Rapper Meek Mill on Tuesday pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor gun charge dating back more than a decade, in an agreement that lifts the probation he’s dealt with most of his adulthood.
The plea deal that dropped additional charges against Mill resolved a case that had become a flashpoint in the national debate over the US criminal justice system’s treatment of black people.
The 32-year-old rapper, born Robert Rihmeek Williams, will not serve any more jail time, the judge ruled, given that he’s already spent approximately two years behind bars.
In 2008 Mill was convicted in Philadelphia of simple assault along with drug and gun charges. He was sentenced to incarceration and seven years of probation, and was released after five months in jail.
In the following years he faced a number of parole violations as he built a highly successful career in the music industry, with travel restrictions linked to his conviction regularly conflicting with touring attempts.
In 2017 a judge sentenced him to two to four years in prison for violating probation, a ruling that triggered outrage by advocates who called it unusually harsh and emblematic of racist biases in US parole laws.
Mill was freed on bail in April 2018, becoming a vocal advocate for criminal justice reform in a country where black people are incarcerated at more than five times the rate of white people, according to the NAACP civil rights organisation.
Earlier this year the artist was granted a new trial in the case, with both the defense and prosecution questioning the credibility of the arresting officer. The defense also accused the trial judge of bias given the prison sentence for probation violations.
“I know this has been a long road for you and hopefully this will be the end of it,” Judge Leon Tucker reportedly told Mill in the courtroom on Tuesday.
Following the hearing the rapper, who has become an advocate for criminal justice reform and started a foundation with that aim, tweeted: “I’m extremely grateful that my long legal battle is finally behind me and I appreciate that it has sparked a much-needed discussion about probation reform and the inequalities that exist within our two Americas.”
“I have always told the truth – that as a teenager, who saw many around me die from senseless gun violence, I carried a gun for protection.”
“It’s important that we now channel our energy into helping the millions that are unjustly trapped in our criminal justice system,” Mill tweeted after thanking his many supporters including rap mogul Jay-Z.