If you clicked on the homepage of gossip site TMZ in the early morning hours of November 1, graphic images and video taken in the moments after the killing of Takeoff, one-third of record-breaking rap group Migos, were there for all to see.
But TMZ wasn’t the only one to post the horrific images of the 28-year-old Kirshnik Khari Ball.
In the hours following the shooting, video footage of the incident, including Takeoff’s bloody, lifeless body, circulated throughout multiple social media platforms, including Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, and more, prompting an outcry for sites to remove the gruesome video from their platforms.
Pulling out your mobile device, recording, and uploading the slayings of Black people, particularly Black men, to social media has become normal, prompting people to question yet again why the world is numb to the deaths of African Americans.
“Please don’t repost or circulate that vid or those images. Don’t contribute to the fetishization of Black death,” tweeted Treva B. Lindsey, a professor in the Women’s, Gender, and Sexuality Studies Department at Ohio State University and founder of the Transformative Black Feminism(s) Initiative in Columbus, Ohio.
Rapper and author Cadence Weapon asked if TMZ would have published the videos with the article if Takeoff had been a white artist, rather than rapper.
“Where does the impulse to film and post a lifeless dead Black body come from ?” Weapon asked. “Maybe this is why Black Death has become so normalized.”
Since the online publication of the video, there’s been an increase in Google search trends related to the Takeoff video, deepening the notion that there is a modern fixation on likes, views, and clicks that often prompt people to engage in, “more egregious, unwholesome things for attention,” clinical psychologist Carla Manly told USA TODAY.
“Stop retweeting and reposting that video of Takeoff death on the TL,” Twitter user Jacoby wrote. “Everytime someone passes away yall are insensitive just for some views or retweets.”
Less than two months ago, on Sept. 12, a horrific 31-second-long video of rapper PnB Rock fighting for his life as people attempting to dress Rock’s wounds and save his life circulated online. The 30-year-old, whose real name was Rakim Hasheem Allen, and who left two young children behind, had been shot and killed during a targeted armed robbery at a Los Angeles Roscoe’s Chicken ‘N Waffles.
Even then, members of the Hip Hop community and fans alike reacted to the heavy engagement on social media to the sensitive content, which seemed to not emotionally move people — or spark a moral reaction.
Instead of being numb, influential members of the hip-hop community, such as Questlove, are encouraging people to let themselves feel their emotions over the killing of Takeoff.
“Allow sadness & anger in. I don’t have a good relationship with either. My go to is to fix it. Or more typical is numb it,” Questlove posted on Instagram on Wednesday. “This has been our process since our arrival in America. Emotions were not allowed ever in our lives: if you express anger you were a threat.”
“Please do not numb your emotions. Let it out. Please,” Questlove wrote.
The recent circulation of footage of PnB Rock and Takeoff during their last moments is not the first time websites, social media platforms, and their users have received criticism for their coverage of — and profiting from — Black deaths.
In 2020, Los Angeles County Sheriff Alex Villanueva called TMZ “wholly inappropriate” for breaking the story of the fatal helicopter crash that killed Kobe Bryant along with eight others before families were notified about the crash. Bryant’s widow, Vanessa Bryant, later filed a $31 million lawsuit against Los Angeles County for sharing the gruesome photos taken by officers at the crash site.
The exploitation of Black celebrity deaths repeatedly brews frustration within the Black community. We’ve witnessed this through the death of Bryant, PnB Rock, Takeoff, and even Nipsey Hussle’s shooting that was posted online back in 2019.
As actress Keke Palmer shared on Instagram about Takeoff’s killing, “This is horrible. From the tragedy of the death to the tragedy of there being a video of it online. It’s all just tragic,” Palmer wrote. “I am so sorry to his whole family and all he touched.”
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