Some people wondered, "Who cares?" Others mused about the seeming disparate jail sentences between Clifford "T.I." Harris and other celebrities such as Paris Hilton or Lindsay Lohan. If you didn't find yourself in the previous two groups, you may see yourself in the third, heaping praises on the justice system for putting away T.I. for another 11 months for his recent probation violation in Hollywood.
As a condition of his parole earlier this year, the rapper was ordered not to commit "another" federal, state or local crime while on supervised release, or to illegally possess a controlled substance. He was also instructed to take a minimum three drug tests after release from prison on federal weapons charges and participate in a drug and alcohol treatment program. In other words, act like a responsible, adult citizen. That's not saying anything of the obvious, not consorting with other felons along the way.
He failed miserably on all counts, each and every one in a matter of months.
Whichever response you might have had to the sentencing of T.I., not enough attention has been paid to the underlying lessons for young people to learn and apply to their own lives. Let's go back and revisit the three groups and find where each misses the mark.
Group #1 -- "Who Cares?"
Likely anyone who calls him/herself a fan of hip-hop generally or T.I. specifically cares deeply that he is headed back to jail. His wife Tiny (who has yet to be sentenced) cares, his family cares. He is still somebody's son, somebody's father and unfortunately, somebody's (perish the thought) role model. Somebody out there looks up to T.I. for either his music, his acting or some combination of both. His arrest matters and we should "care." The reasons as to why and to what degree are debatable; but we should most definitely "care." Or maybe a more accurate word to be used is "matters."
The sentencing of T.I. matters for a myriad of reasons, most of them related to his scope of influence. There are too many impressionable young people who've yet to understand that drug arrests (plural), federal weapons arrests and violations of parole/probation are unacceptable, especially within our African-American community. If we are to admire T.I. for his talent, then we must equally decry the criminal behavior and instruct our children accordingly as to the difference. His skills as a rapper or actor in no way diminish or mitigate the severity of his crimes.
Group #2 -- "Lindsay and Paris got it easier"
Most of the subscribers to this line of thought are likely fans of T.I. and not interested in a factual discussion of the truth. Although you would find few who would disagree that both Lindsay and Paris have managed to skirt long sentences for their multiple infractions, these women are not good apples to compare to T.I.'s orange. Without delineating every piece of minutia which separates the cases, let's keep it simple. T.I. was on probation for a federal weapons charge. He avoided a heftier sentence than his original 10-month stint, provided he adhered to his probation requirements, as previously outlined.
If/when Lindsay and Paris are brought up on federal weapons charges as opposed to possession of a controlled substance or DUIs, then and only then should we begin asking the question whether justice was unfairly served. T.I. upon his gun-running arrest in 2007 was already a convicted felon (drug charges in 1998) and could not lawfully own a gun. Harris was found guilty of providing $12,000 to purchase machine guns. This goes back to "who cares"... machine guns are only for the purpose of murder. We need to "care" about this fact, it "matters."
Purchasing machine guns illicitly and illegally in bulk only helps to ensure that future murders go unsolved. If there is no arrest, T.I. is likely complicit and co-conspirator in the future murder of many people. Machine guns only have one use, especially the illegal ones. And let's not forget that "We" usually kill people who look like "Us." T.I. going to jail on gun-running charges saved lives.
Let's not confuse the issue here.
Clifford Harris spent only 10 months in jail for an exceptionally serious offense. Do not compare the prison plight of Harris to Lindsay Lohan or Paris Hilton, as they aren't comparable. In addition, many people in group #2 have wrongly attributed this latest sentence of Harris to the drug possession charges solely, omitting the gross federal probation violations. T.I. is not spending 11 months in jail merely for felony drug possession and it is ignorant to suggest as much.
Let's turn this on its head. If T.I. only serves a total of 21 months for gun-running and felony possession of multiple controlled substances while violating his probation in the time between...he is getting off easy, "Paris Hilton-esque" easy. It's his 3rd felony on record. If he did all of his dirty work in California he would be doing 25-life right now... period, end of discussion.
Group #3 -- Happy T.I. is in jail
Mo'Kelly probably would be most closely aligned with this group. Mo'Kelly isn't "happy" he's in jail but is pleased to see that egregious criminal behavior is not being rewarded. The only way that young people and/or the hip-hop community begin to understand that jail is not a rite of passage for Black men or a badge of honor for rappers, is for prison to be shown in its truest light.
Paris Hilton and Lindsay Lohan are irrelevant in the African-American community. They aren't role models, they aren't admired and aren't disproportionately influencing young people in my community. Conversely, T.I. is relevant and influential. His behavior "matters" greatly.
Prison, it is the destroyer of lives, careers, families and more importantly, futures. T.I. potentially losing everything due to his many criminal decisions does more to help young people than if T.I. moved on with another ineffectual sentence. Lindsay and Paris, in or out of jail do nothing to move the African-American youth meter.
Going to prison doesn't increase one's life options, it destroys them. Depending on the state, felons likely never vote again in life. You won't have a vote on future mandatory sentence minimums or laws like the aforementioned "3-strikes" law here in California. You won't be able to vote on whether crack sentences will ever align with cocaine ones instead of simply living out the disparity of 100-1. Prison means abrogating the right to have a say in what happens if you find yourself before a judge in the future.
Prison means likely never having future access to the majority of the jobs available to most Americans. Prison increases the odds ten-fold against being able to provide for a family. Prison increases the likelihood of future police harassment. Prison destroys lives of the imprisoned as well as the families dependent upon them. We in the African-American community need to begin to act like we know this to be true.
BET should never again air a reality TV show surrounding Lil' Kim on her way to jail. Prison is never to be celebrated. Never, not under any circumstances should it be celebrated.
Jet magazine should never again devote its magazine cover to occasion of Foxy Brown's release from jail for any other person for that matter. Responsible Black media outlets should not ever be caught "promoting" the "news" of Lil' Wayne releasing a new album... from jail.
If and when "we" stop positioning jail as something akin to college, or something "cool," then maybe we'll understand the seriousness of T.I.'s aberrant and criminal behavior. It's this wanton ignorance which time and time again, sanitizes the idea of jail to the point that it is not a meaningful deterrent for our young people.
Clifford "T.I." Harris is going to jail and deservedly so. Amen, hallelujah and two big thumbs up. We can't do anything to change that and neither should we try.
Our empathy, our emphasis and most importantly our efforts should be focused around using this moment to tell the truth about the prison industrial complex and how Black males must do everything legally within their power to avoid ever becoming caught up in it.
The Mo'Kelly Report is an entertainment journal with a political slant; published at the Huffington Post and www.eurweb.com. It is meant to inform, infuse and incite meaningful discourse... as well as entertain. For more Mo'Kelly, http://mrmokelly.com. Mr. Mo'Kelly can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.