the program. You know Am. Right back on the block with the sacks and the rock. Ready to rock...

MADDEN: Nipsey showed you his world. His lyrics had shoutouts to OGs superlocal stomping grounds.


HUSSLE: (Rapping) Look - I'm coming straight off of Slauson, a crazy motherfucker named Nipsey. I'm turned up because I grew up in the 60s. Caution...

MADDEN: Patrols down Slauson, squabbles at Fox Hills Mall, always having your head on a swivel. Nipsey was honest about experiences in his hood.


HUSSLE: (Rapping) Wasn't always banging, but I speak about it openly. No shame in my game. I did my thing on the coldest streets. Who the hottest in the West? All you niggas know it's me. So tell whoever got it locked that Nipsey Hussle stole the key.

MADDEN: But at the same time, his music felt universal. Iconic mixtape hits like "All Get Right," "Stucc In The Grind," "Blue Laces." And he had fire collabs, ranging from Dom Kennedy all the way to Drake.


HUSSLE: (Rapping) Before rap, my last name was my lifestyle. And when I visualize success, it look like right now.

CARMICHAEL: It wasn't long before he created his own label - All Money In. And in 2013, he caught attention from the whole music industry for his creative marketing by selling hard copies of his mixtape for $100 a pop.


HUSSLE: (Rapping) I laid down the game for you niggas, taught you how to charge more than what they paid for you niggas. Own the whole thing for you niggas. Reinvest, double up, then explain it for you niggas. It's got to be love.

MADDEN: And in 2018, after 10 years of independent releases, Nipsey finally dropped his debut album, "Victory Lap."


HUSSLE: (Rapping) This ain't entertainment. It's for niggas on the slave ship. These songs just the spirituals I swam against them waves with. Ended up on the shore to they amazement.


HUSSLE: (Rapping) I hope the example I set's not contagious.

That mean everything to me. That's realer than the - the fact that I got that off on my album and that, like, I got a major support for this album and we spent millions on marketing and that line is on it? I was really proud that it came out like that because I ain't write none of these lyrics. I just went in the booth. So it was like - you know, it was in my gut, and it was my spirit to say that.

MADDEN: "Victory Lap" debuted at No. 4 the Billboard 200. A month later, it was nominated for a Grammy. All that attention elevated Nipsey to his highest point. And all the while he was working on music, he had other ventures, too.


UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #6: Ladies and gentlemen, the one and only Nipsey Hussle.


CARMICHAEL: Yeah, Nipsey and his brother, Blacc Sam, they opened up an official storefront for their merch and the ethos around it in 2017. They called it the Marathon Clothing Store.


HUSSLE: This is for y'all. This for us. We can do this ourselves. So thank y'all. Marathon Store - turn this motherfucker.


CARMICHAEL: And what's special about this store is that it wasn't on Fairfax or Melrose, all removed from the streets that gave Nip his grind. Nah, man. It was right in the heart of the hood that made him, on the same corner lot he used to hustle in - Crenshaw Boulevard and West Slauson Ave. Now, this store, it was part of Nip's focus on Black ownership, his entrepreneurial strategy to buy back the black.

MADDEN: Nipsey's story has basically become a hip-hop fairy tale, one that kind of reinforces the illusion of the American dream. But even Nipsey knew it was more complicated than that. He was surrounded by examples of people whose lives challenged that very idea, people like Kerry Lathan, the Rollin 60s OG.

CARMICHAEL: Yeah, and this whole time that Nipsey was becoming this force in Crenshaw, Kerry had been sitting in prison for well over 20 years on a murder rap. Now, during that time, Kerry's wife had left him. He'd had a stroke. His mother died. His kids grew up, and two of them even went to prison.

MADDEN: But Kerry had also been reflecting on what he had done, and he was ready to take full responsibility for it.


MADDEN: In early 2018, while "Victory Lap" was topping the charts, Kerry was anxiously awaiting the results of his parole hearing.

