I remember watching a young and hungry Meek Mill in Philadelphia’s illustrious “2 raw for the streets” DVDs back in high school. His passionate rhymes could only come from one who had to endure the harsh realities of loss and struggle. Meek—whose legal name is Robert Rihmeek Williams—lost his father to murder at the young age of 5. He and his sister were raised by a single mother that worked wherever she could to provide.

Meek was left to navigate the harsh blocks of North Philly with hip-hop as a surrogate father. The historical and systemic disenfranchisement of urban black communities (especially in Philadelphia) leave young black men like Meek to grow up in an environment where there’s one good choice out of ten bad ones on every corner.

There is a time and place to discuss Meek’s hustling and brash rap lyrics but it shouldn’t take place without also mentioning the historical and systemic disenfranchisement of his community and people— in fact, no discussion about violence, drugs, and sexism in hip-hop should—it’s all connected.

There has been a long and treacherous history of people of color experiencing disparity in the judicial system. We have long fought against improper and unjust jurisprudence. From police officers getting off for murder, all the way down to disproportionate sentencing, the judicial system has proven itself to be quite draconian toward people of color. And the 30-year-old Meek Mill knows this all too well.

The Charge

On Monday, November 6th, Philadelphia judge Genece E. Brinkley sentenced the young rapper to two to four years in prison for violating his probation from a 2008 drug and gun charge. Internet backlash came immediately, accusing the judge of handing out a harsh sentence. Even the hip-hop legend Jay-Z took to his Facebook page to critique the decision: “The sentence handed down by the Judge — against the recommendation of the Assistant District Attorney and Probation Officer — is unjust and heavy handed,” he wrote. The Internet has since started a #FreeMeek campaign to show their solidarity.

In 2008, the then 21-year-old Robert Williams was busted on a drug and gun charge. He was convicted and served an 8-month sentence in jail followed by 5 years of probation. His probation was extended for six years after he left Pennsylvania without court approval.

Earlier this year Meek was taken into custody for a fight after he refused to take a picture with a fan in a St.Louis airport, and arrested once again for Reckless driving of his dirt bike in NYC. Both cases have since been dropped. However, Judge Brinkley has stated a failed drug test and failure to comply with travel restrictions as the reason for her sentencing.

The Judge

Does Judge Brinkley have a personal vendetta against Meek? There are allegations about her actions that point in that direction. Joe Tacopina, a lawyer from Meek’s legal team stated that Judge Brinkley asked Meek Mill to reproduce a ballad of Boys II Men’s classic hit “On Bended Knee.” She wanted the rapper to give her a special shout out to which Meek laughed it off. Tacopina claims the judge said, “I’m not kidding.” When Meek refused, she replied, “Okay, suit yourself.”

Tacopina believes Brinkley has clearly shown bias in her sentencing [1]. In his interview with Billboard, he states:  “She’s enamored with him…she showed up at his community service for the homeless people. She showed up and sat at the table. She’s a judge. You could pull any judge in America and ask them how many times they’ve showed up at a community service for probation and the answer is zero… What judge has ever showed up at a community service to watch whether somebody is doing something, community service or not.”[2]

Judge Brinkley actually mentioned her surveillance of Meek in the courtroom saying she showed up to Broad Street Ministry where she didn’t find him serving the homeless but sorting out clothes. “It was only when you realized that I came there to check on you that you decided to serve meals,” Brinkley said. [3]

She also allegedly asked him to leave Roc Nation to sign with a local friend of hers. Tacopina is not the only one who thinks the judge is fixated on Meek Mill. Chad Dion Lassiter, a former member of the board of trustees of the Philadelphia Prison system, also said: “This judge is obsessed with Meek Mill…and that in and of itself goes against the supposed unbiased judicial system.” Tacopina vows to appeal the ruling.

Culpability and Justice

The first thing that people may bring up is Meek Mill’s own culpability. I can already hear detractors readying their arguments and fixing their mouths to scream, “But he’s guilty! If he didn’t want the time then he shouldn’t have done the crime!”

It’s true that Meek holds culpability, but it is also true that judges have been known to disproportionately over-sentence people of color. [4] The sentence was startling given that the prosecutor and probation officer recommended Meek receive no jail time. I am not saying he shouldn’t face consequences. But I am saying the severity of the punishment doesn’t match the severity of the violations. That, in and of itself, is an injustice.

Let’s be clear, disobeying and breaking the law is wrong and those who do it must face the consequences (Rom. 13:1-7). The consequences must also be just. If not, you have two wrongs that make nothing right. Abusing authority to hand out punishment that doesn’t match the crime is just as wrong as a crime itself; it’s an ethical and moral crime.

For far too long, we have given judges an impenetrable air of unbridled authority as if they are immune to depravity, bias, and personal grudges. Judges sin. Some judges even have personal vendettas and it taints their ability to be fair and objective. If we don’t recognize this, then we are choosing to be willfully ignorant. God wants just and fair judgment. If this is not the case, we should say something. Leaders and judges are to be held accountable (Lev. 19:15; Deut. 16:18-20).

My Thoughts

Given the history of bias and disproportionate sentencing rendered to people of color, the allegations against Judge Brinkley are intriguing. It is my hope that her sentencing and the motive behind it would be investigated in full. Proper jurisprudence works justice on a case-by-case basis (no matter the person’s background or status) and Meek Mill’s situation is no different. Ironically, after Meek Mill was handed his sentence, Philadelphia elected a District Attorney (Larry Krasner) who ran on a platform that calls for the end of mass incarceration and unfair treatment of people of color within the Judicial system [5].

As Christians justice and truth should be what we seek – no matter who the subject is – Why? Because our God is just, he hands out just punishment that fits the crime and shows no partiality or bias. God, in His great love and mercy, sent his son Jesus to take the punishment that we deserved so that we may be extricated from the chains of our sin and granted eternal life. It is against this backdrop that we fight for justice, truth, and freedom to be rendered to all men with equity and justice…

And yes, that “ALL men” includes Meek Mill.

 

[1] http://www.tmz.com/2017/11/06/meek-mill-probation-violation-prison-judge-vendetta/

[2] http://www.billboard.com/articles/columns/hip-hop/8030018/meek-mill-attorney-judge-prison-sentence-interview

[3] http://www.philly.com/philly/news/crime/meek-mill-sentenced-state-prison-probation-violation-20171106.html

4] https://www.aclu.org/sites/default/files/assets/141027_iachr_racial_disparities_aclu_submission_0.pdf

[5] https://krasnerforda.com/platform

 

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