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Meek Mill rally was about way more than the Philadelphia rapper

‘I came to support Meek Mill, but it’s not just him — the system is doing this to a lot of our young black men’

PHILADELPHIA — Basketball legend Julius Erving and Philadelphia Eagles safety Malcolm Jenkins showed up outside the Justice Juanita Kidd Stout Center for Criminal Justice to support a friend, rapper Meek Mill, the Philadelphia native who has always showed love for local professional teams.

“We rally today,” Erving said Monday, “because we all believe in him.”

Retired NBA star Julius “Dr. J” Erving speaks on behalf of Meek Mill in front of the Juanita Kidd Stout Center of Criminal Justice in Philadelphia Nov. 13.

Charles Mostoller for The Undefeated

Rapper Rick Ross made an appearance for the onetime protégé whose career he helped launch on the Maybach Music Group label.

“I think the commonwealth [of Pennsylvania] needs to take a second look at this bizarre sentencing,” Ross said, reading remarks from his cellphone.

Rapper Rick Ross speaks during the “Free Meek Mill” rally.

Charles Mostoller for The Undefeated

Just over a week after Meek Mill was sentenced to two to four years in prison for violating his probation, an estimated 500 friends and supporters showed up in Philadelphia’s Center City to support the Rally For Meek event.

Hundreds of supporters of jailed rapper Meek Mill turned out to protest his imprisonment at a rally that included speakers such as retired NBA star Julius “Dr. J” Erving and rapper Rick Ross, in front of the Justice Juanita Kidd Stout Center of Criminal Justice in Philadelphia Nov. 13.

Charles Mostoller for The Undefeated

But the gathering was more than a show of support for a rapper who was sent to jail by Judge Genece Brinkley for probation violations that include getting into a fight and popping wheelies on a dirt bike in Manhattan.

Amella Lee Campbell was there to raise awareness about her father, contractor Griffin Campbell, who was sentenced to 15 to 30 years in prison on charges of involuntary manslaughter after a 2013 building collapse in Philadelphia left seven people dead.

“It was an accident. My father had no maliciousness in his heart. He did not go to work that day to hurt anybody,” Campbell said, holding up a handmade sign that read “LET’S STOP RACIAL INJUSTICE #GRIFFINCAMPBELL.”

A father and son gather outside of the during the rally.

Charles Mostoller for The Undefeated

Carrying signs, wearing “Free Meek Mill” T-shirts and occasionally shouting lyrics to several of the rapper’s tracks, the boisterous crowd shut down several short blocks outside the Criminal Justice Center, which is just a block away from City Hall.

It was a diverse crowd. A loud crowd. But, representing all parts of Philadelphia, everyone came in peace.

“I came to support Meek Mill, but it’s not just him — the system is doing this to a lot of our young black men,” said Kai Leonard, a college student at California University of Pennsylvania, where she studies nursing. “I came down here because one day I might have a black son, and I don’t want what’s happening now to happen to him.”

It wasn’t a perfect rally. The single-speaker sound system had a listening radius of about 10 feet, making it impossible for most of the crowd to hear. And the appearance of Ross led many fans to jump the metal barriers that separated the crowd from the press area, resulting in a crush of humanity around the small podium.

A supporter wears a “Free Meek Mill” shirt.

Charles Mostoller for The Undefeated

But those glitches didn’t seem to temper anyone’s spirits.

“[Meek Mill] was given up to four years in prison for something that deserved just a slap on the wrist,” said Chad Stephens, who was tightly holding his daughter, Cevenn, in his arms. “This is crazy.”

Meek Mill’s lawyer, Joe Tacopina, claimed last week that Brinkley has a personal vendetta against the rapper and he is seeking to have her dismissed from the case. As of early Tuesday morning, more than 356,000 people had signed a “Somebody Save Meek Mill” petition on Change.org.

Jerry Bembry is a senior writer at The Undefeated. His bucket list items include being serenaded by Lizz Wright, and watching the Knicks play an NBA game in June.