clock menu more-arrow no yes

Filed under:

If ex-Gangster Disciples boss Larry Hoover qualified, he should have gotten sentencing break

The storied Chicago gang chief isn’t responsible for today’s violence. But treating him fairly could have gone a long way toward building the trust needed to end the chaos.

Before he went to prison, Gangster Disciples leader Larry Hoover (center) with top gang lieutenant Gregory Shell (left) and gang associate Keith McCain.
Before he went to prison, Gangster Disciples leader Larry Hoover (center) with top gang lieutenant Gregory Shell (left) and gang associate Keith McCain.
U.S. District Court, Atlanta

Who’s afraid of ending up like Larry Hoover, the once-upon-a-time chief of the Gangster Disciples street gang, locked up in a supermax prison for life?

Certainly not the person accused of firing into a crowd of people cleaning up after a peaceful holiday barbecue.

Certainly not the man who confessed to wounding two ATF officers and a Chicago police officer when he fired at an unmarked police vehicle on I-57.

And certainly not those responsible for the 104 people shot and 19 killed over the Fourth of July holiday weekend that’s been Chicago’s most violent weekend this year.

But according to U.S. District Judge Harry Leinenweber’s ruling that denied Hoover the sentencing break he wanted under the federal First Step Act, Hoover’s harsh sentence could deter other criminals.

Leinenweber wrote: “To the extent that any one person can deter another to commit crimes, Hoover’s life imprisonment symbolically demonstrates that the rule of law reaches even those in power who seem untouchable.”

U.S. District Judge Harry Leinenweber on the bench in 2013.
U.S. District Judge Harry Leinenweber on the bench in 2013.
AP illustration

The judge called Hoover “one of the most notorious criminals in Illinois history” and also wrote: “Hoover is renowned and celebrated to this day by the Gangster Disciples.”

Leinenweber left the door open for Hoover to try again but said he’s concerned about “an active risk of harm” if he’s ultimately freed.

Hoover might be some folk hero among Chicago gangs. But the young people running around shooting people today weren’t even born when Hoover was a top gang leader.

I also don’t think his misdeeds are worse than Al Capone, Baby Face Nelson or John Dillinger, who are treated like cultural icons.

I’m 71, and I can tell you I’m not looking for trouble. I’m looking for peace and spending the years I have left atoning for my hell-raising days.

However any of us might feel about Hoover, if he qualifies for a sentencing break, he should get one.

Besides, the gang members terrorizing our neighborhoods aren’t listening to columnists, the mayor, the aldermen or the police chief or the preachers.

They can’t hear us because we are operating in two different realities.

When I call 911, I expect the police to show up, and I treat them with gratitude when they get there.

But a young Black man with a target on his back because of some festering beef on the block has learned not to count on the police for protection.

By the time the detectives get there, the only things to see are a bleeding body, wailing relatives and evidence markers.

At this point, we’d need an army of trained violence interrupters to squash the beefs before they erupt.

When it comes to justice, young people watch what we do, not listen to what we say.

As elected officials squabble over an urgent plan to deal with the violence, they need to consider that not all of these shootings are over territorial disputes.

For instance, in Austin, a man shot at Fourth of July revelers, killing one woman and wounding two others, supposedly because he was angry that he was asked to stop shooting his gun in the air as children played outside, according to Cook County prosecutors.

Calvin Gonnigan, who’s been charged in that shooting, has a previous unlawful use of a weapon by a felon conviction, for which he got a 10-year-prison sentence.

About a week before that mass shooting, one person was killed and 10 others wounded when two people fired on a crowd in Park Manor near a bustling commercial strip.

While the mayor blames the feds for the gun violence and the police chief blames the state’s attorney’s office and the court system for the brazen street killings, the deaths are mounting.

Obviously, Hoover can’t clean up the streets.

But treating him fairly could have gone a long way toward building the trust needed to end the chaos.