LATHAN: That 15 minutes she had me wait in in the hallway was the longest time in my life. I'm sitting there waiting on these people to make a decision on my life.

MADDEN: If he didn't make parole, he could be there for the rest of his life. But Kerry had become a model for rehabilitation. According to transcripts from his hearing, Kerry underwent anger management, drug treatment programs and, most importantly, victims awareness training, which gave him new insight to the impact of his crime. He also got his education inside - certificates in mechanical drawing, cabinetry and drywall. Kerry felt ready to take on the parole board.

LATHAN: When they asked me at the board, why did you kill the person? I said, that came from youthful ignorance and lack of emotional maturity.

CARMICHAEL: But still, Kerry had reason to be nervous. His appeal for early parole, it had been denied once before, and there was no guarantee that things would be different this time.

LATHAN: I told the lady on the board, I paroled 10 years ago. She said, yeah. I said, yeah. I said, I'm just coming to see what y'all gonna do with the body.

MADDEN: What do you mean by that?

CARMICHAEL: I'm waiting on y'all to release the body. I've already released my mind.

MADDEN: Kerry waited in the hallway while the board made their deliberations. In the meantime, he says he tried to comfort some of the other inmates who were up for parole to ease his own nerves.

LATHAN: Looking down the hallway and looking at people who just came out of the room that I was in, crying. And I said, look, man, come here - you don't have to cry. All you have to do is understand yourself. Go deep. Find your freedom because it's not in here.

MADDEN: And then, finally, Kerry was called back in to hear the parole judge's decision.

LATHAN: She said, Mr. Lathan, I'm glad that I can say that you have earned your freedom.

CARMICHAEL: When Kerry was finally released from prison in September of 2018, he became one of nearly 4.5 million people on probation or parole in the United States. That's twice as high as the number of people currently incarcerated. And about one-third of the people on probation and parole are Black.

MADDEN: Life on parole came with a lot of rules.

CARMICHAEL: Your residence can be searched at any time.

MADDEN: You can't use a knife with a blade longer than two inches, unless you're in the kitchen.

CARMICHAEL: And you can't travel more than 50 miles without notifying your PO.

MADDEN: Kerry says he wasn't even allowed to go into corner stores that sell liquor.

LATHAN: We're going to lock you up if you go in there. I said, my grandchild wants some chips or a soda, and I'm right there. I'm going in. So y'all just going to have to take me to jail.


MADDEN: And on top of all that, Kerry also had to agree to be entered into a gang database. So he had to observe no-go zones, where he could and couldn't go and at what times a day, rules about who he's allowed to even be with. That means, technically, Kerry couldn't even be around his sister Lisa or at least two of his children.

LATHAN: But I've been gone 26 years. And my daughter, she don't even know me.

LISA P: His daughter is in prison. So when she comes home, she's a parolee. He's a parolee. How are they going to see each other - 'cause they - both of them are in violation? Nine times out of 10, either you got a criminal record, or somebody that you know has a criminal record.

LATHAN: Your neighbor.

LISA P: And that's just the facts. That's just facts.

CARMICHAEL: With so many rules and such heavy consequences for breaking them, like losing certain privileges or even going back to prison, Kerry felt like he was walking on eggshells. There's no peace in a system that's waiting for you to trip up, where 1 in 5 people entering prison in the U.S. today are there for a parole violation.

LATHAN: Everything that's right is wrong. That's how clearly you could say it. They put a lot of jargon in there for you to sign to or subterfuge, you know, trickery, you know, to get you locked back up.

MADDEN: Kerry and Lisa felt like he was being punished, not helped. They felt like they couldn't rely on the parole system. Well, Lisa knew someone they could rely on - Nipsey Hussle. See, Nipsey was known to donate clothing to people who needed it in the neighborhood, especially OGs coming home after doing time.

CARMICHAEL: Nipsey also hired parolees at his store sometimes, you know, to sweep up or even work the register. He wanted to give people the opportunities he never had as a kid, opportunities that have never really existed for a lot of cats in Crenshaw. And Lisa says, despite never having met her or Kerry, Nipsey didn't hesitate to help when she reached out.

