At the age of 18, Meek Mill had no idea that he would someday become the poster child for police violence, a crooked justice system, and prison reform, however, it’s a title the now 31-year-old wears proudly.
Let’s take it back to where it all started.
At 18 years old, Robert Rihmeek Williams, like many black men his age in North Philadelphia, feared for his life and in turn would often carry a gun on him. One night, as he walked to a nearby corner store, Meek was swarmed by police officers who dragged him inside his house and viciously assaulted him.
“[I had] a concussion, stitches, braids ripped out. My blood was on the ceiling, on the floor,” he recalls.
His lips and eyes were swollen. He still has handcuff scars on his wrists. Yet, he served eight months in prison for possession of a firearm and assaulting a police officer because the two black arresting officers gave a statement against him, saying he chased them down with a gun and tried to kill them.
“Cops charge people with these things at an alarming rate and people take deals because they don’t have lawyer money and can’t afford attorneys to fight for their freedom,” Meek Mill tells CNN. “Do you believe that a young black man can lift up a firearm and point a gun at three cops while their guns are out without a single shot being fired? That doesn’t even make sense in America.”
After serving his eight months, Meek Mill was sentenced to 5 years probation. It was his first true taste of an unjust justice system and the beginning of a brush with law enforcement that would spiral out of control for the next decade of his life. It was also the beginning of his run-ins with Judge Genece Brinkley.
In December 2012, amidst the success of Dreams and Nightmares, Meek Mill found himself back in the penal system. Just a few short years into his 5 year probation, Meek Mill’s travel permit was revoked after it was found that he violated probation by doing out-of-state shows without permission. A month prior, Judge Genece Brinkley Meek Mill to stop scheduling shows out of town and to stay in Philadelphia for the holidays. Meek argued that the nature of his job causes him to make travel plans on a whim. He also argued that it’s just not safe for him to stay home.
“Every time I come back to Philadelphia, someone tries to shoot me or get me back in trouble,” Meek said in court.
Meek’s feud with Judge Brinkley heated up in 2013 when the rapper took to social media to vent about his legal woes, resulting in the judge, ADA and his probation officer receiving death threats from fans. He had also, once again, failed to report travel plans, according to his probation officer. Due to yet another probation violation, Meek was ordered by Judge Brinkley to take etiquette classes. She concluded that the classes were “more important than any concerts he might have” and that Meek needs to “try to get this right next time.”
With violation after violation, it appeared that an end to Meek Mill’s probation was nowhere in sight. Would the rap superstar be considered a “menace to society” in the eyes of the law?
In 2014, Meek Mill’s parole was revoked by Judge Brinkley as a result of behavior that was deemed “questionable” by the District Attorney and herself. He was sentenced to six months in jail. The #FreeMeek hashtag began to trend until the rapper was released nearly five months later.
In his heart, Meek felt he was being unfairly targeted and that the punishment did not fit the crime. But as a black man with newfound power, he knew there was nothing he could do about it. In 2015, Meek Mill said that he feared becoming too political.
“I’m scared to be political,” he tells Billboard. “You get too powerful and more people try to take you out. My son ain’t trying to hear that his dad got put away because he was fighting for the country.”
A lot can change in three years.
The run-ins between Meek Mill and Judge Brinkley did not stop. 2016 brought 90 days of house arrest, 2017 brought an airport assault charge and a reckless endangerment charge for riding his bike in the street. It also brought a 2-4 year prison sentence that set off the political activist in Meek Mill once and for all.
On November 28, 2017, weeks after being sentenced to two to four years in prison for violating probation, Meek Mill’s attorneys filed an emergency bail motion in Pennsylvania’s Superior Court based on Judge Brinkley’s lack of response to their appeals. On December 4, 2017, Brinkley denied Meek’s emergency bail motion and deemed the rapper a “flight-risk” and a “danger to the community.
“Who created the narrative “menace to society” for young black people walking into the courtroom,” Meek asks Elliott Wilson during his CRWN interview earlier this month. “Even if you’re caught with a gun. If you didn’t kill anyone, you were just trying to protect your life. How are you a menace to society? I want to change that narrative that they’re using in the courtroom.”
It was at this moment that Meek began to call foul on Judge Brinkley’s practices, taking on the shady justice system head-on as he awaited his fate behind bars.
In one instance, Meek Mill accused Brinkley of trying to extort him when he says she called him into her chambers and told him to remake Boyz II Men’s “On Bended Knee” and give her a shoutout in his song. When he declined, she said, “Okay, suit yourself.” Brinkley was also accused of asking Meek Mill to leave his management team at Roc Nation to join a personal friend of her’s who is a manager. Meek Mill denied that offer as well.
It became apparent that Meek’s issues with the law weren’t based solely on his behavior. Is there a problem with the justice system when those who are supposed to be fair and unbiased unveil their personal agenda against you? Meek Mill’s lawyer worked hard to have Judge Brinkley removed from Meek’s case.
“Time after time, Judge Brinkley has continued to display unethical behavior as she has presided over Meek’s case,” Joe Tacopina, Meek Mill’s attorney, explains in a statement. “We will work diligently to rectify this grave miscarriage of justice and ensure that Meek’s wrongful conviction is overturned and he is granted the new and fair trial that he deserves.”
The FBI asked Meek Mill wear a wire in an attempt to record Judge Genece E. Brinkley, which he declined to do. Brinkley was also ordered to turn over transcripts of Meek Mill’s probation hearing. This became a huge break for Meek’s legal team.
Then there’s an issue with police corruption. One of the arresting officers in Meek Mill’s’ 2007 possession of a firearm arrest, Officer Reginald Graham, was 1 of 29 current and former cops the D.A. has placed on a “Do not call” list … warning prosecutors to keep them off their witness stands following allegations of misconduct. It was revealed that Graham had a “history of lying, racial bias, or brutality.” Graham also happened to be the only witness in the trial that landed Meek 5 years of probation that started his snowball of probation of violations.
With the shadiness of Meek’s ongoing legal issues coming to light, many celebrities began to stand in solidarity with the Dreamchasers rapper. From Drake to JAY-Z, the #FreeMeekMill movement had become stronger than ever.
After months of motions and fighting back and forth, Meek was finally released from prison on bail in April 2018. However, Judge Brinkley still refused to remove herself from his case.
Since his release, Meek Mill has become the poster child for criminal justice activism that he once dreaded. He stands more comfortable in his stance than he was three years ago and is much more articulate in his points. He doesn’t make excuses for his actions but instead, points out that the terms of his probation were excessive from the start. He not only continues to fight for his freedom but fights for others too.
“The plantation and the prison system are no different. The past is the present,” says Meek. “This was the plan since abolition, to keep us subjugated by creating this system. But I believe in a different set of rights: the right to stand up and be heard, the right to reform a broken justice system and build a new future. We had the right to be silent, now it’s our right to speak up.”
As Meek continues the good fight, we leave you with words of wisdom he provided to Hip Hop Since 1987 in 2014, in which he foreshadowed what was to come of his future and gave a cautionary tale to other black men in the streets.
“Do you want to be a rich n*gga or do you want to die or have life in jail? Let me know. There’s some n*ggas out here that are going to shoot you the f*ck up. There’s some cops out here that are gonna lock you the f*ck down. There’s a lot of money to get out in this world. Which one do you want to be? I don’t want to be a goon. I don’t want to be in jail. I want a hundred million.”
Watch Meek Mill in “Streets” streaming now on REIGN.com.