How Meek Mill's Sentence Displays the Disparities of the American Criminal Justice System

On November 6, 2017, Robert Williams, or more widely known as, “Meek Mill,” was sentenced to a Philadelphia prison for two years for violating two probations. Williams is a rapper, Philadelphia native, and former boyfriend to entertainer Nicki Minaj.

(Image via hotnewhiphop)

Judge Genece E. Brinkley sent him to prison after what she claimed was “break after break.” The sentencing traced back to a probation violation from an offense that Williams committed back in 2008. Here is a brief history of his trouble with the law:

  • 2008 - Williams is arrested for carrying a gun to a local grocery store. He spent eight months in jail and was later put on probation for five years.

  • 2012 - On the night of Halloween, officials reportedly smelled marijuana from his vehicle. Williams states that he was arrested for refusing to let officers search his car. In December of the same year, he was found to have violated his probation.

  • 2013 - He violated his probation again. He failed to report his travel plans, in which he was restricted to travel outside of Philadelphia’s Montgomery County. Williams also encouraged his followers to send death threats to the judge via his social media accounts which resulted in him being required to report to etiquette classes.

  • 2014 - He violates probation again and this time the probation is revoked. From mid-July until early December, he spent his time behind bars.

  • 2015 - Williams traveled, without permission, to another show. He was not allowed to travel or perform until his hearing in February of the next year.

  • 2016 - As a result of his 2015 violation, he was put under house arrest for 90 days and his probation was extended for another six years. He was required to do community service, and his travel boundaries were again, restricted.

  • 2017 - In March, Williams is charged with a misdemeanor of assault after he refused to take a picture with a fan and the encounter became physical. The charges were later dropped. More recently in August, Williams posted videos of his reckless driving on a motorbike in New York City. Once the footage was obtained by officials, he was charged with reckless endangerment and reckless driving.

From the details of his past, it is easy to say that this is just another young, troubled, “thuggish”, African American male who will always be at odds with the law. However, it is also clear that a lot of the charges brought against him were a bit too severe. In all his legal cases, with the exception of both 2017 incidents, he inflicted no physical harm to anyone. There have been several instances where offenders who have inflicted some kind of harm to others received lesser charges or no sentences at all. Yet, even with that being said, this is not going to be another one of those articles that compare offenses charged and committed by people of color to white criminal offenders (although, those factors are not exclusive. They are major, in fact). Judges are more likely to sentence people to jail or community service or house arrest to try to keep these people either out of their way or off the streets. But so many times, the offenders keep getting themselves into trouble. They’re stuck in a constant cycle of appearing before a judge until they commit a crime that causes them to stay in a prison cell for life. So what is the real problem with individuals like Meek Mill who just can’t seem to “get it”?

The issue is actually very common for most Americans. The underlying problem with many people who are constantly committing crimes, and what can arguably be the case for Meek Mill, is that these people have experienced a traumatic event early on in their life.

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When Meek Mill was just five years old, his father was murdered. He grew up on the streets of Philly with a single mother and older sister. According to The National Child Traumatic Stress Network (NCTSN), early childhood trauma is defined as, “the traumatic experiences that occur to children aged 0–6. Young children also may experience traumatic stress in response to the sudden loss of a parent/caregiver.” Stress in adulthood affects the daily life of individuals all across the globe. However, because the brain of a child is still developing in their early years, traumatic events early in a child’s life can affect brain development. Capabilities such as memory, attention, perceptual awareness, thinking, language, and consciousness can be permanently affected.

So what does this mean for people like Meek Mill going in and out of the system? It means that for repeat offenders like him who are growing up in less than safe environments who have experienced physical abuse, who have witnessed or lived through events that brought them psychological harm, and even for individuals who have grown up in more affluent environments who have experienced similar psychological and physical setbacks, the American criminal justice system forces these people into a back and forth ongoing cycle that rarely, if ever, addresses the internal issues of each person. Instead of working with these individuals to get the proper help that they need, they send them to jail time after time. People who have experienced these stressful events are unable to process situations in a logical sense if they are not treated, and the system fails to offer help. This, in turn, contributes to the extremely high rates of mass incarceration in America. In a place where our anthem hails as being the “land of the free,” America has the highest level of incarcerated people in the world.

Therefore, even after accounting for factors like race and social status, people who are caught in the vicious cycle of the American criminal justice system have a hard time making it out due to their cognitive inability to act with reason. Mandatory measures for reform are needed. This was attempted during the era of the Obama administration in which he proposed a plan in 2013 called Smart on Crime that “directed prosecutors nationwide to stop bringing charges that would impose harsh mandatory minimum sentences, except in the most egregious cases.” It is important that we keep the pace in attempts to redesign the basis of the criminal system in America.

Image via The Washington Post