On November 6th, 2017, Meek Mill (born Robert Rihmeek Williams) received a 2 to 4 year prison sentence for violating the terms of his probation with actions involving a motorcycle in Manhattan, an alleged altercation in a St. Louis Airport in addition to failing drug tests and violating travel restrictions. In April, Robert will appeal this sentence on the grounds that one of the officers who originally arrested him, Reginald Graham, is allegedly on a secret list of corrupt police compiled by the District Attorney’s Office of Philadelphia. Robert’s lawyer claims to have two police officers who will corroborate the accusations against Officer Graham.
The story of Meek Mill is important, shining a light on a society that simultaneously fetishizes and condemns people of colour. The Urban Institute reports that– although 13% of Americans are black– they account for 30% of adults on probation, 37% of jail inmates, 38% of prisoners, and 40% of parolees. Additionally, probation for black prisoners is rejected at higher rates than others. And while Meek sits in a cramped cell in a State Prison, countless folks with more privilege are queuing up Meeks’ smash “Dreams and Nightmares” on their mobiles and stereos.
Watching Meek’s drama play out it is impossible to not feel horror at how someone can end up a perpetual citizen of the prison industrial complex, serving small sentences between unending periods of probation. How does Meek build a life for himself under these conditions? And how does a poor black teenager without Meek’s money or stature pick themselves up when the odds are entirely against them? This is a system in desperate need of reform. It isn’t difficult to draw the lines from the colour of his skin, to the prejudice he has faced his entire life, to the clawing feeling that like water, institutional racism flows down river and so many of us are born on higher ground.
And while we gain art and more from persecuted peoples, we’d do well to remember that, in Michelle Alexander’s (author of The New Jim Crow) words:
“What has changed since the collapse of Jim Crow has less to do with the basic structure of our society than with the language we use to justify it. In the era of colour blindness, it is no longer socially permissible to use race explicitly as a justification for discrimination, exclusion and social contempt, so we don’t. Rather than rely on race we use our criminal justice system to label people of colour criminals and then engage in all the practices we supposedly left behind.”