Free Meek Mill: There's precious little justice in America's justice system

The hip hop star has been ordered to prison for probation violations. Who does this protect?

By D. Watkins

Editor at Large

Published November 7, 2017 3:02PM (EST)

Meek Mill (AP/Matt Rourke)
Meek Mill (AP/Matt Rourke)

Philly-born hip hop legend-in-the-making Robert Rihmeek Williams, better known by his stage name Meek Mill, was sentenced to two to four years in prison yesterday for a probation violation that stems from a drug and gun case that the 30-year-old rapper caught almost a decade ago. He’s since found rap music as a way to express his pain, escaped a life of crime, made millions of dollars, toured the world and went on to perform years of community service while creating opportunities for people who had to make it out of situations similar to his own.

Mill was found in violation of his probation after being arrested twice within the last year — once for a misdemeanor assault charge in the St. Louis airport and once for "reckless endangerment" (popping wheelies on a dirt bike without a helmet)­­ — in a country where police officers are almost never convicted for killing innocent black people. The charges in both cases were dropped. Common Pleas Judge Genece Brinkley, noting a failed drug test and unapproved travel as well, still handed down the sentence for probation violation, despite Mill’s probation officer and the prosecutor not recommending any jail time. She told Williams, “I gave you break after break, and you basically just thumbed your nose at this court.”

Meek pleaded with Brinkley for 40 minutes, saying, “I’m asking for mercy. You gave me the ladder to do what I have to do to prevail in my struggle. I made it this far; I can’t really go back and start over.”

Brinkley didn’t care about him, his career or all of that community service as she ordered Mill to be taken directly into custody. Fans and celebrities took to social media to express their frustrations. Kevin Hart, also a Philly native, posted “Praying for my brother @meekmill right now. God sometimes puts the toughest battles on his strongest soldiers. I'm here for you man!!!! My brother for life...Always here for you man!!! This storm will pass...Stay strong & keep your head up…” on his Instagram.

Jay- Z , owner of Roc Nation, the management company that represents, Meek condemned the decision on Twitter: “The sentence handed down by the Judge -- against the recommendation of the Assistant District Attorney and Probation Officer -- is unjust and heavy handed. We will always stand by and support Meek Mill, both as he attempts to right this wrongful sentence and then in returning to his musical career”

And Torrey Smith, Philadelphia Eagles wide-receiver tweeted, "More proof that our criminal justice system is a joke. Throwing folks in jail for 2-4 years for misdemeanor violations is just a waste of money.... too long."

According to The Philadelphia Inquirer, Brinkley, 61, has been residing over Meek's case since his 2008 arrest. She’s ordered him to perform community service, forced him to cancel paid shows — that's part of his job — and made him take a $10,000 etiquette class. Does she send all of her defendants to etiquette class, or only those who grew up in poverty?

Brinkley's judgment in this case appears to be clouded by her lack of empathy. When Meek became successful as a result of his hard work and talent, he didn’t take his money and run. He employed people from his neighborhood­ who could have easily fallen down the wrong path otherwise. Trying to create social mobility in a system that works against you while fighting off poverty and its dangers is impressive. Sending him to prison could potently limit opportunity for others and create more crime.

When I first came across Meek Mill's work back in 2009, he was a scrappy kid with fuzzy braids. I was visiting a friend a Philly who lived near Temple University. I beat my friend to his house, parked my truck on the corner, sat out front and sparked a cig. Some kids who looked like younger versions of me were about 10 feet away, throwing crossovers at each other, perfecting their ball handling skills. Another dude joined them, posting up and cutting on his radio. Meek blasted; he was young, raw and speaking for the street in a prophetic way. I loved it. “Aye, who is that?" I asked.

“Oh, that’s Meek. You don’t bump 'Flamers?'” one kid responded. They followed by telling me that everyone in Philly listens to his mixtapes "Flamers 1" and "Flamers 2" religiously, while waiting for "Flamers 3." I was instantly a fan. The young rapper would go on to rise through the ranks of the underground rap scene, gaining the respect of heavyweights like T.I. and Rick Ross, who signed him to his Maybach Music Group label.

Meek released his first studio album, "Dreams and Nightmares," under Ross’s label, selling 428,000 copies and quickly working his way to becoming a household name. On that journey, he violated probation by performing concerts out of state. Brinkley sent him to prison for five months; most of that time was spent in solitary confident.

“That’s the closest I ever came to losing my mind,” Meek told Billboard. “You’re talking to yourself, playing games with the birds in the window. It’s hell.”

Meek came home and went back to work, recording songs that attacked the very system that was strangling his career. Upon release, he dropped his street viral "Ice Cream" freestyle.

In my cell hangin' from a rope
When you get less time for rape than for sellin' dope
When you get the same time for dope that you do a murder
Innocent 'til guilty, guilty always the verdict

Meek’s status rose after his release and two albums, the platinum "Dreams Worth More than Money" and his newest project, "Wins and Losses." As a result of Judge Brinkley's ruling, tour dates for "Wins and Losses" are being canceled across the country. What hurts even more is watching Meek being hauled away while scum like Devin Patrick Kelley, the Sutherland Springs Texas shooter, fractures his baby's skull and waltzes through the system with a year served, going free to eventually buy firearms and plan a deadly mass murder. Meek, on the other hand, could do quadruple that time for small charges that were dropped. Let that sink in.

Meek Mill isn’t perfect, but he doesn’t deserve to be locked away. No one who climbs up from the bottoms of these hells deserves to be incarcerated over petty charges. Make him pay a fine, send him to therapy and assign him more community service — but up to four years in prison? Meanwhile, former Stanford University swimmer Brock Turner — who could never have made it against the same odds Meek Mill faced — served less time for his conviction of three counts of felony sexual assault.

America's parole system is more than a joke. It's far past broken, and we need reform now.

By D. Watkins

D. Watkins is an Editor at Large for Salon. He is also a writer on the HBO limited series "We Own This City" and a professor at the University of Baltimore. Watkins is the author of the award-winning, New York Times best-selling memoirs “The Beast Side: Living  (and Dying) While Black in America”, "The Cook Up: A Crack Rock Memoir," "Where Tomorrows Aren't Promised: A Memoir of Survival and Hope" as well as "We Speak For Ourselves: How Woke Culture Prohibits Progress." His new books, "Black Boy Smile: A Memoir in Moments," and "The Wire: A Complete Visual History" are out now.

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Criminal Justice System Justice System Meek Mill Prison Industrial Complex