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 mega-million 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 “stop and 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 statute” to African Americans, whatever that means.
West was just four 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 V.O.T.E., an organization focused on empowering the black community.
At the time, Wallace “Gator” Bradley, now a political operative, defended 21st Century V.O.T.E. 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 a 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 that 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.