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Larry Hoover, former gang leader, deserves a fair shake

Why are the feds so afraid of letting the 70-year-old former gang leader out of Supermax prison?

Larry Hoover
Sun-Times file

The notion that former gang leader Larry Hoover is calling shots for the Gangster Disciples in downstate Illinois, from the Supermax prison in Colorado, is ridiculous.

Even if you believe that Hoover’s influence is so powerful that gang members who were born decades after Hoover went to prison would follow his commands, why would he focus on criminal enterprise at this point in his life?

After more than 50 years behind bars, 20 of those years in isolation, Hoover is trying to come home.

He has filed for relief under the First Step Act, established to address the criminal justice system's inequities.

But Hoover’s name popped up in an indictment that doesn’t even involve him, putting his request for relief at risk.

Although Hoover isn’t charged in the indictment, the feds alleged that he “promoted two men to top posts” while locked up in the maximum-security prison.

“To have his name continuously thrown into the affairs of others and to be used as a scapegoat for criminal activity he has no connection to needs to cease,” his lawyer, Justin Moore, said in a statement.

If granted federal relief, Hoover would still have to serve a year in an Illinois prison before being up for parole.

“The U.S. attorney’s office contends he would cause disarray in the prison system. But he has been as near a model prisoner as you can imagine. The fact that he has been in isolation for two decades, barely has the ability to talk to me or his family, and somehow is directing gang members he doesn’t even know to participate in gang activities is completely outrageous,” Moore told me.

“What is he going to do? He is 70 years old and starting to have some health issues. He has never held his son in his arms or spent any time with his grandchildren. He has never been able to touch them in no kind of way,” said his wife, Winndye Hoover, in a phone interview.

Hoover would have everything to lose and nothing to gain by getting involved in a criminal organization that has splintered into factions where members kill each other over things as petty as mean-mugging and rap lyrics.

It used to be whatever the feds said about drug dealers, I believed.

Pookie’s got a pound of marijuana stuffed in his socks. Bring him in. Shanay is dealing crack cocaine out of her beauty shop. Shut it down. Ray-Ray is selling smack on the street corner. Call the cops.

It used to be that however long the sentence the judge handed down, it seemed fair.

I was just that tired of open drug markets operating on the South and West sides and seeing the devastation drug addiction heaped on Black families.

But now I know better.

In too many instances, the cleanup was worse than the crime.

Dirty cops lied and planted evidence, and justice was applied unevenly.

While more white people used illicit drugs, more Black people were arrested for selling the drugs. Black mothers and fathers went to prison for long stretches of time. More Black children ended up in child welfare.

The wheels of justice turn slowly.

And many of us are just now seeing the injustice of drug laws that have now been widely deemed unconstitutional and racist.

Hoover is no longer a gang chief or any other leader. He is symbolic of our failed drug laws and the inequality of our criminal justice system.

So what are the feds afraid of?

Is it that Hoover will rise like the messiah of gang-bangers they have portrayed him to be?

Or are they worried that his release will shine a spotlight on the terrible conditions that still exist in Black and Brown communities?

After more than a half-century in prison, Hoover should be able to work out the rest of his redemption in the free world.