LISA P: They gave him hoodies. They gave him shirts, socks, tees, underwear, everything somebody getting out of prison might need.

MADDEN: Yeah, right before Kerry got out, Nipsey filled Lisa's trunk with Marathon Clothing merch, which, as far as Kerry was concerned, was way more than the parole system ever gave him.

CARMICHAEL: OK. So here you have two men - Kerry, who had caused harm long ago and spent two decades wrestling with his remorse and was still trying to make good and change his life. Then there's Nipsey...


CARMICHAEL: ...Who turned neighborhood-wide trauma into music, and that music into opportunities for his hood.

MADDEN: But that same commitment to his hood led Nipsey to do something totally unexpected - write a letter to the LAPD.

STEVE SOBOROFF: I'm going to read it to you verbatim. (Reading) Our goal is to work with the department to help improve communication, relationships and work towards changing the culture and dialogue between LAPD and the inner city. We want to hear about your new programs and your goals for the department as well as how we can help stop gang violence and help you help kids.

MADDEN: That's LAPD commissioner Steve Soboroff. He's basically a civilian figurehead for the department who functions as a liaison between the public and the police. When Steve got Nipsey's email, he was impressed.

SOBOROFF: If that isn't a current statement of what needs to be done in policing in America, I don't know what is.

MADDEN: But see, for Nipsey, this was actually a risky move. Nipsey knew what it was like to have been profiled by the police his entire life.

CARMICHAEL: And remember, where Nipsey came from, cops were the opposition. And people who talked to cops, even worse - snitches. And being a snitch meant you were branded a threat in the hood.

MADDEN: Yep. So it doesn't make any sense to talk to them or work with them. That's not only against the code of hip-hop, but that's against his code of the streets.

There's a real animosity about talking to the police and enlisting the police to help solve these problems, right?

SOBOROFF: Well, I don't think animosity. I think that - I think that there is - for some in the communities, there's - you're chasticized (ph) for communicating with police.

MADDEN: So Steve wanted to set up a meeting between Nipsey and his management at Roc Nation and the chief of police, Michel Moore.

SOBOROFF: I thought it was an opportunity to let him know what we do, and for him to let us know what his ideas were of what he wanted to do. And so tell me about the culture and dialogue from the perspective of the people that come into your store.

CARMICHAEL: But no matter what he wanted, Steve lacked the power to set up the meeting without the chief's approval.

MADDEN: And Nipsey's affiliation was a red flag.

There was apprehension from members of the LAPD to meet?

SOBOROFF: Yes, there was.

MADDEN: Because of this?

SOBOROFF: Yes, there was. That's why the meeting didn't happen two months earlier. The department was a little bit reluctant because when people get on a gang database, it's hard to get off of a gang database. And when people can't get off of a gang database, when they're no longer gang members and they've paid their dues, it can affect their future.

MADDEN: The database Steve's talking about is called CalGang, and it's one of the most dangerous tools of mass surveillance that the LAPD has at its disposal. The way police have used CalGang for decades, it's confirmed our suspicions and Lisa's suspicions that cops run down on people in South Central, even with little to no reason. So let's break it down.

CARMICHAEL: Before Nipsey was born, even before Kerry joined the Rollin' 60s, law enforcement was figuring out a way to track people all over California.

WES MCBRIDE: My name is Wes McBride.

MADDEN: Wes is a former sergeant of the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department.

MCBRIDE: And I was in charge of CalGangs. I, in fact, helped design it.

MADDEN: Wes is retired now. But back in the '70s, he patrolled East Los Angeles, home to a large part of LA's Hispanic population and gangs like the Marianna and the Juarez. Every time they rolled up on someone they thought might be a gang member, officers would fill out something they called an FI, or a field interview report.

MCBRIDE: And you use it any time you stop somebody, and (unintelligible) he's up to no good, but you can't prove anything. So you fill out an FI. And...

