Rapper Meek Mill was sentenced on Monday to two to four years in state prison for violating his probation from a 2008 charge that has been dragged out for several years. Mill’s attorney claims that the judge who has handled his case from the beginning may have a personal vendetta against him. Others, including Jay Z, who signed the rapper to his label, are calling this for what it is — unjust.
Philadelphia-native Meek Mill, born Robert Williams, whose career began in the early aughts was in the mainstream sphere by 2012 with the critically-acclaimed song “Young & Gettin’ It.” He has released three studio albums, including one earlier this year titled “Wins & Losses” — a concept with which the rapper is extremely familiar.
Mill, as it seems, has been plagued with bad luck. In recent history, he was romantically linked to rapper Nicki Minaj, a union that was mocked online because of their career level differences (Minaj being viewed as more accomplished). Mill became the target of disses by fellow rappers including The Game, 50 Cent, and Drake, to whom Mill infamously lost, according to public opinion, at a rap battle in 2015. It was also reported that he was being sued for a fatal shooting that happened outside one of his concerts last year. And the rapper has been unable to shake a 2008 conviction for drug dealing and gun possession, making him a high profile example of a phenomenon that filmmaker Jenny Carchman recently dubbed “the revolving door” effect.
Mill can’t shake his 2008 conviction
The 2008 charges for drug dealing and gun possession have haunted the rapper for years. Following the charges, Mill was sentenced to eight months in prison and later paroled in 2009. He was given five years of probation. That year, he violated probation by traveling out of Philadelphia without authorization and his probation was extended to 10 years after an additional five months in prison.
In 2014, he was convicted again for violating probation and sentenced to six months in jail, which resulted in him having to cancel a major gig in Philadelphia and other bookings he had in the works. Common Pleas Court Judge Genece E. Brinkley once ordered him to stop working, despite his rap career being his only real source of income.
Brinkley, in 2015, nabbed him again for violating probation for unauthorized travel to the American Music Awards. While he awaited his hearing the following year, he was ordered not to work or perform, with the exception of community service. In 2016, he was sentenced to 90 days of house arrest and six months parole.
Fast forward to this year. The rapper is facing two to four years in prison for a fight at an airport in St. Louis (despite the charges being dropped) and a reckless driving charge in October for doing wheelies on a dirt bike in New York City.
The severity of his sentencing
Brinkley, according to The Philadelphia Inquirer, claims that she gave Mill “break after break.” But did she? Over the past nine years, Brinkley has thrown the book at the rapper for minor things like tweeting his frustrations about his legal troubles, a mix-up in community service assignments, and for traveling out of the city for rehab. Mill’s lawyer also claims extreme unprofessionalism on her part, citing that she mocked Mill and his music career, asking him to put her in a song and urging him to sign with a friend of hers. She’s also been a major hurdle in preventing him from being able to move on after his initial convictions.
“This is a situation where the judge is imposing a sentence that is actually harsher than what the prosecutors recommended. They didn’t even recommend jail time. That’s the frightening thing about the criminal justice system. When it all boils down, a lot of this depends on the whims of an individual person,” said Erik Nielson, associate liberal arts professor at the University of Richmond and an expert in hip-hop who works to defend rap in courtrooms.
Nielson has seen this time and time again. In his experience, judges, prosecutors, and the criminal justice system itself often fail to recognize the contributions of hip-hop artists because they do not recognize them as artists in general. Nielson admitted, however, that while he is not surprised at the result, there had to have been a better outcome for Mill.
“This sentence seems completely misguided,” Nielson told ThinkProgress. “Here’s somebody who is an accomplished hip-hop artist in a city where thousands of kids look up to him. He has tons of contacts in the music industry. Why would you put him away instead of channeling his talent and instead make him do something for the community? Because it’s not as if taking him off the streets makes it safer at night.”
There are inherent biases at play
When dealing with celebrities, Nielson said that “it’s often true that fame and wealth insulate you from these darker workings of the criminal justice system.”
However, things are dramatically different when dealing with rap, a genre that owes its creation to the urban black American community and is predominately made by black men.
“When you see a rapper in court being punished like this, it’s the intersection of so many things. It’s race, it’s class, it’s the first amendment,” Nielson said.
There are inherent biases at play, including the idea that black men and rap have deep-rooted criminality.
In addition, these situations are intrinsically tied to the worsening prison industrial complex. According to the NAACP, in 2014, African Americans constituted 2.3 million, or 34 percent of the total 6.8 million correctional population. Right now, in the United States, there are 2.2 million people in prison — four times the prison population in 1980, according to Bureau of Justice statistics from 2013. And while the country makes up 5 percent of the world’s population, it incarcerates 21 percent of its population.
Even still, in some ways, Mill’s situation is one of privilege. He’s a celebrity, after all, who has managed to obtain moderate success in his industry. His momentum may differ due to his convictions, but the bottom line is that while his case is making headlines, so many others aren’t.
“We ought to think about the cases that we don’t know about, that we’re not talking about, that the media is not showing interest in,” urged Nielson. “I think we will find that the injustices [Mill] is facing pale in comparison to what happens on a daily basis in our courts across the country.”
UPDATE: Nearly 4,000 people have signed onto a petition calling on Pennsylvania’s Gov. Tom Wolf (D) to reconsider Mill’s sentence. “More than just a celebrity or rapper, Meek Mill has been a powerful voice in the community for our youth. He has made positive contributions to many communities and programs, dedicating time and money to the cultivation of our youth and neighborhoods; even through his own adversities,” the petition reads.