Kanye thumbs nose at black angst over Trump’s pres­i­dency

Chicago Sun-Times - - TOP NEWS - MARY MITCHELL mmitchell@sun­times.com | @MaryMitchel­lCST

There’s a lot of irony in rap­per Kanye West’s visit to the Oval Of­fice. While for­mer pres­i­dent Barack Obama once called West a “jack­ass” for his odd be­hav­ior at a mu­sic awards pro­gram, the rap­per was wel­comed with open arms by Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump, a man most black peo­ple con­sider an un­apolo­getic racist.

Al­though West is a megamil­lion-dol­lar rap­per, mar­ried to re­al­ity TV roy­alty, he couldn’t get past the White House gates when Obama was in of­fice.

But Trump gave West a warm re­cep­tion, de­scrib­ing him as a “smart cookie” de­spite his ram­blings, and even sug­gest­ing that West could be a se­ri­ous pres­i­den­tial can­di­date some day.

At one point West, who proudly sported a red MAGA cap, got up and hugged the pres­i­dent, telling re­porters, “I love this guy right here.”

West was joined by Hall of Fame run­ning back Jim Brown, Ivanka Trump and Jared Kush­ner, and the at­tor­ney for im­pris­oned gang chief Larry Hoover for a meet­ing that was sup­posed to fo­cus on crim­i­nal jus­tice is­sues.

The un­pre­dictable West let loose when Lynn Sweet, the Chicago Sun-Times Wash­ing­ton Bu­reau chief, asked him about his ideas for re­duc­ing crime in Chicago.

After say­ing he dis­agreed with the pres­i­dent’s call for more ag­gres­sive “stopand-frisk” searches by Chicago po­lice, West launched into a de­fense of Hoover, the leader of the Gang­ster Dis­ci­ples who is serv­ing six life sen­tences for run­ning a drug em­pire.

“Re­ally, the rea­son why they im­pris­oned him is be­cause he started do­ing pos­i­tive for the com­mu­nity. He started show­ing he ac­tu­ally had power. … He wasn’t just one of a mono­lithic voice, that he could wrap peo­ple around,” he said.

He de­scribed Hoover as a “liv­ing statue” to African-Amer­i­cans, what­ever that means.

West was just 4 years old when Hoover was charged in con­nec­tion with the kid­nap­ping and mur­der of Wil­liam Young, a 19-year-old ri­val gang mem­ber, in 1973.

Hoover was ac­cused of or­der­ing the hit and was con­victed and sen­tenced to 15 to 200 years in prison.

But it wasn’t the killing that turned Hoover into a leg­end.

Ac­cord­ing to fed­eral pros­e­cu­tors de­ter­mined to dis­man­tle Chicago street gangs in 1995, Hoover had man­aged to run the gang’s drug em­pire from be­hind bars.

The war on Hoover and the Gang­ster Dis­ci­ples swept up po­lice and cor­rec­tional of­fi­cers, as well as high-rank­ing gang mem­bers.

In all, 39 peo­ple were put on trial at the Dirk­sen Fed­eral Build­ing as Hoover’s sup­port­ers marched daily chant­ing for his re­lease.

West isn’t the first to ar­gue that Hoover had turned the or­ga­nized street gang into 21st Cen­tury VOTE, an or­ga­ni­za­tion fo­cused on em­pow­er­ing the black com­mu­nity.

At the time, Wal­lace “Gator” Bradley, now a po­lit­i­cal op­er­a­tive, de­fended 21st Cen­tury VOTE as a ve­hi­cle for reach­ing youth.

“By be­ing out there on is­sues, it gives the young adults a chance to see the er­ror of their ways be­fore they get caught up,” he said.

Rather than ac­tivists, West and his wife, Kim Kar­dashian, are emerg­ing as lead­ing ad­vo­cates on an is­sue that is crit­i­cal to the African-Amer­i­can com­mu­nity.

Kar­dashian used her celebrity plat­form to per­suade Trump to com­mute the life sen­tence of Alice Marie John­son, a grand­mother who served 22 years for co­caine traf­fick­ing.

By the way, for­mer pres­i­dent Obama com­muted 504 life sen­tences dur­ing his pres­i­dency.

Some prison re­form ad­vo­cates ar­gue that the gun vi­o­lence ur­ban ar­eas have ex­pe­ri­enced in the past cou­ple of decades is re­lated to the dis­rup­tion of a gang hi­er­ar­chy that had clear lead­er­ship.

West seems to be mak­ing the case that par­don­ing Hoover would some­how re­duce the crime in Chicago.

Frankly, sen­tenc­ing Hoover to six life sen­tences was pros­e­cu­to­rial overkill.

But Hoover is now a se­nior cit­i­zen. The armed gangs run­ning these streets to­day aren’t likely to lis­ten to old heads like him.

If West is se­ri­ous about ad­vo­cat­ing for prison re­form he should use his in with Trump to do more than schmooze.

There are still thou­sands of young men and women of color serv­ing long sen­tences for drug traf­fick­ing.

Their re­turn to the homes and the chil­dren they left be­hind could go a long way to restor­ing peace in the com­mu­nity.

West is free to sup­port whom he chooses, but his pub­lic fawn­ing over a pres­i­dent who is in­sen­si­tive to the needs of peo­ple of color does not prove he has a mono­lithic voice.

It proves that he can no longer hear the voices that sup­ported him be­fore he was all that.

OLIVER CON­TR­ERAS/POOL/GETTY IM­AGES

Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump hugs rap­per Kanye West dur­ing a meet­ing in the Oval Of­fice on Thurs­day. At the meet­ing, West ad­vo­cated for im­pris­oned gang leader Larry Hoover.

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