MADDEN: If you can't prove anything, why would you fill out a FI?

MCBRIDE: Because you know he dirty. I mean, he's doing something like driving down the side street with his lights out. They'd ask, why you writing me a ticket? I said, I'm not writing you a ticket. This is called a field interview report. And when you go down here and shoot somebody, then I have your name already and a description of your car and all that. So I suggest you guys be cool tonight.

MADDEN: So let's be clear - not writing them a ticket for a crime they committed, but writing them up for something the officer thinks they're going to do. Wes helped create CalGang to standardize about a dozen criteria from those FI reports - location, affiliates, tattoo and even dress. If a person just met two of those criteria, they went into the database, even if they hadn't committed a crime.

How does that not equate to racial profiling?

MCBRIDE: I don't know how it does. I mean, I worked East LA. Ninety-nine percent of everybody in East LA is Hispanic. We didn't have any other races to pick on, you know, to stop. And the same, you go down into South LA. It's all Black population. I don't make you a gang member. You make yourself a gang member with your attitude, your dress and your actions. If you want to be a gang member, you're a gang member.

CARMICHAEL: OK. See? And this is what gets me about this quote. He's saying, I don't make you a gang member, even though he and his fellow officers are the ones filling out cards based on preconceived notions.

MADDEN: Exactly. And that's how CalGang was formed. And to be honest, it hasn't really changed that much since then.

CARMICHAEL: Yeah. Nipsey had firsthand experience with this kind of profiling. Listen to what he told Combat Jack about it back in 2013.


HUSSLE: We got police in our area called gang police that, like, they'd come through and get to know you, you know what I'm saying? They'd come hop out, ask you questions, take your name, your address, your cell phone number, your social, when you ain't done nothing. Just so they know everybody in the hood. So if it be, like, a nigga with a Slauson boy on his right hand...


HUSSLE: ...They'd be like, oh, that's Nip. We know Nip.

CARMICHAEL: By 2018, there were more than 100,000 people catalogued in CalGang's database. And even though the blueprint was set in LA, California isn't the only state that uses it. It's been standardized. And now, it's a nationwide tool for law enforcement, even federal departments.

MADDEN: In 2016, California's state auditor concluded an audit of the database, which confirmed all these problems - people entered in without a reason. Even babies under the age of 1 were included because, quote, "they admitted to being gang members."

CARMICHAEL: Now that doesn't make a lick of sense.

MADDEN: I know, right? And not only that, there's a state purge law that says your name's supposed to come off the list if you've gone five years without having anything added on your record, including things like those field interview reports Wes told us about. But the audit found that, in practice, that purge was not happening for hundreds of people.

CARMICHAEL: Yeah. So we talked to somebody who knows something about that.

SEAN GARCIA-LEYS: My name is Sean Garcia-Leys. I'm senior staff attorney at the Urban Peace Institute.

CARMICHAEL: Sean has represented dozens of people who say CalGang infringed upon their civil liberties.

GARCIA-LEYS: Almost all of my clients, even the ones who are gang involved, should have been purged but for a traffic stop at some point where they were pulled over for running a stoplight or something like that, and the officer noticed that they had a tattoo, even if it's a 20-year-old tattoo. And that stop was then used to restart their five-year purge date.

MADDEN: And CalGang is confidential. So there's no way to know if you remain in the database past your purge date. Sean tells us Nipsey satisfied a lot of the criteria that could land somebody in CalGang. Like, remember how Nipsey said the cops would identify him by the Slauson Boy tattoo on his hand?

GARCIA-LEYS: I'm sure they thought his tattoos were gang tattoos.

MADDEN: And then there's Marathon Clothing.

GARCIA-LEYS: Officers have not been shy about saying that they feel the clothing store is, to some degree, a front for gang activity or a hangout for local gang members. So that would qualify it as a gang area. So yeah, every time he went there, he was - he could have had his clock restarted for the five-year purge.

MADDEN: Wow. Just by showing up at his own business.

