Free Meek

Julie Dostal '19

Features Editor Emeritus


As the eventual Super Bowl champion Philadelphia Eagles waited in the tunnel, fans’ ears perked up. It was announced before the game that the team would run onto the field to a Philadelphia anthem.[1] The intro dropped. The relentless beat coupled with the harsh voice of a 25-year-old North Philadelphian filled U.S. Bank Stadium. For those not following the Eagles, the song caught them off guard. Despite the heavy editing, the last line hung over the stadium as the camera zoomed in for a close up of Tom Brady: “these ----- want me dead and I need to make it back home.”[2] Some viewers expressed feeling alienated by the choice of such a “violent rap song.”[3]

For those familiar with this portion of Meek Mill’s iconic "Dreams and Nightmares," we continued the verse in honor of one of the most notable Philadelphians not physically present in Minneapolis. Instead, Robert Rihmeek Williams, AKA Meek Mill, was in Chester State Correctional Institution, a mere thirteen-minute drive from the airport where his football team’s jet left the tarmac.[4] Thirty minutes from Broad Street where thousands would play "Dreams and Nightmares" through phone speakers, car radios, or open apartment windows.[5] Accompanying the music would be chants of “Free Meek!” #FreeMeek trended on multiple social media platforms.[6] The Eagles won. Fans flocked to the streets. The city finally got a Super Bowl parade. Robert Williams, known as Meek Mill, remains in prison. Another victim of a uniquely spiteful judge. Another victim of a particularly corrupt narcotics unit. Another victim of a system that punishes young men for growing up in the wrong neighborhoods, standing on the wrong corners, but most apparently for being black. Meek Mill’s words may have alienated some Super Bowl viewers, but his imprisonment should collectively repulse a country that believes in the "justice" part of the criminal justice system.

 Meek Mill. Photo courtesy  Hypebeast.

Meek Mill. Photo courtesy Hypebeast.

Following his father’s murder at age five, Meek Mill moved with his mother and sister to Berks Street in North Philadelphia. Described as the black sheep of the family, Meek Mill rarely spoke. Only his special affection for motor vehicles, specifically dirt bikes, motivated him to speech. Instead, he remained in his room filling journals with words that rhymed, eventually developing verse after verse for his rap battles.[7]

Philadelphia is not a kind city for aspiring MCs. Before Meek Mill, the city boasted Will Smith on its list of top five hip-hop artists. It’s a city so lacking in success stories, Beanie Sigel tops the list of rappers achieving mainstream success.[8] For those lucky enough to discover Meek Mill on YouTube early in his career, each video was a raw, lyrically quick recitation of life in North Philly,[9] one of America's most murderous localities. Meek had ten friends die while he lived in North Philly, and another six or seven while he was on the city’s south side.[10] Meek Mill’s adolescence coincided with an unprecedented rise in violent crimes in Philadelphia.[11] His raps are saturated with this struggle to survive within the violence of his city.

By 2007, Meek Mill was achieving more mainstream success. He released a well-received mixtape and hoped to sign with fellow rapper T.I.’s label. Then, the testimony of a crooked Philadelphia cop sent Meek Mill to prison for the first time. What follows is a chronological account of how the criminal justice system has not just continued to fail Meek Mill, but further how Philadelphia police and one Philadelphia judge exploited the lawspecifically the parole systemto continually imprison an individual typifying the type of rehabilitation allegedly envisioned by the creators of the criminal justice system.

