Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf has joined Democratic lawmakers in the Keystone State in petitioning for the release of rap superstar Meek Mill.
The governor also acknowledged that reform is needed in the criminal justice system.
“Our criminal justice system is in need of repair,” Wolf said. “That’s why my administration has made efforts to invest in programs that divert individuals from the system, improve public system, and promote fairness.”
Earlier, Philadelphia District Attorney Larry Krasner said he wouldn’t oppose the release of the rapper, whose real name is Robert Rihmeek Williams.
The hip-hop star was twice arrested last year for popping wheelies on a dirt bike in Manhattan and for getting into a fight at St. Louis International Airport. He was sentenced to up to four years in state prison because those arrests violated his probation from a 2008 gun and drug case.
But the case has moved beyond the Pennsylvania courtroom, as celebrities such as Julius Irving, Jay-Z, T.I., and Rick Ross have expressed outrage over the sentence.
At a concert in Dallas, Jay-Z expressed his frustration over Mill’s sentence.
“I gotta say something about a young man named Meek Mill. He caught a charge, he was about 19, he’s 30 now, he’s been on probation for 11 years,” Jay-Z said. “[Bleeping] 11 years. Now, he’s got to do two to four years because he got arrested being on a bike popping a … wheelie.”
Fellow rap star T.I. also weighed in: “When you realize Meek got more jail time for riding a dirt bike than a cop would for shooting an unarmed African American…”
In Philadelphia, rallies have been held with thousands attending, while city buses have been adorned with huge advertisements demanding Mill’s release.
“I support D.A. Larry Krasner’s position in the case of [Meek Mill],” Wolf said.
In response to Wolf’s comments, Mill’s attorney Joe Tacopina said in a statement, “We are grateful for the Governor’s support of Meek Mill and this is further indication that Meek should not spend another minute in jail.”
Mill’s legal team reportedly wrote to Judge Genece Brinkley, who sentenced the rapper to four years in prison last fall but have not received a response. Brinkley reportedly is under investigation as court documents uncovered in January suggest the judge’s personal bias against the rapper.
“Never in my career have I ever seen a governor and District Attorney publicly state that a defendant should be granted bail, yet Meek Mill remains wrongfully imprisoned,” Tacopina said in his statement.
Tacopina told CNN that he plans to appeal the sentence, accusing Brinkley, who has overseen Mill’s case for years, of being “enamored” with the rapper and taking “a personal interest in the case.”
“[Meek’s] frustrated, really frustrated and knows he’s being treated different than anyone else,” Tacopina said. “If his name was John Smith, he wouldn’t be in jail and he certainly wouldn’t be on probation.
“He’s been on probation for nearly 10 years. Nobody goes on probation for 10 years,” Tacopina said, criticizing Brinkley for extending Mill’s initial five-year probation sentence following various violations.
Brinkley’s office did not respond to a request for comment.
Pennsylvania state Rep. Jordan Harris (D), chairman of the Pennsylvania Legislative Black Caucus, said he supported Wolf’s statement that he would support Krasner and not oppose Mill’s release.
“I strongly support Governor Wolf for his support of District Attorney Larry Krasner’s position on not opposing the release of Meek Mill,” Harris said. “However, I am also in support of freeing all the other ‘Robert Williamses’ who are dealt an unfair hand from our criminal justice system. Williams is not a danger to himself, or society, and should be released.
“Cases like Williams’, and so many others like him, are the reason why I have been a strong advocate of reforming our criminal justice system,” Harris said. “This is why I worked with Governor Wolf to pass Act 5 of 2016 and to ban the box on all state-level jobs. This is also why I am working with the legislature to pass a clean slate bill into law so others like Williams do not fall victim to a broken criminal justice system.”