01:04 - Source: CNN
Rapper XXXTentacion killed in apparent robbery

Editor’s Note: Liz Lazzara is an androgyne writer, editor and activist specializing in mental health, addiction and trauma. Lazzara is the author of essays, narrative nonfiction and journalism for multiple online and print publications, and is working on a manuscript about complex post-traumatic stress disorder and addiction. The views expressed here are solely the author’s.

CNN  — 

Depending on whose Twitter feed you look at, XXXTentacion’s death was either a tragedy or cause for celebration.

According to police, he was allegedly shot by 22-year-old Dedrick Williams while leaving a sporting goods store, only 20 at his time of death. Those in mourning write about the power of his musical ‘artistry,’ how his music helped them through difficult times, and even claim he was “this generation’s Kurt Cobain” and compare him to Tupac Shakur (many, myself included, disagree, but I digress).

That side of the street mourns the loss of Jahseh Onfroy (XXX’s real name): his music, his work’s influence, his life.

Liz Lazzara

The other side, though, seems to be gratified he’s gone, that the other side of his legacy – violence, homophobia and domestic brutality – has died with him. There are tweets that call out those who choose to focus on his music rather than his victims, tweets that say he deserved to die for the acts he committed, tweets that label him a homophobe and abuser while cutting his music down to “a few catchy beats” – and I agree with many of them.

But I will not be answering the battle cry on social media to condemn his life or celebrate his death, not even as a survivor of domestic violence or someone his homophobia might have prompted him to target.

Jahseh Onfroy (XXXTentacion’s real name) reportedly grew up in a violent and neglectful home. He was expelled from middle school for fighting and kicked out of high school chorus for punching someone before dropping out his sophomore year.

Shortly after, he spent time in a juvenile detention center for possession of a gun. During his time there, as he later admitted in the No Jumper podcast, he was assigned a gay roommate, someone he labeled “a risk” — to what? His masculinity? His straightness? I’m not sure, but I do know that when Onfroy says that after he saw the guy looking at him while he was changing after a shower, Onfroy beat him, “tried to strangle him,” and admitted he was trying to kill him “because of what he did.”

As a pansexual person (meaning someone who is attracted to people regardless of gender or biological sex), I view this incident – which according to my reading of Florida law could and should have been prosecuted as a felony hate crime – as the stuff of my nightmares, especially since the Onfroy told the Miami New Times, “Would I change anything about my journey?… no.”

His lack of remorse shocks and terrifies me, as does the status of hate crime reportage. According to FBI statistics for 2016, there were 1,255 victims of hate crimes motivated by sexual orientation, and 787 of those were against gay men. However, the Washington Post reported recently that “nearly 90 percent of the country’s approximately 16,000 law enforcement agencies either choose not to supply data for those FBI statistics, or report no hate crimes in their jurisdictions,” leaving us all in the dark about how often these crimes are actually committed.

What most people – especially women – remember about Onfroy other than his music is his multiple and horrifying domestic abuse charges.

Between May and October of 2016, he allegedly assaulted his ex-girlfriend, Geneva Ayala, repeatedly. According to her deposition, he threatened to put either a barbecue fork or wire brush up her vagina (her choice) because she had complimented a male friend. By July, he allegedly threatened to kill her “literally like every day.” When she hummed along to a guest artist’s verse on one of Onfroy’s songs, she said he head-butted, punched and stomped on her, threatening to cut out her tongue.

After Ayala found out she was pregnant in August, the abuse allegedly escalated. Onfroy was arrested and charged with aggravated battery of a pregnant woman, domestic battery by strangulation, false imprisonment and witness tampering. He denied the charges for the rest of his life.

This is the cause of the collective and posthumous vitriol and I understand it perfectly. I grew up amid that sort of ferocity. As I have alleged elsewhere, my father, who I have forcibly removed from my life, abused my mother in every way possible: physically, emotionally, financially, and sexually. They divorced when I was 2, but from my studies of complex post-traumatic stress disorder, I know that while I can’t remember specifics of what happened back then, my still-forming brain grew accustomed to his behavior, even normalized it.

Like Onfroy, my father also grew up in an impoverished home riddled with abuse and, last I knew, mirrored Onfroy’s apparent lack of regret for the hurt he caused others. This is not a matter of coincidence; several studies have shown that boys who witness violence grow up to become perpetrators themselves. However awful it may be that boys are conditioned to repeat their own cruel pasts, there is no excuse for these vicious crimes in adulthood. There is no punishment strong enough to provide retribution for their victims.

XXXTentacion’s death has also raised for the question: if my father died, would that lessen the impact of what havoc he’s wrought upon my life? Would it provide me closure? Sadly, I don’t think so. There are even scientific studies that suggest it won’t.

Researchers at the University of Minnesota studying the reaction of co-victims to the death penalty found that only 2.5% received closure post-execution and 20.1% said it did not help them heal. Instead, they expressed feelings of “emptiness” and renewed grief.

Indeed, co-victim therapist Lula Redmond says, “Taking a life doesn’t fill that void [of losing a loved one], but it’s generally not until after the execution that families realize this.” Another study, conducted at Marquette University, posits that life sentences may provide more opportunities for co-victims to heal, that they “may prefer the finality of a life sentence and the obscurity into which the defendant will quickly fall, to the continued uncertainty and publicity of the death penalty.”

Ayala herself seems to feel this way. The day after Onfroy was killed, she tweeted, “It’s disgusting that people are speaking for me. i don’t care if no one cared about me however many months ago, i didn’t lose my life. he did. it’s permanent. i’m still here. like how do you think that makes me feel? everyone expecting me to be relieved or happy?! no, i’m broken.”

When she was kicked out of Onfroy’s recent memorial-cum-street riot and her vigil offerings were burned, Ayala expressed her anger and grief on Instagram. In one video, she’s sobbing in dismay.

This is why I refuse to make Onfroy’s death personal, to get angry, to celebrate or to relish that he’s gone. While his ex-girlfriend, his friends and his family have an intimate connection with him and his murder, engaging with his life and death only draws attention to the darkest parts of my life.

I refuse to let someone I was vaguely aware of affect me that way – in any way.

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    Alongside all the sadness and rage on social media these past few days, I’ve seen many messages urging people to take a break.

    I suggest we follow the example set forth by Marquette’s researchers: let XXXTentacion fall back into the anonymity from which he rose. Break the chain of his influence by showing we just don’t care – not about violence, bigotry, child abuse and the influence of music, but about him. Let his alleged victims find their peace where they may. But for the rest of us? Let this be the end of the taste he had of fame.