EBONY and Universal Music Group hosted the “Artists, Activism and the Criminal Justice System” panel Friday at the 48th Annual Congressional Black Caucus event in Washington, D.C.
The panel, moderated by CNN political commentator Van Jones, featured rapper Meek Mill, Georgetown sociology professor Michael Eric Dyson, Michelle Scott, an associate professor of history at the University of Maryland-Baltimore County, Jeffrey Harleston, General Counsel and Executive Vice President of Business & Legal Affairs at Universal Music Group, and Rep. Hakeem Jeffries (D-NY), who served as host.
The group discussed the unfair treatment African-Americans face in the criminal justice system, with Mill opening up about his November 2017 arrest stemming from a parole violation, to how artists use their platforms to advocate for the Black community.
“I was sentenced to 10 years in probation due to opioid addiction,” he said. “I probably failed the test three times, and within those three times, my probation was extended to 16 years.”
Mill added that his August 2017 arrest in New York City for popping a wheelie on an ATV led to his reincarceration.
He said Judge Genese E. Brinkley, who oversaw his case, made him seem as if he had repeatedly failed her. During his sentencing in 2017, Brinkley told him that he disregarded the leniency she had shown toward him in the past, according to The Guardian.
“I gave you break after break, and you basically just thumbed your nose at this court,” she said at the time.
“In my mind, I always looked at like, ‘Yeah, I’ve made mistakes, but I made a mistake by getting addicted to opioids,’” he said.
Others praised Mill and other musical artists on Friday for using their platform as artists to bring attention to issues that are negatively affecting the Black community.
“What we’ve seen in the last … 20 or 30 years … [is a] different type of expression. I think a lot of it comes from the growth and emergence of hip-hop. Hip-hop is urgent, hip-hop is angry, hip-hop is confrontational and proud at the same time,” Harleston said. “We’re finding artists taking their celebrity and using that as a risk. Beyoncé using the Super Bowl platform and making a statement with “Formation,” or whether it’s Meek, stepping out and doing what he’s doing now. This is a guy who’s baring his life for all of you.”
Check out the full panel discussion below.
Also, check out our exclusive interview with Harleston below where he talks about Universal Music Groups’ commitment to being a part of the African-American culture.
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Teddy is a multimedia journalist who serves as the culture and political writer for EBONY. His work has appeared in NBC's Owned and Operated stations, as well as DNAInfo, which covered local neighborhood news in New York City. He received his Masters in Journalism from the Craig Newmark School of Journalism at CUNY in 2017.