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‘Free Meek’ is a peek into the flawed American Criminal Justice System

As a longtime Meek Mill fan, I believe it’s only right that his story is told, even if it might make your stomach churn. “Free Meek” is a reminder that the system wants to keep you “on papers” forever, especially if you’re a black man. 

The Series

The series features criminal defense attorneys that elaborate on how crooked the system can be and the show provides stats to give the viewer context as to what happened within the justice system to Robert Rihmeek Williams, a.k.a. Meek Mill.

Of course, the show also tells Meek Mill’s story in detail.

The series makes sure to emphasize that a lot of what has occurred with the Philadelphia rap star harkens back to the 1980s. Specifically, Philadelphia lost a staggering 140,000 jobs RIGHT before the crack epidemic.

When you think about those two events occurring back-to-back you begin to realize that Meek’s story is even more melancholic. In a city where there were few opportunities, the legal system was sure to ensnare as many young men as possible. Meek even describes himself as growing up in the “slums of Philadelphia.”

Meek’s Beginnings

The series delves into Meek’s personality, as well, with his close friends and family members even noting that he kept the fact that he can rap a secret for some time. Of course, by the age of thirteen, he was already spitting rhymes on camera. A video of a teenage Meek Mill has already racked up millions of views, and you can see the raw potential.

His voice bounces perfectly over the “Dipset Anthem” beat, and you can sense the fierce flow that would soon collaborate with the likes of rap giants such as Jay-Z and music icons like Mariah Carey. 

Meek’s father made a living, but it certainly wasn’t a legal one. His father robbed drug dealers, a strategic decision given the fact that they couldn’t exactly report the robbery to law enforcement. Meek eventually took to the streets at sixteen, after he had already formed a deep bond with rap music and began writing his own lyrics. 

The System

At 18, when many were graduating high school, Williams started adulthood with police brutality. Mill caught 19 charges after an encounter with law enforcement in his neighborhood. Meek makes the point that nineteen charges are “something a terrorist should have.” He’s right. The series begins to focus in on how this one incident went on to affect his life forever.

Picture a young man with no real money or connections. He’s trapped in a system that cares more about money than the truth. He chose probation, and why wouldn’t he? He had already been brutally beaten by cops and his father, the only close role model in his life, was died by the time he was five. 

Still, the incident didn’t stop Meek’s work ethic and he continued recording until he garnered a local buzz. He began fielding record label offers. He figured this was his time to move from his hometown and his legal issues. His hustle paid off, he would finally be able to make hits with the famous producers he admired and have the label support that he needed to become a superstar. 

Ross recognized his talent and called him to Miami months later. Meek describes himself as “hungry” and “thirsty” during this time, and he signs a deal with Maybach Music. Jay-Z made sure to sign Mill to Roc Nation in terms of management. Meek Mill was on his way, despite his legal issues.

“Free Meek” offers up some incredible footage, as well. You see Meek’s eyes widen during his first time flying on a private jet, and you can tell that he appreciates the success. Of course, this relief doesn’t last as his judge clearly has it out for the young rapper.

Who judges our Judges?

Judge Genece Brinkley decided to limit Meek Mill’s travel to the city of Philadelphia in 2014. Which meant that during his first month after his debut album, he couldn’t even tour to support the project. It was clear that probation began to directly affect his earning potential. 

It also became clear that the judge was willing to be cruel to make an example out of Williams. According to Meek’s account, she would comment on his haircut and even show up during his community service. 

For the next two years, Meek Mill was the talk of the hip-hop industry, while also enduring eight probation hearings and three probation violations. It doesn’t just sound excessive; you begin to wonder how a judge was able to make it seem like this wasn’t harassment and abuse of power. 

It’s the kind of story that you want to get mad at. Meek Mill was able to succeed despite his circumstances, but the judge wanted to reel him back in. In the series, Van Jones references a “constant anxiety” regarding your career when you’re in a position like Meek. He questions whether the judge could still send Meek Mill back to jail. It’s the kind of thing that the artist even raps about on tracks like “Trauma”.

The series then describes how Judge Brinkley decides to go after Meek Mill for LITERALLY water guns. Brinkley later bars Meek from his city and from releasing music in general. This comes after asking him to do a Boys II Men remix privately (something that Brinkley denies). 

Meek even breaks down how illogical the system can be, “How the hell am I going to pay the bills to the house that I’m at, on house arrest?” You can’t help watching “Free Meek” and thinking, “Who holds this crazy judge accountable?”

It’s clear that Brinkley is directly trying to manipulate her position.  She does this knowing there’s no real recourse for someone like Meek Mill. The series seems to emphasize how rich and famous he is during this time, around 2016. The question implied is ‘how do people who AREN’T rich or famous ever make it out of the system?

Fighting the System

Meek is known for his inspiring street anthems, and “Intro” is widely regarded to be one of the best hip-hop intros of all time.