At 4:45pm on January 27, 2007, Philadelphia Narcotics Field Unit (NFU) detective Reggie Graham claimed to see Meek Mill selling crack to a confidential informant on the corner of Jackson and 22nd Street.[12] Meek insists he was in a Center City courtroom with a large group of family members watching the trial of his cousin Thelonious. The trial lasted from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Multiple witnesses corroborate Meek’s whereabouts.[13] The Center City courthouse is a minimum thirty-minute commute from the location of the alleged crime.[14] There is no forensic evidence Meek Mill was in court that day. Neither is there forensic evidence from the alleged drug bust. Detective Graham either failed to lab-test the crack he allegedly seized from the Jackson Street bust or the lab test failed to be transferred to the court.[15] Based on his testimony of the purported drug bust, Detective Graham received a warrant to search Meek Mill’s cousin’s home, where Meek spent a majority of his time.[16]

The following night, officers from Philadelphia’s Narcotics Field Unit arrived at the home. Based on Meek’s own testimony, he was sitting on the front stoop when the officers arrived. He tossed the gun he carried for protection from his person and hit the ground.[17] The police then lifted his body and, using his head as a truncheon, bashed in the door of his cousin’s home. The police confiscated $30,000 from Meek’s cousin’s room.[18] His cousin dealt marijuana for a living. No crack was found in the home.[19]

As a result of the raid, Meek Mill faced nineteen counts in the Court of Common Pleas. Roughly a third of the charges involved carrying an unlicensed gun. Other charges involved drugs and assault. Detective Graham also claimed Meek Mill pointed his weapon at Graham and another officer. Mill waived his right to a jury trial, due to the thousands of dollars it generates in additional legal fees. He claims he barely saw his lawyer before trial; a situation that likely contributed to the wholly inadequate defense offered by his attorney. Meek’s defense lawyer failed to call witnesses that would contradict Graham’s initial timeline of the crack sale. He also failed to question other officers from the day of the arrest at Meek Mill’s cousin’s home.[20] Judge Genece Brinkley acquitted Meek’s co-defendants. She found Meek Mill guilty of seven charges, four involving the weapon. She sentenced Meek Mill to two years in prison and eight years of strict probation.[21] This was Meek Mill’s first conviction.

In the fall of 2009, after almost two years in prison, Meek Mill walked out a free man, a free man very aware of his eight years of strict probation. He went right to work selling mixtapes of songs he wrote in prison with the help of new manager Charlie Mack. Again, his story may seem alienating. He suffered an injusticeone so common it captivated listeners across the DMV area, catapulting Meek Mill to more mainstream popularity.[22] In 2011, he signed with Rick Ross’s Maybach Music Group. Meek Mill then released "Dreams and Nightmares," his debut album, an absolutely epic “freshman” effort from such a seasoned MC. Meek Mill ascended to the throne of Philly rap and seemed destined for more national acclaim. "Dreams and Nightmares" peaked as the number-two album in America.[23]

On his way to the Philadelphia International Airport to attempt to fly through Hurricane Sandy to make a show in Atlanta, Meek Mill was pulled over by the police. The officers stated that his windows were tinted and they smelled marijuana. The officers arrested the rapper and impounded his car. Hours of searching produced no evidence. After an evening in jail, Meek Mill was released with no charges. But Judge Brinkley was so aggravated by the last-minute changes to Meek’s travel plans (his involuntary overnight stay in prison), she requested he take a drug test. The test came back clean. She ordered another test. The second test also came back clean. Yet Judge Brinkley barred Meek Mill from touringa decision that likely cost him $6 to $8 million dollars.[24] She assigned him a new parole officer, who demanded an hour-by-hour schedule of the rapper’s daily life.[25]

 A more bizarre turn occurred when both the Judge and Meek Mill’s new parole officer, Treas Underwood, began praising the rapper’s former manager, Charlie Mack, during Meek’s subsequent court appearances.[26] Meek Mill was managed by Mack during his initial rise to popularity from when he was released from prison in 2009 to when he signed with Maybach Music Group in 2011. For the next five years, Judge Brinkley would systematically stop Meek Mill from touring, send him back to jail, and extend his probation. These events often occurred parallel to an album release.

