I’m an avid lover of rap and more specifically “pain” music.
This genre speaks to the soul of the streets and the realities experienced by those who inhabit this realm. It’s the music of the Lox, Uncle Murda, and other gritty street artists.
In my era the voice of the streets is Meek Mills. You know the guy who dated Nicki Minaj and presumably lost a battle to hip hop’s golden boy Drake.
Meek who has been in the headlines a lot in the last few years, is again at the center of another controversial situation; except this time instead of a Hollywood romance ending or a hugely publicized rap feud, he’s being railroaded by a corruptly unjust legal system.
Disclaimer: In the past week or so you may have seen stans and fans alike posting and reposting about this case and some may think “This is another case of people making excuses for privileged celebrities.” You may also think that when it comes to the legal system and their interactions with it, that all men of color allege that the system is set up to screw them over, when in actuality that is not the case at all. Personal feelings aside, we cannot deny that if you are Black or Brown, and come into contact with the legal system that you are guaranteed to suffer unjustly at the hands of the criminal justice system.
I grew up in a neighborhood where a lot of the guys I knew, due to the circumstances we’ve come up in, have been incarcerated. Some guys for crimes that they didn’t commit and others for crimes that they are guilty as sin of. Guys who come from areas with high poverty, homelessness and rates of crime. More often still, these lapses in judgement and poor character choices are usually due in part, to the fact that when you’re young you tend to do dumb shit that you wouldn’t do if you were more mature.
Now I’m not saying that we should chalk up all the bad decisions that lead young people to the penitentiary or bring them in contact with the judicial system on youth alone. But it is a factor that should be taken into account when determining how to deal with younger individuals. When I was growing up as a teen and in my early twenties, it was a regularity for young Black boys to get locked up and offered a 1-5 split.
What’s that you ask?
A 1-5 split was a deal offered at the sentencing of many juvenile and other young offenders. It set it up so that the perpetrator of the crime does a year in prison and another five years on probation.
This would seem like a fair deal to some people.
Spend one year in prison and the other five “free” on parole.
How could one beat that?
Many young offenders coping out to these crimes, didn’t realize that under the terms of this probation, they could be rearrested for the most minor of contact with police; and that this police contact, which at best was a ticket for something minor or biased policing that profiled certain groups of people, would cause their probation to be extended for uncertain periods of time.
Imagine being on probation that is seemingly never ending for a crime that you committed in your teenaged years. Place on top of that, when you finally look to do better for yourself or to help groups of people, still being treated like a career criminal for the most minor offenses.
Now, I’ve never received a 1-5 split, but mishaps due to suspension of good judgement in my teenage years have put me in situations where I’ve had to take some form of probation and not get into trouble for a predetermined amount of time. I sit and think about those offenses and how if I were not allowed to atone for them, how I would deal with them still being hung over my head, affecting every decision and move I make.
Last week, upon hearing that Meek had been arrested at his court appearance and sentenced to 2-4 years for a probation violation, I like the rest of the hip hop community was outraged. I mean my dude is still riding the wave of success from his latest studio album, Wins and Losses.
He’s in his community attempting to give back and using his platform to inspire a generation of young dudes in the street who idolize his movements, use that as motivation to elevate above the madness of the inner cities and aspire to be more.
With all of that and his constant social media presence, which serves as a reminder of where all young Black boys from the ghetto can go if they believe, dream and work hard for it, we just couldn’t understand how this could happen; it felt like they locked up our favorite cousin, uncle or brother.
DAMN MEEK! SMH!
The optics of this situation are very clear. Meek is again faced with having to put his career on hold, to serve a sentence for violating his parole. A parole violation for a fight in a St. Louis airport and a reckless driving arrest in New York.
There is one positive aspect from this; we are having a much needed public discussion about incarceration and the systematic way probation is used as a means to continue the criminalization of Black and Brown men.
A few days after his arrest, a who’s who of artists from Jay Z to Kevin Hart, cried out in resounding support for Meek, in a call for all us to take a larger look at the predatory criminal justice system and its interactions with Black and Brown men. All of this energy and love from his peers and other artists was the catalyst for an online petition for Governor Tom Wolf to re-evaluate the sentence; and it all lead up to a peaceful rally in downtown Philadelphia yesterday.