You begin to realize that Meek’s spirit was probably only strengthened by these obstacles, but “Free Meek” provides clear evidence that Meek has more than paid his debt to society. It’s time to understand how the system victimized him and make sure it doesn’t happen to more young black men.

We like to think of judges as respected, but there is something wrong with judges like Genece Brinkley. Some that argue that she was too obsessed with Meek Mill’s career and wanted to financially gain from it. Others suggest that she didn’t want to appear too “lenient” on an African-American since she was African-American herself.

Whatever damage she has done to Meek Mill’s psyche, one thing is for sure: Meek Mill is free and can work towards reforming the system instead of being trapped in it. 

Senate makes moves for criminal justice reform with the First Step Act

The Senate passed a criminal justice reform bill on Tuesday.

Passing 87-12, the new legislation marks the biggest bipartisan effort under Trump’s presidency, showing members of the Senate to be overwhelmingly in support of instilling changes to the federal criminal justice system.

The bill, known as the First Step Act, will allow thousands of people to gain early release from prison as well as potentially cut more prison sentences in the future.

It is estimated that the bill will affect about 181,000 people currently serving time — a somewhat modest figure given the fact that the prison population in the U.S. currently sits at 2.1 million people.

Indeed, while only 5 percent of the world’s population lives in the United States, the country is home to 25 percent of the world’s prison population.

With this new bill, many could be granted an earlier release through a credit system that awards good behavior or alternatively through participation in rehabilitation programs in prison.

The bill also lessens some mandatory minimum sentences and provides judges with more leeway in refraining from certain sentencing guidelines.

Supporters of the bill expressed how the new legislation is an initial step in amending the failed “war on drugs” that attempted to deter illegal drug use via introducing the infamous “three-strike law” and establishing long-term prison sentences for drug convictions.

How criminal justice reform came to be a bipartisan issue

With the incarceration system overwhelmingly overpopulated, the system has become an excessive financial burden and an acute misuse of taxpayer money since the public widely favors criminal justice reform.

The bill has been in the works over the course of the year. An early iteration of the bill was passed in the House in May but focused on ‘back end’ reforms orientated around improving prison conditions and easing inmates’ re-entry into society.

Surprisingly, Trump’s son-in-law, Jared Kushner, has been at the vanguard of the initiative for criminal justice reform. Kushner reached out to Rep. Hakeem Jeffries, (who represents New York’s 8th congressional district in Brooklyn and Queens) in an effort to gain support from Democrats.

Though initially resistant, Jeffries became the major Democratic proponent of the First Step Act but drew criticism from rebuke from some of the most prominent members of the Democratic Party, including Sens. Dick Durbin of Illinois, Kamala Harris of California and Cory Booker of New Jersey. Additionally, the American Civil Liberties Union, the NAACP, and other progressive groups opposed the bill.

Kushner also linked up with political commentator Van Jones and celebrity, Kim Kardashian West for the campaign.

But there have been other celebrities who have been vocal advocates for reform. Jay-Z’s annual Tidal X benefit concert this year brought together activists and major stars (Ms. Lauryn Hill, Lil Wayne, Nick Jonas, Lil Kim, Meek Mill, Anderson.Paak and more), in an effort to advocate for criminal justice and prison reform.

Rapper Meek Mill has been a vocal advocate for criminal justice reform after being sentenced to 2-4 years in state prison for parole violations. A judge had sentenced Meek for violations stemming from a gun and drug case from 2008.

The Philly native publically emphasized the need to bring forth systemic change in an op-ed published in The New York Times. Meek Mill’s nearly decade-old case from when he was 18 is all too case is representative of the failures of the justice system, especially for young Black Americans.

Trump and his skeptics

Despite President Trump running a “tough on crime” stance during his Presidential campaign, even proposing to bring back the stop and frisk policy, the President is in support of the new legislation and is expected to sign the bill this week.

Yet, in light of Michael Cohen’s sentencing, Flynn’s sentencing postponed, the passing of the bill is timely given that President Trump’s political and business activities are under severe investigation.

Given that throughout his speeches Trump having repeatedly delivered racist and anti-immigration fervor, his supposed “changing of heart” has been met with staunch skepticism from some Democrats as well as opposition within his own party.

On the Republican side, opposition came from former Secretary Jeff Sessions and Senate majority leader, Mitch McConnell.

Additionally, Donald Trump stood by his decades-old claim that the group of five men (who became known as the Central Park Five), wrongfully imprisoned for the 1989 rape and beating in Central Park, despite DNA evidence proving otherwise and a convicted serial rapist coming forward and admitting to committing the crime.

There is no doubt that this bill is going to positively impact the lives of thousands of people and give justice to those have been harshly punished.

But while many will be quick to laud this new bill as a huge success and herald Trump’s ability to work with Democrats, we must not forget his hateful and bigoted rhetoric that may see a shutdown of Congress or a border wall come into fruition.