The latest example of Judge Brinkley’s abuse of the system happened just last year. Meek Mill was in New York City to film a segment of The Tonight Show. As he was driving uptown, a group of kids on dirt bikes pulled alongside his Rolls Royce. Meek rolled down his window and asked if he could borrow one of the bikes for a ride. A kid happily obliged and Meek Mill joyfully popped wheelies down the streets of New York with his cameraman filming for his Instagram followers. The next day Meek Mill was arrested by the NYPD on a felony count of reckless endangerment. The charge was later downgraded to a misdemeanor, then dropped. Meek Mill was then ordered back to Philadelphia, after being found in violation of his probation. Judge Brinkley sentenced Meek Mill to two-to-four more years in prison.[27] Both the Philadelphia District Attorney and Meek Mill’s parole officer opposed jail time.[28]

The NFU detective who originally testified to Meek Mill selling crack on the corner of 22nd and Jefferson Street quietly retired last year from the force, plagued by rumors of dishonesty and deceit. In early 2009, as Meek Mill continued to serve out his first sentence, a group of Philadelphia NFU officers were caught on security cameras robbing bodegas in North Philadelphia. All members involved in the scandal maintained their positions, while taxpayers shelled out almost $2 million in damages to the robbery victims.[29]

The NFU has appeared repeatedly in the news for intentionally robbing people’s homes, usually in North Philadelphia.[30] The detective at the center of Meek Mill’s arrest was corrupt. He was a known liar and his partners testified to his dishonesty. A list recently leaked from the Philadelphia District Attorney’s office placed Reggie Graham on a list of officers too dishonest to be trusted as a source of testimony.[31] It is especially damning information considering the word of Detective Graham was the sole evidence in the granting of the original search warrant.

Since his original conviction, Meek Mill has been sent back to prison four times. His original sentence called for twenty-three months in prison. He has served almost four years and earned an additional fourteen years of probation. Many see Meek Mill’s case as a stark example of Pennsylvania’s broken parole system.[32] In his moments of freedom, he has released three albums, toured the world, and attempted to start a record label to help other up-and-coming artists. Meek Mill has not been convicted of so much as a misdemeanor during his time outside of Chester State.[33]

In an exclusive interview with Rolling Stone, he revealed he doesn’t allow many visitors to Chester State Correctional. He says he’s not alive in prison.[34] Meek Mill is currently appealing the probation violation sentence. His attorneys have requested Judge Brinkley recuse herself. The FBI is aware of her problematic sentencing habits. In 2016, the agency asked Meek Mill to wear a wire while meeting with Judge Brinkley. Meek Mill refused.[35] The Philadelphia  prosecutors’ office is reconsidering the case in light of the new report from the District Attorney concerning Graham’s trustworthiness. There may be hope for Meek Mill. Until his release, Meek Mill’s case demonstrates the corruption and abuse of the criminal justice system by individuals in positions of power in Philadelphia. Meek Mill’s music may alienate some listeners. The nightmares of his reality should alienate everyone. Free Meek.

----

jpd5pd@virginia.edu


 

[1] Chris Chavez, Watch Eagles Take the Field to Meek Mills Dreams and Nightmares, Sports Illustrated, (2/4/18), https://www.si.com/nfl/2018/02/04/philadelphia-eagles-meek-mill-super-bowl-lii-dreams-and-nightmares-entrance.

[2] Id.

[3] Warren Tudd Huston, The Philadelphia Eagles have Announced the Team Will Run out onto the Field at Super Bowl LII to a Highly Controversial rap song that Critics call Sexist, Racist, and Violent, Breitbart News, (2/4/18), http://www.breitbart.com/sports/2018/02/04/eagles-pick-super-bowl-song-jailed-rapper-meek-mills-sexist-violent-song-dreams-nightmares-intro/.

[4] “Directions from Chester State Correctional Institution to Center City Philadelphia,” Google Maps, (last visited 3/14/18).

[5] Keith Caulfield & Kevin Rutherford, Meek Mill’s Dreams and Nightmares Earned 1.4 Million Streams on Day After Superbowl, Billboard, 2/7/2018, https://www.billboard.com/articles/news/8098626/meek-mill-dreams-and-nightmares-streams-day-after-super-bowl.

