JUSTICE LEAGUE NYC
By Jack Barnes
Justice League NYC greeted the news of Meek Mill’s release on bond with celebration, while joining the rapper in emphasizing the dire need for systemic reforms highlighted by his case. Since the hour that Meek received his 2-4 year sentence last November, Justice League NYC began working on his release. In collaboration with Roc Nation and a host of committed organizations like Frontline Dads, ACLU Pennsylvania, The Center for Returning Citizens, POWER Philadelphia, #cut50 and Color of Change among many others, Justice League NYC brought all their power and resources to the campaign to free Meek.
Justice League NYC’s most recent victories include their rapid response initiative to get Bronx teenager Pedro Hernandez released from Rikers last summer, and getting Raise the Age legislation passed in New York state. By utilizing the platforms of stories – like Meek’s – the group is able to identify and quantify the racial disparities in the criminal justice system and set an agenda for implementable reforms.
“Meek’s case has allowed us to elevate the thousands of Black and Brown people who are also victims of misuse of judicial conduct and kept in the system’s clutches decades after their release,” says Carmen Perez, Co-Founder of Justice League NYC and Executive Director of Harry Belafonte’s nonprofit, The Gathering for Justice. “Meek’s fame and money did not protect him from the unjust system that over-incarcerates people of color – especially Black people – and we know there are many more in situations like his without the resources to elevate their stories.”
According to Perez, who has dedicated her 20 year career to system accountability and reform, there are four key priorities for reforming the criminal justice system.
Sentencing reform. This means ending programs and practices like mandatory minimums that force incarceration regardless of circumstances.
Bail reform. Meek did not pose a threat to anyone and was not a flight risk, yet he was denied bond for months. One in three people serve lengthy time in jail without being convicted of a crime–simply because they can’t afford bail. The consequences can be catastrophic for people even if they are ultimately cleared of charges–the tragic impact on young people can be seen in the story of Kalief Browder.
Parole/probation reform. Meek was still on probation for a crime he served time for more than ten years ago. The lengthy shadow of parole and probation affects 280,000 people in Pennsylvania
Second Chances/Conviction Sunsets. There are currently 44,000 collateral consequences which follow incarcerated people upon their release from prison. 44,000 obstacles to living a truly free life. Some of these include the right to vote, the right to privacy, the availability of jobs. If we are committed to reform, we must give our formerly incarcerated brothers and sisters and neighbors a real chance to thrive and contribute to their communities. This is how we create truly safe communities.
Philadelphia has the highest per capita incarceration rate of the 10 largest U.S. cities. Pennsylvania ranks 2nd highest in the nation for the number of people under court supervision. The average length of time that people spend on parole or probation has been steadily increasing over the years.
Yesterday, after almost six months of incarceration, Meek was granted bond. On the same day, news surfaced that the mass murderer who shot 4 people in a Tennessee Waffle House had also initially been granted bond. Again, Meek’s case highlights the way that people of color continue to be targeted and pay higher prices when it comes to criminal charges and sentencing. His incarceration sent a signal to his young Black and Brown fans that incarceration is all they deserve.
Meek’s case and power status allows us to elevate the thousands of marginalized people who remain victims of a biased criminal justice system. With the attention to his case and the momentum generated, the time is now to pass real reform in Pennsylvania – and across the nation.
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