Is 'Hip-Hop' Mayor's Sentence About Politics Or Justice?

Former Detroit mayor Kwame Kilpatrick was sentenced to 28 years in prison for corruption. But do the Barbershop guys think the sentence was too stiff? They weigh in on that and the week's other top stories.

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MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:

I'm Michel Martin and this is TELL ME MORE from NPR News. Now it's time for our weekly visit to the Barbershop, where the guys talk about what's in the news and what's on their minds. Sitting in the chairs a shape-up this week are writer Jimi Izrael, with us from Cleveland. Arsalan Iftikhar, senior editor of Islamic Monthly and founder of the Muslimguy.com, joins us from Chicago. Farajii Muhammad is with us from Baltimore. He's host of WEAA's radio program Listen Up. And in Washington, D.C., contributing editor to The Root, Corey Dade. Take it away, Jimi.

JIMI IZRAEL: Thanks, Michel. Hey, fellas, welcome to the shop. How we doing?

ARSALAN IFTIKHAR: Hey, hey, hey, what's happening?

COREY DADE: What up?

FARAJII MUHAMMAD: What's happening?

IFTIKHAR: What up, though?

IZRAEL: Hey, OK. Well, check this out, so Kwame, we'll be seeing you, bro. The former hip-hop mayor of Detroit was sentenced to 28 years of hard time in federal prison. He gives hip-hop a bad name, Michel.

MARTIN: I was going to ask you what was all that? What was all that - but I...

IZRAEL: He gives pop culture a bad name, I'm sorry.

MARTIN: Oh, Ok, I was just wondering why you were telegraphing there. But - so the conviction includes counts of racketeering, extortion, bribery, tax crimes - OK, Jimi, I'm starting to see your point. The judge said he was convicted of running a, quote, a criminal enterprise. This is U.S. Attorney Barbara McQuade, and she said the sentence sends a message that Detroit will not tolerate corruption. I just want to play a short clip.

(SOUNDBITE OF SPEECH)

BARBARA MCQUADE: Public officials and the entire city were living under this cloud of suspicion. At that point Mayor Kilpatrick was out of office and people were still, sort of, waiting for the other shoe to drop. We wanted to end the case, reach a just conclusion and move on.

IZRAEL: Thank you for that, Michel. You know, in the sentencing, Cleveland politico, big Jimmy Dimora, also know as Jimmy Dunkin' Donuts here, well, he served - his sentence served as kind of a benchmark for prosecutors. According to Cleveland.com, he also got the big 28. That 28 piece - that's very, very serious time. Yo, Corey Dade.

DADE: Yes sir.

IZRAEL: You covered the city back in the day. What do you think, bro?

DADE: Man, you know, it does strike me as a little bit excessive when you compare it to other politicians convicted of corruption charges. But the truth is, you know, this was a bitter medicine that this city's political establishment needed. I mean, the city's political establishment was truly corrupt. It was a malignant tumor on the city and I think back to what makes it so painful for many of us - in 2001, I covered Kwame Kilpatrick's mayoral run. And when he came on the scene, it was for what that city needed in that point, it was Obama-esque. The energy was unmistakable. This kid had all kinds of promise and the city was his for the taking.

But, you know, he was part of a culture - not only his political family, but his actual family - he was part of a culture that grew up in dirty politics and it caught up to him.

IZRAEL: Yeah, you got that right. A-train.

IFTIKHAR: Yes sir.

IZRAEL: You know, Kwame, he's already served some time on local charges. Now the feds did their thing - what do you think of the sentencing?

IFTIKHAR: I think it's quite draconian, to be honest with you. What I remember when I heard the 28-year sentence, it raised an eyebrow with me 'cause, you know, here I live in Chicago where our, you know, politicians have not been immune from serving prison time.

And looking back at some high-profile cases of political figures who have served jail time, you know, D.C. councilman Harry Thomas was sentenced to three years for similar crimes. Illinois governor Rod Blagojevich, as we all know, was sentenced to 14 years. Republican congressman Duke Cunningham was sentenced to eight years. Former Providence, Rhode Island mayor Buddy Cianci was sentenced to five years. Then former Louisiana governor in 2001, Edwin Edwards, was sentenced to 10 years for extorting $3 million. And so what I thought to myself instantly was, if Kwame Kilpatrick was a white mayor, if his name was Mayor Quimby Kilpatrick, would he have gotten 28 years?

IZRAEL: Wait.

IFTIKHAR: Hold on. Hold on.

MARTIN: Well, let him finish his - yeah.

IFTIKHAR: For a 43-year-old man, a 28-year sentence is essentially a life sentence. I know first-degree murderers that haven't gotten 28 years in prison. So I think on appeal this will be dropped down and I was quite taken back. I think he definitely deserves prison time, I just don't think it should be 30 years.

