Freed rapper Meek Mill may have seen the World War II movie Saving Private Ryan, and be familiar with a scene that came to mind after the hero’s welcome Mill got Tuesday after being bailed out of the prison he was assigned for violating his parole.
After Private Ryan, played by Matt Damon, is found and saved at the cost of six other soldiers’ lives, mortally wounded Captain Miller, played by Tom Hanks, whispers to Ryan, “Earn it.” Mill, too, needs to earn the chance he has been given that hundreds of the wrongfully convicted never receive.
A new Columbia University Justice Lab report shows Pennsylvania leads the nation with 296,000 residents on parole or probation. Some of those people went to prison when they were as young as Mill, who was convicted on drug and gun charges in 2008 as a 19-year-old. While they remain incarcerated or under supervision, Mill is free, at least until the new trial that the Pennsylvania Supreme Court has said should be held.
Even after another trial, it is expected that Mill will remain free. District Attorney Larry Krasner has signaled that any further prosecution by him won’t be vigorous. There is evidence that Mill’s original arrest was orchestrated by a bad cop.
Krasner’s leniency seems further motivated by the outrageously long 10-year parole Mill received in 2008. A judge last year sentenced him to two to four years in prison for violating his parole’s terms. But Mill’s going back to prison seems unlikely, so he can start earning his freedom.
It won’t be enough for him to make a Grammy-winning album that decries the racism too often found in a criminal justice system that has filled America’s prisons with thousands of young black men like Mill.
It won’t be enough for Mill to show up at Sixers games, or Eagles games, or other celebrity-laden events so the rich and famous can take Instagram snapshots with him to prove they’re keeping it real.
It won’t be enough for Mill to visit high schools or rec centers to urge young people to stay out of trouble and get an education so they can live successful lives.
It won’t be enough for him to visit prisons to encourage inmates to be strong while they wait for the same justice that for so long closed its ears to him.
To earn his freedom, Mill must lead by example. Like Charles Barkley, he may not want to be a role model, but he is. Young people looking at the helicopter rides, celebrity hobnobbing, and other adulation being heaped upon Mill will want to be like him. By his lifestyle he can direct them down a different path than the one that got him in trouble.
An undeniable connection between hip-hop culture and bad behavior exists. It’s glorified in some rap lyrics. But rappers like Pulitzer Prize winner Kendrick Lamar also speak out for social justice. Mill has been given a chance to be a force in that movement. He didn’t earn it with his incarceration. But he can with his freedom.