This article originally appeared on Noisey Canada.
Sometimes, Alonda Jefferies still talks about her son in the present tense. "I'm just waiting for him to walk through the door and pat me on the top of my head," she says. "His face was so soft." So far this year, 11 people have been murdered in Halifax, Nova Scotia—already the highest number in a year since 2013. On Saturday, Shakur Jefferies became another in a long line of senseless killings.
When he was in high school, the 21-year-old father had been known as a charismatic and talented football player. He'd just finished a safety training course so he could get work before Christmas, his mother says, in order to buy gifts for his son. Before that could happen, he was fatally shot, allegedly by a man who Alonda says was once a friend of Shakur's: Carvel Clayton, a local hip-hop artist who wrote an anthem against violence, "Pray for Scotia."
Clayton was arraigned for a charge of second-degree murder on Monday in Halifax Provincial Court, leaving the courtroom to be faced with a chaotic throng of Jefferies' supporters yelling, among other things, "Get him!" He returns to court December 2. Known as Certified or Certi in the music scene, Clayton had been selected to go to Atlanta last year for the AC3 music festival. He most recently performed at the Halifax Pop Explosion this October, but it was "Pray For Scotia" that got Certi recognition outside the hip hop scene. Penned after a spate of murders earlier this year, the song called for a stop to Halifax's ongoing gun violence.
Johnny Wheeler, a promoter who goes by J Wheels, says he respected Certi as an artist and liked his work: "He seemed like a genuine guy to put out that music." But the allegation of murder, he says, "and with a gun—it really discredits what he did. "That's wasted life. Wasted talent," he says. "When we found out it was Certified we were all just at a loss for words."
When contacted by Noisey, the police would not give any details about why they think Certi murdered Jefferies, citing the ongoing investigation. The attack appears to be in Certi's neighborhood according to a YellowPages search of the alleged offender's address. We do know Certi and Jefferies each had been sentenced for crimes from at least a year ago—we have no indication those were related to one another or what happened this week. The most recent incidents: In June, Certi pled guilty to a 2015 charge of assault causing bodily harm. And a friend of Jefferies says the murder victim was released from jail in September, after serving a sentence for low-level offenses including drug trafficking.
Jacob Cuvelier says his friend returned to the outside and put his past life behind him. "He was on daddy duty the whole time. This guy really and truly was on the straight and narrow before he left us—and that's heartbreaking," says Cuvelier, who met Jefferies in high school and who considered him to be like a brother. "Because when you learn from a mistake like that and you truly start the process of turning your life around, the sky's the limit."
Jefferies' death is part of a larger problem with murders in the municipality: 58-year-old Terry Izzard was fatally shot only days after Jefferies died. And before Certi released the anti-violence track in April, three people were killed in a week, including former Halifax Rainmen player Tyler Richards, 29. Then in August, a man named Tylor McInnis, 26, was found dead in a stolen car on the outskirts of town. (Certi actually paid homage to McInnis in a video called "I Wish," which includes people wearing t-shirts emblazoned with his name and lyrics like "I felt like you'd be here forever.")
In a close-knit and often quiet community, those attacks felt like an epidemic. A burst of activism followed: one march, another march, an anti-violence advocate's push to make the violence a local election issue and a teen girl's plea for shooters to drop their weapons. But this week there were three more shootings, including Jefferies' murder, and community leaders are wringing their hands. "At this point, it's a crisis," says Lindell Smith, the newly-elected Halifax municipal councillor who co-founded Centreline Studios, where young people can record poetry and music. "It was a crisis before and that crisis didn't end but ... whatever we have in place now isn't working."
Smith and other leaders are talking about having a community town hall meeting featuring members of various levels of government, to come up with some answers about how to get people to stop killing each other. "I have ideas, of course," Smith says, "but I think what's important right now is that we come together and listen." J Wheels is disappointed in how the media has portrayed the murder—he worries all the focus on Certi's mixtapes will imply that his role as a rapper was representative of the how the music scene operates.
Halifax, a municipality of only about 400,000 people, has a respected legacy as a rap city, but its history of segregation and racism makes it hard come up. Just this year after the murders in April, a bar in town refused to host a black Dalhousie law student's party because the owner feared for staff's "safety" and worried about an "unsafe crowd."
"So I said, 'It's basically because I'm black,'" the student recounted to CBC at that time. "'You don't want the blacks'."
It sounds like a small concern in the wake of a murder, but J Wheels worries that backlash over Certi will make it more difficult for artists to book shows and spread something positive. "It's almost like, credit he doesn't deserve," he says. "There's been so much focus on how he was a rapper and so little on the victim."
"At the end of the day there's a who won't get to see his Superman anymore," says Jefferies' friend Cuvelier. "And a mother … who will have to bury her son."
Katie Toth is a writer based in Halifax. Follow her on Twitter.