MARTIN: What does Farajii think?

MUHAMMAD: Well, you know, here's the big thing - just because he's black I hope that people just don't give him a pass. I feel like if people really understand the impact that all of these things that he was involved in has on the city of Detroit, especially black people who are already struggling in that city. I mean, he just sheds a bad light and he really shows that - he really kind of gives people a loss of faith and trust in the black politician. And...

DADE: That's right.

MUHAMMAD: People already don't have expectations at this point of black mayors and then something like this happens. I mean, it just shows to - especially to the next generation, as him being the hip-hop mayor.

IZRAEL: Right.

MUHAMMAD: To the next generation, now it's, like, it really gives people a bad taste in their mouth. And now the next generation, who are they going to look up to? Who's going to really show that they can be in politician but yet still have character and morality?

MARTIN: I was going to ask you if it bothers you in part because he is a peer in terms of his age? I mean, who's 43 now, he's older than you are, but that was one reason why people looked up to him as kind of a sign of the next generation taking the reins. And I wonder, Furajii, if that's in part what offends you about his conduct? Is that it's sort of - it's not just that African-Americans have had a high, you know, burden of proof, it's that young people in general taking position of leadership have a high burden of proof? You think it kind of, you know...

MUHAMMAD: Oh, absolutely. I mean, the fact is, I mean, he was this good-looking guy, he was kind of flashy, you know, he had all the trappings on the outside. However, you can't, you know, Jay-Z said, you can't buy class. You know, I mean, there's some character things there that are needed and is necessary. And I think that if you're talking about being a politician, especially representing the next generation or representing black people, you have to make sure that that representation is going to be for us and not for yourself.

MARTIN: Jimi, there's one more point that you wanted to make, and you were saying - when you were arguing with Arsalan about the question of - you thought, you know, there might be some - Arsalan was suggesting maybe there's some kind of racial double standard there. You don't agree?

IZRAEL: No, I don't. I mean, he was black before he - I mean, he knew he was black before he took the position, right? So, I mean, so he knew they were probably looking at him a little closer than they would be looking at him otherwise. You know what I mean, I don't know. That just doesn't...

IFTIKHAR: But a white mayor - I don't think a white mayor would've gotten 28 years in federal prison.

MARTIN: But the Cleveland politician that Jimi mentioned was white. Jimmy Dimora was white.

IZRAEL: Yeah, Jimmy Dimore, Jimmy Dimore Dunkin' Donuts. They threw the book at him. Are you serious? And he deserved it.

MARTIN: OK.

IZRAEL: You fleece the people, you deserve the time, I'm sorry.

MARTIN: If you're just joining us we're having our weekly Barbershop roundtable with writer Jimi Izrael, commentator Arsalan Iftikhar, journalist Corey Dade, radio host Farajii Muhammad. Jimi, back to you.

IZRAEL: Thank you, Michel. OK, well, R&B Chris artist is back in the headlines. I don't know how that keeps happening. And some people are saying they feel sorry for the guy. Michel...

MARTIN: Well...

IZRAEL: I'm going to give you a tip of the hat.

MARTIN: Go ahead. Tell me why.

DADE: It's Chris Brown, by the why.

MARTIN: It's Chris Brown by the way, I don't know who Chris artist is. I thought you were talking about Ron Artest, which isn't his moment.

IZRAEL: Sorry about that.

MARTIN: But you were saying.

IZRAEL: Thank you. Thank you.

MARTIN: Tell me again about the tip of the hat, I don't get very many of those from you, so I'd like to hear it.

IZRAEL: Well, we've talked about Chris Brown in the shop before. His violent past and his angry outbursts from time to time. And you've said what?

MARTIN: Well, I said that, again, this may not be suitable for everybody - everybody's conversation, but I would say that I thought that he showed all the signs of having been a victim of sexual abuse and inappropriate sexual contact. And I just said, the rage he expressing toward a young woman - there just seemed to be something in it. And it turns out that he said during an interview about his first sexual encounter - he said he lost his virginity when he was eight to a girl who was 14 or 15. And, you know, well, some people would say, well, that was shocking. He said that things were different in the small Virginia country where he grew up. And I - you know, I don't care...

IZRAEL: Right.

MARTIN: ...if things were different. I think, you know, that rape is rape.

IZRAEL: It is rape.

MARTIN: And if it was a 14-year-old - a 15-year-old boy who had sexual contact with an 8-year-old girl, I don't think we would have any question about how wrong that is. And that's, you know.

