Standing under the shadows of Chester State Prison near Philadelphia, the Rev. Al Sharpton delivered stern and impassioned remarks Monday evening after spending more than one hour with incarcerated rapper Meek Mill.
“Meek represents thousands of people in Pennsylvania — and even tens of thousands of people around the country — that have been victimized by abusive probationary and parole systems that give room for judges to act way beyond what is necessary,” Sharpton said.
Mill was sentenced earlier this month to two to four years for violating his probation despite prosecutors recommending no jail time.
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Since the ruling, Mill has skyrocketed to national fame and become a symbol for critics of the criminal justice system, which they say unfairly targets African-Americans.
“If you can do something like this to a successful artist like Meek Mill, you can do this to many around the country,” Sharpton said.
Mill was first arrested in 2007 on charges that included carrying a firearm without a license and drug possession. He was found guilty two years later and sentenced to 11 to 23 months in prison with five years of probation.
He was released after eight months for good behavior and then arrested several times in subsequent years for violating his probation, mostly for leaving the state of Pennsylvania without the court's approval.
Several of his violations were more serious. He was arrested for allegedly being involved in a fight at a St. Louis airport — though those charged were later dropped — and for popping wheelies on a dirt bike in New York City.
In 2013, Philadelphia Common Pleas Judge Genece Brinkley ordered Mill to attend etiquette classes.
The two have faced off several times in Philadelphia courtrooms over the past decade. Both Sharpton and Mill’s attorney, Joe Tacopina, accused Brinkley of having some kind of vendetta against the rapper during their decade-long legal battle.
Mill’s defense team filed a motion earlier this month asking Brinkley to recuse herself from the case and allow a new judge to reconsider the rapper's fate.
“This young man did his time,” Sharpton said. “You’re really exposing a ruthlessness in the system that should be changed.”
Sharpton finished his remarks by vowing to see Mill’s case through until the end.
Other celebrities have flocked to Mill's side and even created billboards calling for his release. The hashtag #FreeMeekMill has trended on social media for weeks.
Activists and musicians from Colin Kaepernick to Jay-Z have pointed to his jailing as representative of what they describe as the harsh treatment of blacks by the criminal justice system.
In a New York Times op-ed, Jay-Z said Mill’s case shows how the criminal justice system “entraps and harasses” African Americans.
“He has been on probation for basically his entire adult life. For about a decade, he’s been stalked by a system that considers the slightest infraction a justification for locking him back inside,” Jay-Z wrote.
Al Sharpton runs the National Action Network and is a talk-show host on MSNBC, which is owned by NBCUniversal, the parent company of this site.