Hundreds of supporters of Philly native and rapper Meek Mill rallied Monday night outside the Criminal Justice Center, where the rapper got prison time last week, a sentence that prompted national outrage.
Meek, born Robert Williams, was found to have violated probation stemming from a 2008 gun possession after an arrest for three recent incidents: an arrest forriding his dirt bike, a scuffle with aggressive fans at the St. Louis airport, and testing positive for Percocet.
"Robert's case is the one people will look at and talk about the most," said Mustafa Rashed, a "Rally for Meek" spokesperson, "but this happens every single day in courtrooms across America. ... The disproportionate unfairness people of color face in the criminal justice system, from arrest to sentencing, is what this rally is about."
VIPs who spoke at the rally in support of Meek included Philly legend Dr. J - Julius Erving; Eagles players Malcolm Jenkins and Vinny Curry; rapper Freeway; and state rep. Jordan Harris, an advocate of criminal justice reform.
"While the case involving Meek Mill maybe the catalyst for this action, the fact is there are many of us to whom the system are just numbers and not names,” Harris said. “This is about raising awareness and calling for action upon an unjust system that is in need of substantive reform."
Judge Genece Brinkley last week sentenced Meek to two to four years in prison against the recommendation of city prosecutors and probation officers. Brinkley also sent Meek away for five months in 2014 after a previous probation violation.
"There is an appeal that is being filed," Rashed said. "If there is even a little bit of impropriety, we think it is incumbent upon the judge to recuse herself so that the case can stand on its own merits and she is not part of the story."
Other supporters of Meek were harsher on the judge.
"Judge Brinkley is one of the worst in the city when it comes to sending people to prison on petty probation violations,” said Clarise McCants, a criminal justice reform activist with Color of Change . “Judge Brinkley is unfit to oversee this case and must recuse herself immediately and allow another judge to take over. If she refuses to step aside, her supervising judge must take immediate action. Thousands have already signed the petition saying Judge Brinkley must go. … We need to be calling on local courts, judges, district attorneys, and state legislators to use their power to stop filling prisons with people who have committed no other crime than minor probation and parole violations.”
Attorneys for the hip hop rapper who rose from the streets of Southwest Philly to become a national hip hop star have claimed she has a personal bias against the rapper.
Meek's current lawyer, New York defense attorney Joseph Tacopina, claimed to the Inquirer that Brinkley is biased against Meek because they are from rival groups in the neighborhood, and because he refused to cover a Boyz II Men song with a shoutout to the judge. Meek's supporters also claim she "has repeatedly crossed personal and ethical lines by encouraging Meek Mill to leave his music label for a Philadelphia-based firm to which she has personal connections."
Brinkley and Philly courts have not commented on those allegations.
“Because this matter is subject to future litigation, there will be no comment at this time," said Gabe Roberts, communications director for Philly courts.