JAY-Z Says The Criminal Justice System Stalks Black People

JAY-Z has devoted a lot of his time in the last year to fighting the prison industry. The artist-turned-mogul who rapped on “Justify My Thug” that he’d never been to jail has made it a personal point to advocate for prisoner’s rights, as well as provide resources to end recidivism.

Today (November 17) Jay penned an opinion editorial in The New York Times. The music magnate used the recent felony sentencing of Meek Mill to express his belief that the criminal justice system “stalks” Black people in particular. The point was also the basis of Jay’s headline. “For about a decade, [Meek Mill has] been stalked by a system that considers the slightest infraction a justification for locking him back inside.”

But the fate of 30-year-old Meek Mill who is currently held in solitary confinement at Pennsylvania State Correctional Institution in Montgomery County on a two to four-year sentence for probation violation, JAY-Z argues, reflects a broader issue. And it is not new.

“What’s happening to [him] is just one example of how our criminal justice system entraps and harasses hundreds of thousands of Black people every day.” Looking back at his life, the Roc Nation founder shares, “I saw this [harassment/entrapment] up close when I was growing up in Brooklyn during the 1970s and 1980s. Instead of a second chance, probation ends up being a landmine, 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.”

Statistics show, moreover, that the law appears to have a racial bias. As he writes, “Black people are sent to prison for probation and parole violations at much higher rates than white people.” 2015 figures demonstrate “one-third of the 4.65 million Americans who were on some form of parole or probation were Black.”

“The specifics of Meek’s case inspired me to write this,” JAY-Z adds, “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-Z has a long history of activism related to criminal justice issues – especially those directly affecting the Black community. On Father’s Day this year, JAY-Z made major donations to organizations such as Southerners on New Ground and Color of Change. At the time he said,“I’m supporting [these] organizations to bail out fathers who can’t afford the due process our democracy promises.” With that gesture, he penned an essay on the “exploitative bail industry” for Time. In the piece, he shared that on “any given day over 400,000 people, convicted of no crime, are held in jail because they cannot afford to buy their freedom.”

JAY-Z says he became “obsessed” by this fact while acting as producer for the docu-series, Time: The Kalief Browder Story. At the age of 16, Kalief Browder was jailed for three years at Rikers Island, without trial, for allegedly stealing a backpack. Most of the time, Browder was held in solitary confinement. Post-release, Browder committed suicide.

JAY-Z wrote in the TIME article, “Kalief’s family was too poor to post bond when he was accused of stealing a backpack. He was sentenced to a kind of purgatory before he ever went to trial. The three years he spent in solitary confinement on Rikers ultimately created irreversible damage that led to his death at 22.”

In addition to Meek, many close to Jay have been incarcerated. Figures such as Beanie Sigel, Roc-A-Fella co-founder Kareem “Biggs” Burke, and Roc Nation lifestyle specialist Emory Jones have all previously served extended time behind bars.

#BonusBeat: This TBD episode examines JAY-Z’s personal growth after being raised with an absentee father:

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