On a frigid March afternoon (Mar. 13), the Irvine Auditorium at the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia hosted a timely discussion on criminal justice titled “REFORM: Bringing Injustice to Light.” The event was made possible by a group of student-run organizations at UPENN, Temple University and Drexel University in conjunction with the Justice League.
Images of inmates in green jumpsuits giving their testimonies flashed on the venue’s television screens as the words #FREEMEEKMILL glowed in white underneath the event’s banner. Students, professors, activists, families of those currently incarcerated and journalists filled the space in efforts to help those caught underneath the prison industrial complex and bring justice to their hometown hero, Meek Mill.
The 30-year-old rapper’s mother Kathy Williams, attorney Joe Tacopina, Rev. Al Sharpton and fellow prominent criminal justice advocates like the ACLU’s Reggie Shuford and Equal Justice Initiative executive director Bryan Stevenson were among the panelists. Philadelphia Eagles star Malcolm Jenkins, boxing legend Bernard Hopkins and Lil Uzi Vert were also in attendance.
Last November, the “Dreams and Nightmares” rapper was sentenced to 2-4 years in state prison for a parole violation. Since his initial bout with the law when he was arrested at 18 years old by the Philadelphia Narcotics Field Unit (NFU) for an alleged cocaine and gun possession, he’s remained within the criminal justice system’s grip. Mill (born Robert Williams) was tacked with 10 years on parole, which has been the cause of his demise. The judge assigned to his case, Judge Genece Brinkley, reportedly holds a personal vendetta against him to keep his body behind bars. It’s also telling that Officer Reginald V. Graham, who accused Williams of his very first conviction and testified against him in court, is now on Philadelphia’s most corrupt cops list created by the District Attorney’s Office, according to the Inquirer-Daily News.
With this pivotal piece of information and progressive DA Larry Krasner in office, Williams’ defense team hopes this can be a chance at freedom. “Right now we are doing everything we can for Meek in the sense that we filed bail motions,” Tacopina said onstage. “Now that the information is out, and they have to do their investigation to see how they are going to handle this—which is fine, take your time—but do not keep him in jail while everyone is trying to figure out what to do here. At the very least get him bail, and that’s what we are asking for.”
“I’d like to thank everybody for coming out supporting my son and other people’s families. It’s not just about Meek. It’s about everyone who has been treated unfairly,” Williams’ mother said tearing up during a press conference before the event. “And I wish Krasner would get in the move on what’s happening in Pennsylvania. It’s all corrupt.”
One of Pennsylvania’s biggest gripes is its stringent parole system that plays a game of cat-and-mouse with the accused. It’s been estimated that one-third of the state’s 50,000 inmates are on parole or probation, Tacopina noted. Often they tend to violate their parole with a technical violation, which means a minor offense like missing a court date or bigger misdeeds like drug usage. According to a study done by the U.S. Department of Justice, Pennsylvania ranked the second highest in the country after Ohio of those it placed under court supervision in 2014. In Philadelphia, there are 44,000 parolees or probationers, The Atlantic reports.
Given past developments, it seems like justice might be on the horizon for Williams. A day after the event (Mar. 14), Krasner reportedly said he wouldn’t oppose the father-of-one getting out of jail, according to the Inquirer-Daily News. For Ms. Williams, this would be a big sigh of relief, as she vividly described her struggle in coping with her son’s incarceration.
“My grandson cries for his father. He told him the other day, ‘If I can come see you every day that’s what I would do.’ Do you know how that makes me feel?” she said. “I’m trying to figure out who is going to pay for my bills. Who is going to take care of my grandson? I have a lot of problems with my life, and my son always promised he’s going to be there for me but I’m left alone because of the way these people are ruining my child’s life.”
— Dan Spinelli (@dspin3) March 13, 2018
Judge Brinkley’s infamous tactics have led many to blame her for Williams’ downfall. From making headlines for asking him to mention her in a Boyz II Men remake—while Nicki Minaj was also reportedly present—to having a slew of lawsuits filed against her, she created an extended rap sheet for herself. Sharpton is brash in pointing a finger at her, stating, “I want this black woman to know that every time she looks around, people she may think respect her are totally ashamed and embarrassed by what she’s done to Meek Mill.”
Despite Williams’ situation, there are positive things to come. His longtime producer Jahlil Beats told VIBE that he’s releasing a new album titled With Gratitude, which features a song called “They Phony” that samples Tupac’s “No More Pain.” The pair worked on it before Williams was incarcerated. The beatsmith says they are still waiting to get clearance on the track.
During the discussion, Tacopina received a call from Williams where the MMG cohort thanked everyone for their support via speakerphone, talked about his Philly upbringing and seemed optimistic about his and the city’s future. “I’m happy to be able to shed light on the situation that we’ve been going through for years, and I’ve been seeing my family members and friends go through for years,” he said. “God picked me to be the light from Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, and I’m going to stand up to it.”