GARCIA-LEYS: That's right.

MADDEN: So it's clear that Nipsey's gang affiliation defined how law enforcement saw him. And it was hard for them to see him as anything else. So we asked Steve Soboroff point blank.

So are you saying Nipsey was in CalGang at the time when he was trying to set up this meeting?

SOBOROFF: He might have been on the database. I don't know.

MADDEN: We also put the question to Sean, that civil rights attorney.

So in your professional opinion, at the time of his death, Nipsey was in CalGang?

GARCIA-LEYS: I believe so.


MADDEN: We'll probably never know for sure whether Nip was in CalGang or not. In fact, all the public information requests we made to the LAPD were denied. But what's clear is that the LAPD wanted to look into Nipsey's gang affiliation before setting up Steve's meeting. So finally, after weeks, the LAPD's background check on Nipsey came back.

SOBOROFF: When I saw the chief, he said, yeah, we're good. We're - you know, we're good for the meeting. And so whatever research they did, they probably verified that he was no longer an active gang member.

CARMICHAEL: Steve Soboroff and Roc Nation scheduled a meeting between Nipsey and the LAPD's chief of police for the afternoon of Monday, April 1, 2019. But that meeting - man, it never happened.


SOBOROFF: Chief called me and told me that Nipsey Hussle had been assassinated and murdered. This horrible thing happened one day before we we're going to have this meeting. Why couldn't we have had the meeting the day before instead of the day after?

CARMICHAEL: That's Steve speaking at a press conference following Nipsey's murder. It was the first time the public became aware that Nipsey had plans to meet with the police.

MADDEN: But what many people didn't know is that just moments before shots rang out, Nipsey had a different meeting - a chance encounter with profound consequences.


CARMICHAEL: While the LAPD had been delaying their meeting with Nipsey Hussle, Nipsey had been helping Kerry Lathan by donating him some clothes. And Kerry wanted to thank him for being so generous. So on Sunday morning, March 31, 2019, he learned that Nipsey was at his store. It seemed like the perfect opportunity.

MADDEN: As Kerry was on his way to Marathon Clothing, Nipsey was standing in the parking lot, something he did most Sundays. Nip had a small crowd around him - people chopping it up, taking selfies, you know, doing what people normally do when a neighborhood celebrity pulls up.

CARMICHAEL: But not all of those conversations were so casual. One of the people Nipsey was talking to was Eric Holder Jr., another Rollin 60's Crip known around the hood as Shitty Cuz. And there's no way to know everything they talked about, but one aspect of their conversation is definitely worth noting. At least two eyewitnesses testified in a grand jury hearing that they had a conversation about the dangers of cooperating with police. Nipsey warned Eric there were rumors about police having paperwork on him, basically that the streets might see him as a snitch. And Eric, he tried to brush it off at the time. The witnesses described the conversation as tense, but cordial. The men dapped. Eric left to get some food nearby.

MADDEN: Minutes later, Kerry pulled up and started a conversation with Nip. It was short - a dap, a picture.

LATHAN: He said, I got you, big homie. I said, thank you, but I can't depend on you all the time. I got to depend on me. I've been doing that all my life.

MADDEN: But Kerry wasn't done after he thanked them. He also wanted to pitch Nipsey some business ideas, some designs for a T-shirt he'd sketched up.

CARMICHAEL: And that's when, according to videotaped evidence and eyewitness accounts, Eric Holder walked up to Nip again. He had two guns, one in each hand, and he started firing.

LATHAN: When I see a gun, I turn around and run. I don't stop and take a selfie of the gunman. I don't do that. I ain't no fool. You see a gun, you run.

MADDEN: Kerry later said in a DJ Vlad interview that he all of a sudden felt a searing pain in his back. He'd been hit in the spine.

LATHAN: I didn't know what was going on. I was like, what the hell? But I fell on my stomach. And all I could see was people's feet. I couldn't see nothing else.

MADDEN: Nothing else, until he saw Nipsey fall to the ground beside him.

