Last week, Philadelphia rapper Meek Mill — born Robert Rihmeek Williams — was sentenced to a minimum two-year prison sentence by Common Pleas Court Judge Genece E. Brinkley. The sentence —made against the recommendation of the Assistant District Attorney and Probation Officer— stems from a violation of probation linked to a 2008 gun and drug case.
Soon after the ruling, JAY-Z, Kevin Hart, T.I., Angie Martinez, Rick Ross and other celebrities rallied in defense of Meek, who they believe was sentenced harshly considering his two charges: reckless driving in New York City and a misdemeanor assault charge in the St. Louis International Airport that was dropped. There was even a petition signed by over 350,000 people to appeal the ruling.
As reported by The New York Post, Meek’s lawyer, Joe Tacopina claimed that Brinkely showed “bias” towards the rapper when she sentenced him to two to four years for violating the terms of his probation. Tacopina also asserted that back in 2013, Brinkely privately requested that Meek remake Boyz II Men’s “On Bended Knee,” and give her a shoutout.
On Thursday, the rapper reported to a state prison in Camp Hill, PA.
Following last week’s sentencing, a rally was held in Meek’s hometown to protest the unjust ruling. Many have made the argument that police officers have received less time combined for killing unarmed citizens. And the double standard is clear when Meek’s case is put up against more heinous crimes committed by White suspects.
That isn’t lost on activist Carmen Perez. The Gathering for Justice’s executive director, founder of the Justice League NYC and Women’s March co-chair, spoke to ESSENCE about that standard and why Meek’s case is important for the fight for equality and criminal justice reform.
ESSENCE: How did you get involved with Meek Mill’s case and who else is supporting him?
Carmen Perez: On Monday (Nov. 6) evening, I heard about the sentence and immediately received a call from partners and colleagues asking “What do we do?” – as often happens when a person of color is unjustly incarcerated or impacted by the brutalities of our criminal justice system. By the next day, Justice League NYC was working in collaboration with Roc Nation, Cut50 as well as artists, activists, legal scholars and community leaders to see how we could use this gross miscarriage of justice to elevate this story to shine a bright light on the systemic over-incarceration and over-criminalization of people of color, especially young Black men.
ESSENCE: What are the biggest incongruities in regards to his case and the ruling?
Carmen Perez: The biggest incongruities of this case is that this young man who has worked so hard on behalf of his community, getting clean and contributing back – has had so-called “probation offenses” dogging him for more than 10 years. What is unconscionable is that a judge has inserted herself personally into this young man’s case – showing up at his community service, requesting that he record a duet with then-girlfriend Nicki Minaj and dedicate it to the judge as someone who has “positively influenced his life.” What is a huge incongruity in this case is that during last Monday’s hearing, the District Attorney’s office and the Probation Department pleaded with the judge for no prison time – yet she gave him 2-4 years for violations that simply do not exist.
ESSENCE: How much do you believe being a public figure/rapper influenced the ruling against him?
Carmen Perez: As Meek’s attorney has previously stated, we aren’t asking for Meek to be treated different because he’s a star – we’re asking that he NOT be treated differently because he’s a star. But more than the ruling being dictated by Meek’s public persona, we believe that Meek’s ruling was dictated by the long history of systemic racism in law enforcement and criminal justice in this country.
ESSENCE: Can you tell us what you plan to achieve with the rally.
Carmen Perez: The purpose of the rally is to remind folks – this isn’t about one man, one case or one bad judge. This system isn’t broken – it’s working exactly as it was intended. We must stop the over-criminalization of our Black brothers and sisters. We are participating in today’s rally to tell Meek’s fans – you are valuable and you deserve more than incarceration.