[6] Deena Zaru, Phildelphia Eagles Show Solidarity with Imprisoned Meek Mill During Super Bowl Entrance, Cnn, 2/5/2018; Specific Philadelphia Eagles have showed continued support for Meek Mill, showing up at a rally protesting the rapper’s latest prison sentence. See Evan Grossman, Eagles Using Meek Mill as Their Super Bowl Soundtrack, and the Motivation is Mutual, (1/26/2018), http://www.nydailynews.com/sports/football/eagles-meek-mill-motivating-super-bowl-run-article-1.3780914.

[7] Paul Solotaroff, #FreeMeekMill, Rolling Stone, 3/14/2018.

[8] Ryan Beagle, Top 10 Hip Hop Artists From Philadelphia, Hip Hop Golden age, (Last visited 3/16/18), http://hiphopgoldenage.com/list/top-10-hip-hop-artists-philadelphia/.

[9] 13 of Meek Mill’s Best Throwback Freestyles, Youtube, (Last visited 3/15/18), https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=B7_N_CZ_tRo.

[10] Solotaroff, supra note 7.

[11] Jon Hurdle, Philadelphia to Quell an Epidemic of Gun Violence, N.Y. Times, 4/15/2007 (“From 2004 to 2006, the number of homicides in the city rose 22 percent.”). See also Murder Rates in 50 American Cities, The Economist, 2/17/2017, https://www.economist.com/blogs/graphicdetail/2017/02/daily-chart-3.

[12] Solotaroff, supra note 7.

[13] Id.

[14] “Directions from Center City Court of Common Pleas to the Corner of Jackson and 22nd Street,” Google Maps, (last visited 3/14/18).

[15] Solotaroff, supra note 7.

[16] Id.

[17] "First day I ever felt safe outside was when I got me that Sig Sauer." Id.

[18] Id.

[19] Id.

[20] Officers on the scene that day have since signed sworn affidavits they never witnessed Meek Mill raise his weapon. Id.

[21] Id.

[22] Jake Denton, The Criminal Justice Data Behind Meek Mill’s Latest Prison Sentence, Pacific Standard, 11/9/2017, https://psmag.com/social-justice/the-criminal-justice-data-behind-meek-mills-latest-prison-sentence.

[23] Caulfield and Rutherford, supra note 5.

[24] Solotraoff, supra note 5.

[25] Id.

[26] Id.

[27] Kristine Phillips, Meek Mill Denied Bail Again as Judge Calls Rapper a “Danger to the Community,” Wash. Post., 12/4/17.

[28] Id.

[29] Solotraoff, supra note 5. See also Walter Olson, Cops Walk in Philadelphia Bodega Robbery Scandal, Cato Institute, 5/14/2014, https://www.cato.org/blog/philly-cops-will-walk-bodega-robbery-scandal

[30] Haimy Assefa, Six Philadelphia Officers Arrested on Corruption-Related Charges, Cnn, 7/30/14, https://www.cnn.com/2014/07/30/justice/philadelphia-police-corruption/index.html;  See also Melissa Hellman, Philadelphia Narcotics Cops Charged with Stealing Drugs and Money, Time, 8/1/2014.

[31] Julie Shaw and Chris Palmer, Here are the 29 Philly Cops on the DA’s ‘Do Not Call’ List, Philly Inquirer, 3/6/2018, http://www.philly.com/philly/news/crime/29-philly-officers-do-not-call-list-krasner-20180306.html.

[32] “The problem with Pennsylvania’s laws are that they allow probation to exist in perpetuity. You can be on probation forever in Pennsylvania because you do not receive time served for being on probation.” Sidney Madden, Meek Mill’s Sentencing Generates Protest, Calls for Probation and Parole Reform, NPR Music, 11/15/2017, https://www.npr.org/sections/therecord/2017/11/15/564385830/meek-mill-sentencing-protest-probation-parole-reform.

[33] Meek Mill has failed to notify his parole officer of trips outside of Philadelphia, failed to make court appearances, and tested positive for Percocet in a 2015 drug test. Each minor infraction led to additional prison time or additional probation. Id.

[34] Solotraoff, supra note 5.

[35] Id.