Progressive words from one of hip hop’s most famous figures: Jay-Z wants to change America’s broken system of criminal justice. The entertainment mogul penned a New York Times Op-ed demanding real justice for Philadelphia rapper Meek Mill, who was recently sentenced to jail in a case many see as unjust, mostly because it is. Jay’s words went beyond Mill and established a harsh critique of the systematic (racist!) issues ingrained within the American justice system. He writes:
I saw this up close when I was growing up in Brooklyn during the 1970s and 1980s. Instead of a second chance, probation ends up being a land mine, with a random misstep bringing consequences greater than the crime. A person on probation can end up in jail over a technical violation like missing a curfew.
The absurd specifics of Meek Mill’s case—a judge allegedly requesting he sign to a friend’s label and record a Boyz II Men cover—serves to illustrate how black men are at the whim of a corrupt criminal system. Jay-Z points out that Meek Mill has been on probation since 19, which means that even though all of the 2017 charges against him were dropped, a judge could still sentence him to jail. That, my friends, is what we call an example of the prison industrial complex. Jay-Z adds:
As of 2015, one-third of the 4.65 million Americans who were on some form of parole or probation were black. Black people are sent to prison for probation and parole violations at much higher rates than white people.
Earlier this year Jay-Z produced TIME: The Kalief Browder Story, a documentary exploring the all too brief life of Kalief Browder, a young black man sentenced to Rikers Island for three years on accusations of stealing a backpack. He committed suicide while incarcerated. Jay-Z spoke at Sundance about the release and the criminal justice system at large, how it is designed to hold back and harm black people:
“What was done to him was a huge injustice and I think people will see his story and realize, man, this is going on,” Jay continued. “This is not like one case that happened. This is happening a lot for people – especially where I come from in the boroughs and the Marcy Projects and the Bronx and Brooklyn and all these places.”
Systematic racism in the United States is woven into the country’s fabric and won’t easily be excised. Jay-Z, one of the world’s richest musicians, using his resources to spotlight abuse is crucial, not only to help those in high profile cases, but to bring attention to the millions of other black Americans languishing in a system that must change.
Read his full op-ed here. It is worth your time and consideration.