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Requiem for a Rapper

Why was Kenny Smith shot by police? While his family and friends wait for answers, they ponder the tragic loss of a promising artist



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Before leaving home, Shauna Smith made sure her son had a ride and enough money. Lately, friends had encouraged her to put some slack in the leash now that her son was 20. So that night, she resisted the urge to call him.

The party was as packed as everyone expected, with familiar friends from Euclid mixing with an assortment of people from all over Cleveland. Although it started problem-free, as the party chugged along fights began to break out. Little faced off against another set of Cleveland rappers before Smith stepped in to defuse the tension. Then Claggett was cold-cocked in the face, lighting the match on another scramble. One fight bled into another.

"Who the fuck knows, some bullshit," Little says when asked what caused all the mayhem. "That's how this shit be at these urban clubs, with all these young kids. But Kenny didn't fight, Kenny didn't lay a hand on nobody. Kenny wasn't like that."

As the party cleared out, shots were fired in the parking lot. Ferguson and Claggett thought it was a security guard, though Wilbert's management tells Scene that the club had no security working that night. Whoever fired first, the shots set off a chain of gunfire in the street outside the club, with trigger-happy revelers emptying their clips into the night air, scattering the crowd into the surrounding area.

At some point in the confusion, Smith broke away from the friend he'd caught a ride with downtown. Instead, he hopped into a gold Saturn with two guys from the neighborhood, Devonta Hill and Kayron Purdie.

As everyone hauled home, Smith's friends began swapping texts and phone calls about rumors of someone getting hit by gunfire near the club, possibly involving the police. Like a schoolyard game of telephone, the info was smudged into illegibility as it made the rounds, the details muddied. Eventually everyone wrote off the rumors as unsubstantiated bull.

Back at his house in Cleveland Heights, Little rolled awake around 4 a.m. and instinctively reached for his phone. Sitting in his inbox was a mass text message from a friend reporting that Kenny Smith had been shot by the Cleveland Police.

"Kenny?" Little recalls thinking before bursting into tears. "Kenny didn't do nothing to nobody."

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