Growing up Black in Philadelphia is probably like growing up Black in other metropolitan cities across the country. Even if you don’t participate in the extracurricular activities of the streets, you probably know someone who does, and you have some level of understanding of the rules of the game. And you probably bear some residual damage from seeing your loved ones who’ve been entangled in the judicial system get pulled back in, even when it seems they were adamant about changing their lives.
Robert Rihmeek Williams, Meek Mill is an example of this. Arrested on a drug and firearms charge in 2007 at the age of 19, he was found guilty of seven of the 19 charges, including two felonies. Philadelphia’s own Meek Mill was sentenced to up to two years in jail, followed by probation in 2009. In the time since then, the Maybach Music Group rapper has found ascending levels of success in the music business; his latest project, Wins and Losses, rose to number two on the Billboard top R&B/hip-hop chart when it was released earlier this year.
But he seems to have trouble quitting the courts. Meek managed to violate his probation four times in 2016, as court documents show. Two arrests this year—one for an altercation in a St. Louis airport, the other for recklessly driving a dirt bike in Manhattan—landed him back in front of Judge Genese Brinkley, the judge who has overseen Meek’s criminal proceedings since 2007. Although the charges for those arrests were dropped when Meek agreed to community service, Judge Brinkley feels that being arrested is a violation of his parole, and she handed the 30-year-old rapper a two-to-four year sentence in state prison.
While the records make it clear that Meek Mill violated his probation, the situation brings up the question of how Judge Brinkley landed on that sentence. His past probation violations didn’t stem from heinous criminal acts; one came from performing for college students at Syracuse University when he was barred from leaving the Philadelphia area. And yes, a violation is a violation, but one has to consider whether the intent was more of an honest mistake rather than blatant disrespect.
It’s also worth noting that Judge Brinkley hasn’t necessarily upheld a complete level of professionalism in her dealings with the Philly rapper. According to Meek’s lawyer, Joe Tacopina, Brinkley suggested he remake Boyz II Men’s “On Bended Knee” and include a shout out to her on the song. When Meek laughed, the judged insisted that she was serious, and when he refused, she responded with, “Suit yourself.” This hardly sounds like appropriate behavior for a sitting judge tasked with doling out justice.
Yes, it’s clear that Meek messed up, but perhaps there should be fingers pointing in more than one direction. What we do know is that a man has been sentenced to jail for at least two years, which is more than enough time for everything to come crashing down for him and his family. Is this a case of a judge using the veil of justice to take years of someone’s life because she has a biased opinion of them? Only time will tell.