JAY-Z Pens Moving Op-Ed Supporting Meek Mill: 'Probation is a Trap'

Jay Z & Meek Mill, 2017
Kevin Mazur/Getty Images for Anheuser-Busch

Jay Z (L) and Meek Mill perform during a surprise encore on the Liberty Stage at the 2017 Budweiser Made in America festival - Day 2 at Benjamin Franklin Parkway on Sept. 3, 2017 in Philadelphia.

"For about a decade, he’s been stalked by a system that considers the slightest infraction a justification for locking him back inside," writes Jay.

JAY-Z has spent the past few years speaking out about the inequities of the criminal justice system and fighting to reverse decades of harsh sentencing laws, even meeting with politicians such as New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo to advocate for reforms to the system. On Friday (Nov. 17) he got personal in an Op-Ed for The New York Times entitled "Meek Mill and the Absurdity of the Criminal Justice System," in which Jay argues that the endless probation his friend (and Roc Nation signee) has been subjected to is both unfair to the rapper, but also a burden on our justice and social systems.

"This month Meek Mill was sentenced to two to four years in prison for violating his probation. #FreeMeek hashtags have sprung up, and hundreds of his fans rallied near City Hall in Philadelphia to protest the ruling," Jay writes about the surprisingly harsh sentence handed down by a Philadelphia judge in the case. "On the surface, this may look like the story of yet another criminal rapper who didn’t smarten up and is back where he started. But consider this: Meek was around 19 when he was convicted on charges relating to drug and gun possession, and he served an eight-month sentence. Now he’s 30, so he has been on probation for basically his entire adult life. For about a decade, he’s been stalked by a system that considers the slightest infraction a justification for locking him back inside."

Jay argues that what is happening to Meek is yet another example of how the criminal justice system "entraps and harasses" hundreds of thousands of black people every day, something he saw up close when he was growing up in Brooklyn during the 1970s and 80s. 

"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," he writes. "Taxpayers in Philadelphia, Meek Mill’s hometown, will have to spend tens of thousands of dollars each year to keep him locked up, and I bet none of them would tell you his imprisonment is helping to keep them safer. He’s there because of arrests for a parole violation, and because a judge overruled recommendations by a prosecutor and his probation officer that he doesn’t deserve more jail time. That’s why I stopped my show in Dallas last week to talk about Meek."

The opinion piece goes on to describe how Mill got to where he is, explaining that the MC was arrested after a fight in a St. Louis airport in March, though the charges were dropped after video of the incident appeared to exonerate him. Additionally, in August, Meek was arrested for popping a wheelie on a motorcycle on his video set on the streets of New York, charges that were dismissed after he agreed to attend traffic school.

"Think about that. The charges were either dropped or dismissed, but the judge sent him to prison anyway," he says. "The specifics of Meek’s case inspired me to write this. But it’s time we highlight the random ways people trapped in the criminal justice system are punished every day. The system treats them as a danger to society, consistently monitors and follows them for any minor infraction — with the goal of putting them back in prison."

Jay cites statistics about the rate of probation in the nation, noting that as of 2015, one-third of the 4.65 million Americans who were on some form of parole or probation were black, with black people imprisoned for probation or parole violations at much higher rates than white people. "In Pennsylvania, hundreds of thousands of people are on probation or parole. About half of the people in city jails in Philadelphia are there for probation or parole violations. We could literally shut down jails if we treated people on parole or probation more fairly," he notes.

"And that’s what we need to fight for in Philadelphia and across the country. The racial-justice organization Color of Change is working with people in Philadelphia to pressure the courts there and make that vision a reality. Probation is a trap and we must fight for Meek and everyone else unjustly sent to prison."

To read JAY-Z's essay in full click here.