IZRAEL: I wholeheartedly agree with that. Thank you, Michel. You know, because Chris Brown is a victim of sexual abuse just like one in 20 boys in this country, according to Crime Against Children Research Center, which is out of the University of New Hampshire. You know, sexual crimes, you know, against boys are no less than other crimes. Farajii, weigh in here. Are you a Chris Brown fan? And what do you make of all this?

MUHAMMAD: You know, I like some of his songs and everything. Here's what I found to be very disturbing about that - it wasn't the fact that he brought up this revelation, it was the attitude afterwards.

IFTIKHAR: That's right.

MUHAMMAD: The quote that he said, you know, this kind of prepared him to be a beast in the bedroom. And that right there was a glaring example of a man that still has yet to really fully reconcile with what happened to him.

He needs to be in therapy in the sense of trying to deal with this emotionally. Because he has such - he has the life of - he had two teachable moments. He had this issue and the Rihanna issue. And if he learned how to handle it properly, I think that for the next generation of young boys and girls listening to his music, he can really show a certain - a higher standard of greatness. Not just being a great artist, but he can also be a great human being with some deeper morals and character.

But again, you know, when he said that I was like, come on man, you don't want - nobody wants an 8-year-old learning how to have sex. And I mean, that's just totally inappropriate.

IZRAEL: Arsalan?

IFTIKHAR: Yeah, I mean, you know when I was eight years old I didn't know my left foot from my right foot and so, you know obviously there is a great deal of sympathy that goes out, you know, in terms of what Chris Brown had to deal with.

MUHAMMAD: Right.

IFTIKHAR: I don't think that that absolves him from the actions that he took as a grown man. You know what, if, you know, a child molester says that they were molested as a child, you know, obviously that mitigates, you know, what they did but that does not take any - that does not away accountability for the actions that they did as grown people also. And so I think that that needs to be kept in mind as well.

MARTIN: Corey, what do you think?

DADE: Amen to everyone. I mean, everyone who said - I have the same point of view. I have a 9-year-old child and so I think about what my daughter was like at eight years old. And, you know this boy was raped, period. And the idea that he sexualizes it and his - the community around him still allows him to think of it as a truly sexual experience. And the fact that he, you know, it's the kind of sick dysfunction that drives so many men, especially African-American men, and makes them dysfunctional in their relationships with women. That's the part that's troubling, and now we have a new generation of kids who's reading this interview. That's the problem.

MARTIN: You know what I - you know, I'm not in the should business, I'll tell you that in a heartbeat, but, you know, we've seen hip-hop artists come out and disclose their sexual orientation, and we've had other hip-hop artists applaud and support them for this.

I would like to see some of the senior men in hip-hop come out and say, it's wrong what happened to you, I'm sorry this happened to you, this is not OK, and send a message. In the same way that sport stars like Laveranues Coles, who was also molested as a young boy, came out and said, look, this is what happened to me. It's not OK, and I just want you to know, if you are a young boy, it's not OK. And so, that's just my two cents. That's just my two cents. So can I switch to a different topic here and say...

IZRAEL: Absolutely.

IFTIKHAR: Absolutely.

DADE: Please.

MARTIN: OK. So to ensure safety, a middle school in New York has banned so-called hard balls on school grounds - footballs, baseballs, soccer balls. Nerf balls are reportedly OK. So, you know, Jimi, do you think it's time we ended this vicious sport of dodgeball?

IZRAEL: You know what, let me just say, dodgeball is life. I mean, if you don't move quick, strategically, and keep your eyes open, you will get whacked in the face. So I mean - so I learned that lesson in the dodgeball - on the dodgeball court, and it has served me well in this life. And also let me say, when we didn't have balls in our playground, we picked up rocks...

DADE: Rocks.

IZRAEL: And acorns and pieces of asphalt and threw them at each other. So to me it seems like safe bet.

MARTIN: This is the progress of civilization, right.

IZRAEL: Shaker Heights, stand up. Shaker Heights, stand up.

MARTIN: But you know, people say - let me ask Arsalan about this because you're our attorney in the shop, and the school says it's that they're just protecting itself from possible lawsuits. That we are in a world that's quick to litigate. Do you have any sympathy for that point of view?

IFTIKHAR: Well, you know, we do live in a litigious society and I think that, you know, cafeteria, you know, trays can be used for something that could eventually end up in a lawsuit. I think that ultimately, you know, it's good to see that schools are taking the safety of children seriously. I think this is probably taking it a little bit too far. You know, people - kids if they want can wear, you know, Kurt Rambis or James Worthy style goggles while playing dodgeball. You know, and so - you know, I think that, you know, things like peewee football, you know, where real concussions begin. You know, we recently saw a PBS FRONTLINE documentary called "League of Denial" in terms of how bad the concussion, you know, pandemic has become in professional sports and how it's trickled down all the way to peewee football. I would actually look less at the dodgeball court and look more on the football field and sports fields.