This young man’s unjust imprisonment has our attention honed in on the justice system, and how seemingly, there is no justice for individuals of color; no matter how many times over we repay that debt to society.
Meek Mill has been on probation for 10 plus years now, probation for crimes that he committed as a teenager, that he is still being stifled by as a grown man. A five year probation that it seems at every turn, the legal system in Philadelphia is determined to extend at any cost. This case concerning Meek Mill sheds greater light on the nature of the court system in Philadelphia. I’ve listened to interviews with his lawyer and read articles that accuse judicial malpractice and other unprofessional conduct towards the presiding Judge over the case. A judge who, in a case where the prosecutor and the parole officer both recommend against arresting this young man, seems to have a personal vendetta against Meek Mill.
Now this ain’t to alleviate Meek of any accountability or wrong doing in these situations. Airport scuffles at 30 ain’t cool bro, especially when you a famous rapper getting to the bag. Even the dirt bike incident, however suspect that may be, calls for a more mindful approach to the situations he puts himself in. In 2013 with his first violation, due to failing to report show dates and miscommunication with his parole officer, it’s clear that Meek definitely has to own his part in all this.
His actions and bad karma have brought bad things his way and he must address that. When you have a son and other family to feed, people in your close circle that you provide jobs for, and a fan base of loyal youth that look up to you, then you have to move smart. It is imperative that you move knowing that any misstep on your part can take your freedom away. As with most situations and men of color, we must be above reproach.
Meek you got to do better bro. Use whatever time you’re faced with to learn from your mistakes, and come out ready to be the change you wanna see.
This might be excusable if this was just his particular situation but it’s not. People of color, both men and women, are being targeted by this system EVERYDAY. We’ve read the New Jim Crow, we’ve watched 13th. Hell, some of us even know the realities of this first hand.
We know that:
“African Americans are incarcerated in state prisons at a rate that is 5.1 times the imprisonment of whites.”
“Latinos are imprisoned at a rate that is 1.4 times the rate of whites.” and
“In New York, 1 in 40 adult Black males are imprisoned”
I know even with all of that, some are you are like “I mean we get it, but still that’s Meek Mills’ problem and not ours. Why should we care?”
That’s cool, I’m not mad at you for not caring about Meek Mills the artist. Hell when I first heard it I was like damn dawg. Why you do this to yourself?
But then I had to check my bias and realize that this could be me. This could have been me in my past life when everything wasn’t blogs and trainings.
Even more important this could be the young men and women in your class. The beautiful Black and Brown students who you service everyday. You see it’s easy to not care when these situations befall people who we are far removed from.
But it should hit home and become real when you consider that so many of the kids in your class could be in this very situation. Could you still not care?
I remember once a young man, in all of his 15 years of glory, named Julio told me that he wanted to start a program where young men learned about the laws and the judicial system. He was 15 y’all but he was thinking with extreme vision. All of our young people need this training; especially our Black and Brown young men.
Our current legal system is one that hyper criminalizes men of color. We know that the school to prison pipeline is real, that our Black boys are dying and being imprisoned at alarming rates. This is an epidemic that we must pay close attention to. We must rally together and challenge this biased and corrupt legal system so that more of our people don’t fall victim to it. We must call for sentencing reform and policy changes that cripple these biased systems. We must also educate our young men before they ever have the misfortune of having to be incarcerated in the first place.
More than that, we have to create opportunities and outlets for these young people. We can’t simply talk about avoidance of a life of crime, and then not give them tangible real world skills to use to become entrepreneurs. How can we deter from wrongdoing if we offer up no real replacement? Without real job opportunity these kids will always pursue a life of crime to provide for themselves.
I pray for Meek Mill and his family. #FreedomIsAMust and no one deserves to continually pay for a crime over and over; especially after they make every effort to do right. I pray for all my brothers and their families, those I know personally and those I don’t, who are dealing with these or worse circumstances. Most importantly, I pray that we act in order to destroy these oppressive systems that seek to marginalize us at every turn.
One of my favorite songs off of Meek Mills last album Wins And Losses is titled Young Black America and in it he gives this introspective look at the connection of young males of color to violence, poverty and the woes they face with the legal system. It’s unsettling how appropriate this song is now, in light of all that this brother is enduring.
I hope you see the value of solidarity in these tumultuous times and hard moments, because honestly people, WE ALL WE GOT!