Friday, February 19, 2021

Flashback 1997: Hoover tapes reveal details of gang life

Larry Hoover

     My colleague Mary Mitchell made a bold plea Thursday for gang leader Larry Hoover to be released from prison. Her argument is that police often lie, and Hoover has been in prison for nearly half a century. True enough. She also scoffs at the idea that Hoover could control his gang from prison. My understanding is that this is not outrageous.  I covered Hoover's conspiracy trial here in 1997, and he seemed quite open about it. My central memory of listening to those tapes is looking over at Hoover in court and thinking, "Lex Luthor he is not."

     Beatings with baseball bats and Larry Hoover's envy of fellow gang leader Jeff Fort were part of a glimpse inside the Gangster Disciples' lifestyle Monday in federal court.
     Hoover, who is serving a 150- to 200-year sentence for a 1973 murder, is being tried with six associates on drug conspiracy charges.
     On tapes played in court Monday, Hoover seemed familiar with the minute details of his operation. "Who on 47 (Street) that's working? Is they folks?" Hoover asked, urging that problem members be brought down to see him.
     "You got to bring these chumps in," he said. "Get Pops and get a crew together and ride. You got a problem with me, you see me."
     Elsewhere, Hoover expressed admiration for the Black Panthers, calling it "the most beneficial organization in the 20th century."
     "It's lean; it's strong," he said, leading into a nostalgic reminiscence about his days of freedom.
     "I was king at 19," he said. "Eighteen—at 18, I was king."
     Hoover remembered seeing El Rukn gang leader Jeff Fort at a church meeting in the late 1960s.
     "You could hear a pin drop when he was walking in," said Hoover, recalling their snazzy suede jackets. "I told myself I could have a mob like that . . . I remember it like it was yesterday."
     To record those discussions, investigators put transmitters in the badges of people visiting Hoover. Recordings were made on weekends from Oct. 30, 1993, until the transmitters were found by a visitor on Dec. 19, 1993.
     Convicted felon Thomas London, 29, was one of several witnesses to discuss Gangster Disciples "literature"—the rules they were forced to memorize, such as: "Nothing can hurt a duck but its beak," meaning they shouldn't talk.
     Gang members who broke rules were subject to varying degrees of "violations," from being punched in the chest to being beaten with baseball bats.
     "There was always someone getting violated," said London, who added that the supposed gang truce arranged by the Gangster Disciples was intended to help Hoover personally.
     "They said they wanted peace because the Old Man was trying to get paroled," he said.
                      —Originally published in the Sun-Times, March 25, 1997


  1. Thank you for clearly highlighting how non-sensical her arguments for his release are. Last week's story about his current appeal indicated his behavior, sadly, hasn't changed since your story in 1997.

  2. I have always admired Mary's work; her advocacy focused on the people and communities that most need justice. However, this one not so much. Hoover was indicted in 1995 after a 17-year undercover investigation by the federal government. Believe there were several murder convictions among the charges. We would be better served considering clemency for the multitude of lower level gang members who were caught up in a racist system with limited economic opportunities.

  3. There are some people who deserved to be locked up for life. This guy is one of them.

    As for Mary Mitchell, the few times I read her, she always seems to miss the point. Her string is unbroken with the linked piece.

  4. It certainly surprised me to see Mary Mitchell advocating the release of a kingpin of one of the most violent and pernicious gangs of the West Side of Chicago, but while I won't join her in pleading for Hoover's freedom, I have to say that I wouldn't oppose it either. The fact that he's supposedly been a model prisoner counts for something, as does the possibility, slim though it may be, that he could be a positive force on the West Side in combating the forces of evil, that he has done so much to perpetuate. Maybe it's not worth it, but if I had anything to say about it, I would give it a shot. It would necessarily be a complicated situation. Hoover would have to agree to a large number of stipulations related to his behavior and his contacts with active gangbangers; prison personnel should have some input as to how much of a model prisoner he's actually been in the last 20 years; and the cops would have to protect him, somewhat ironically.



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