MARTIN: OK, Corey, what do you think?

DADE: Well, this really is all about avoiding liability or limiting it. But, you know, the sad truth is so many of these schools are barely educating our children. It seems to stand to reason that they're not going to really teach them any athletic coordination either. But...

MARTIN: But my problem here is from an educational standpoint, I mean, a lot of the, you know, independent schools, which can basically organize their day in the way they want, have instituted two recesses now in the lower grades.

DADE: Yeah and in this school.

MARTIN: Two recesses because their argument is kids need to move their bodies and get their wiggles out.

DADE: Well, and to your point, in this school their recess is only 20 minutes long. So that's another issue. But they are still allowed to use the balls in gym class, etc. So it's not like it's an overall ban. And it's apparently supposedly a temporary ban while there - construction that's going on on the yard. So we'll see what happens.

MARTIN: Wow, OK.

MUHAMMAD: I just think...

MARTIN: Go ahead, Farajii.

MUHAMMAD: You know, real quick, I was thinking about that the Capri Sun commercial where the woman, like, jumps in front of the kid, is like, no, not - no, you're not going to take that, no, no. You know what I mean? It's just like, it's a - I think it's a - I understand the legal side of it but at the same time, you know, as you mentioned Jimi, being on the playground, getting hit by balls, that's just a rite of passage growing up.

IZRAEL: That's right.

MUHAMMAD: You know what I mean? That's the, light - you need to have that experience of getting knocked in the head, getting scraped in your knee on the ground. I mean, and then, you know, we can kind of say that's like a badge of honor, like, yeah, got that when I was playing football on the concrete. Yeah.

IZRAEL: It's just like grad school, bro. Dodgeball is just like grad school.

MARTIN: Well, that's good to know. All right, we only have a minute or so - a minute and a half left, Jimi, but, you know, I just have to ask, I think it's just for my own amusement. I have to ask you - this is not funny, I don't know why I'm laughing - but that, you know, there's the announcement that reality television stars Kris and Bruce Jenner are actually - are in fact separated. This had been rumored for months in the tabloids, not that I read them, I'm just saying I heard this, you know.

IFTIKHAR: Of course not.

MARTIN: And so I just wanted to ask if - do you care? Are you surprised?

IZRAEL: I'm not surprised, I do care. I don't know why these married couples, seemingly happy, subject themselves to the television camera, which is there to really magnify all of our faults, to be quite honest. And then there you are with your wife and we get to see all of your dysfunction. And you do too on the TiVo. You know, so you're rewinding back-and-forth and you're like, I could do better than this. And then six months later you're at divorce court. You know, I feel badly for Kris and Bruce Jenner, to the extent I can't just...

MARTIN: It just seems like all these reality TV shows - like there's "Kate plus 8" - I mean, it just seems as though - I think Ozzy and Sharon Osbourne are the only people I can think of who haven't split up after...

DADE: Ice-T and Coco.

MARTIN: Ice-T and Coco.

DADE: They're still going strong.

MARTIN: They're still going strong.

IZRAEL: For what it's worth.

(CROSSTALK)

MARTIN: Farajii.

MUHAMMAD: Here's the funny thing about it, like, if you're going to put yourself out there, then you kind of have to expect that type of feedback from the general public. And I mean, we all have the differences and idiosyncrasies in our relationship, my question is why would you want to expose yourself to that? I mean, nobody has a perfect relationship, everyone's got their own relationship.

DADE: I know why. Cha-ching.

MARTIN: Cha-ching.

MUHAMMAD: But if your relationship is going to go sour in the end, was it really worth it?

DADE: Most of these couples are celebrities to begin with. They're in the business and think about the lifespan of celebrity marriages anyway?

MARTIN: OK, so no reality show for us, OK, I hear you. All right. Jimi Izrael is a writer and culture critic. Adjunct professor of film and social media at Cuyahoga Community College. With us from NPR member station WCPN in Cleveland. Corey Dade, contributing editor for The Root. With us in our D.C. studios. Arsalan Iftikhar is the founder of The Muslim Guy, senior editor for Islamic Month, with us from NPR member station WBEZ in Chicago. And with us from WEAA's Listen Up radio show, with us from their studios in Baltimore, Farajii Muhammad. Thanks everybody.

IFTIKHAR: Peace.

MUHAMMAD: Thank you.

DADE: Yes sir.

IZRAEL: Yup.

MARTIN: And remember, if you can't get enough Barbershop buzz on the radio, look for our Barbershop podcast. That's in the iTunes Store or at NPR.org. That's our program for today. I'm Michel Martin. This is TELL ME MORE from NPR News and the African American Public Radio Consortium. Let's talk more next week.

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