CARMICHAEL: Surveillance footage captures the shooter unloading nearly a dozen bullets into Nipsey before running to a nearby car. Nipsey and Kerry were rushed to the hospital, where Nipsey was later declared dead.

MADDEN: Eric Holder Jr. was charged with the shooting. He's pled not guilty, but the trial has been delayed multiple times.

CARMICHAEL: About a week after the shooting, Kerry gets released from the hospital. He moves into a halfway house for parolees. He's still recovering - wheelchair-bound and in a lot of pain. Now that's when parole officers show up, not to see how Kerry's doing, if he needs any support or help - nah, they're there to arrest Kerry for violating his parole.

LATHAN: They said gang affiliation. And I took out the newspaper that said, Nipsey Hussle, A Voice of Peace. I said, so y'all going to send me back to prison for talking to a voice of peace? Y'all crazy.

MADDEN: When we talked to Kerry about it months later, he still didn't understand exactly what happened. He was a victim of the shooting. He didn't commit a crime. So we asked the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation, the agency that oversees Kerry's parole, what rule he broke. Via email, a spokesperson declined to tell us, citing privacy concerns, but said they could confirm one thing. The violation had nothing to do with, quote, "the Nipsey Hussle incident."

CARMICHAEL: But turns out, the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation straight up lied to us.

MADDEN: And we know that because eventually we obtained Kerry's parole violation report ourselves. According to the report, parole officers interviewed Kerry at least two times while he was in the hospital. Officers cite several ways Kerry violated his parole, all stemming from the, quote, "incident in connection with the shooting death of rapper Nipsey Hussle."

CARMICHAEL: Now, in making their case for why Kerry should be arrested, one key reason they gave was that Kerry admitted to associating with Nipsey Hussle in those minutes before the shooting. Parole officers cited they used departmental resources to confirm, quote, "that Nipsey Hussle is a documented Rollin 60's Crip gang member." That's when the officers search Kerry's phone. And according to the report, they find a photo of Kerry at a strip club with two other men that officers say are throwing up gang signs. We asked an expert if that was enough evidence to lock Kerry up again.

BRUCE WESTERN: The posture of the parole authority in my reading of the report is one of suspicion. Is the person who was shot - is he a gang member? Was he associating with gang members?

MADDEN: That's Bruce Western. He's the co-director of Columbia University's Justice Lab, and he studies the sociological impacts of life lived on parole. We asked Bruce to read Kerry's violation report.

WESTERN: Maybe a group of 50-year-old men are flashing gang signs because that's what they did when they were 18 and they hadn't seen each other for a long time. Is this evidence that they are actively involved in the criminal activities of a gang today? It seems like it's very subjective to make the leap.

MADDEN: That subjectivity trips a lot of parolees up. In 2017, more than a third of parolees locked up in California were there because of a technical parole violation, not for committing a crime.

WESTERN: The person on parole only has limited control over whether or not they are going to come back into contact with the system. If they live in a heavily policed community, the likelihood is that they will come back into contact. The system in many cases wants to have contact with you.

MADDEN: It wouldn't be able to operate without you.

WESTERN: That's right. That's right. And this is the context in which people say, I feel like I'm set up to fail.

MADDEN: That's how parole officers felt about Kerry, that he had failed. So they took Kerry back to jail. But after media attention on Kerry's case and a petition with 20,000 signatures, the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation reversed his parole violation. After spending 12 days locked up, Kerry was released.

CARMICHAEL: But here's what's scary to think about. If Kerry's violation occurred because he had been talking to any other alleged gang member besides Nipsey Hussle, he'd likely still be in jail. Both Kerry and Nipsey were trying to work within the system, trying to play by its rules to improve themselves and their hood. Nipsey had reached out to the cops, but they delayed the meeting because they saw him as a gang member. Kerry reached out to Nipsey for help, and it landed him back in jail. It's almost like the system wants to make sure that people like Nipsey and Kerry aren't working to help each other.

MADDEN: But there has been some reform to that system. In the last year, multiple LAPD officers have been criminally charged for inputting false info into CalGang. And the LAPD finally conducted an internal investigation. So this summer, after years of public outcry, Chief Michel Moore declared that the department would quit using the database permanently and effective immediately. None of that data that the LAPD's entered into CalGang can be used by anyone else. But other law enforcement agencies in California can still access and update the database themselves.

Nipsey's famous mantra is, the marathon continues. Never stop chasing your dreams. Kerry's sister, Lisa P., says she's finally getting a chance to reach hers. She's a registered paralegal now, and she's also writing a book about the history of the Rollin 60's. It's called "Orphans Of The Revolution." She hopes future generations will learn from it.

LISA P: I'm looking at life. I want to look at it through the binoculars so I could see the distance.

MADDEN: See what it's going to be.

LISA P: Mmm hmm.


LISA P: I just want to see something different before I leave here. I don't have a lot of time, and I just really want to see a change in my community. And I can make it that.

MADDEN: Sitting in the rehab facility, Kerry tells us he has dreams, too.

What is your next move for getting out of here? Like, what do you think the next step is? What do you want your next step to be?

LATHAN: Some kind of public housing that's for me, where I can invite my daughter who don't know me and my grandkids over.

CARMICHAEL: But for cats like Kerry, it's hard to chase your dreams when you feel like you've been trapped.

MADDEN: Captured because of all the things that are still holding him back.

So you still feel captured?

LATHAN: Yeah, in a lot of ways, you know? I have to be screened. Who can visit me? Who can't? That's captured. You look at a cat or a rabbit or a dog in a cage. People come to see it. They point at it.

MADDEN: Kerry has a piece of bullet lodged in his back, lingering trauma from the shooting. And he's living the rest of his life on parole with the same strict rules as before. And, of course, there's the stroke that's partially paralyzed him and permanently affected his brain. Even when Kerry talks about his future, it's often jumbled up with memories from his past. So when I ask him about everything he's experienced over the last year, he says it reminds him of this old '60s song by The Marvelettes.

LATHAN: They say, the hunter guys are getting captured by the game. I'm the game, and I got captured.


THE MARVELETTES: (Singing) Every day brings change...

LATHAN: (Singing) And this whole world puts on a new face.


THE MARVELETTES: (Singing) What's this whole world coming to?

LATHAN: (Singing) Things just ain't the same any time the hunter gets captured by the game.


MADDEN: On next week's finale of LOUDER THAN A RIOT, a prison so neglected, it's lethal.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #7: We in this bitch to die, man. 2020, we all going to die.

CARMICHAEL: Where the only way inmates can get help is to set the prison on fire. But can hip-hop help burn the system down for good?

MADDEN: This episode was written by me, Rodney Carmichael and Adelina Lancianese.

CARMICHAEL: Our editors are Chenjerai Kumanyika, Michael May and Chiquita Paschal.

MADDEN: It was produced by Adelina Lancianese, with help from Matt Ozug, Sam Leeds and Dustin DeSoto. Josh Newell is our engineer.

CARMICHAEL: Senior supervising producers are Rachel Neel and N'Jeri Eaton.

MADDEN: And shoutout to the bigwigs - Steve Nelson, Lauren Onkey and Anya Grundmann.

CARMICHAEL: Original music by Kassa Overall and Ramtin Arablouei.

MADDEN: Our digital editor is Jacob Ganz. Our fact-checkers are Nicolette Khan and Greta Pittenger.

CARMICHAEL: Special thanks to Dianne Lugo, Micah Ratner and Marissa Montes.

MADDEN: And just a reminder, we want to hear from you. Go to now, and fill out our audience survey. This is your chance to go off. Tell us what you're feeling and what you're not about the show. That's Thanks.

CARMICHAEL: And for the latest music news and Tiny Desk Concerts, you can subscribe to the NPR Music Newsletter at

MADDEN: From NPR Music, this has been LOUDER THAN A RIOT.

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