Meek Mill’s decade-long probation showed how broken America’s justice system is – P.R. Lockhart Aug 27, 2019, 5:49pm EDT

The Philadelphia rapper had been caught in America’s probation system for years. On Tuesday, his case finally came to an end.

Meek Mill speaks to supporters during a rally for criminal justice reform on August 27, 2019.
Gilbert Carrasquillo/Getty Images

In 2017, the imprisonment of Philadelphia rapper Meek Mill for minor probation violations served as a rallying cry for racial justice advocates and celebrities focused on the justice system’s treatment of African Americans.

Nearly two years later, the 32-year-old rapper is finally free.

On August 27, Mill agreed to plead guilty to possession of a firearm in exchange for having all other charges against him dropped. Mill will not be required to serve any additional time behind bars, bringing an end to a high-profile legal battle that has stretched on for more than a decade.

The announcement comes a month after the Pennsylvania Superior Court ruled that Mill’s 2008 conviction on gun and drug charges should be vacated, saying that the case had been riddled with problems, including testimony from a discredited police officer and overly punitive rulings from Judge Genece Brinkley, who oversaw the case from the beginning. The ruling meant that the Philadelphia District Attorney’s Office would need to fully retry Mill, and on Tuesday, the office announced that it would not do so.

Mill’s fight in the justice system began to see increased attention in November 2017, when Brinkley sentenced him to serve two to four years in prison after violating the terms of his probation. The rapper’s rise has been haunted by a 2007 arrest, followed by close court supervision, multiple minor probation violations, and periods of incarceration at various points.

His difficulties prompted fierce support from justice advocates and Mill’s celebrity supporters argued that at a time when police violence, mass incarceration, and harsh sentencing continue to disproportionately affect people of color, Mill’s case was an all-too-normal tale of the potential harms of America’s probation system: A single infraction can affect a person for years after they have served time due to an extensive web of supervision and the courts’ ability to put someone back behind bars for even minimal offenses.

“His case is highlighting how messed up the system is,” Clarise McCants, the criminal justice campaign director for Color of Change, told me in 2018. “A lot of people think of probation and parole as a get out of jail free card, but it’s not.”

As outrage over Mill’s case grew last year, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court ordered that he be released from prison on bail. In the year since, Mill has become a leading celebrity advocate for criminal justice reform, saying that his case showed him how harsh the system can be and why reforming it is necessary.

On Tuesday, Mill celebrated the end of his case. “I’m extremely grateful that my long legal battle is finally behind me,” he tweeted. “And I appreciate that it has sparked a much-needed discussion about probation reform and the inequalities that exist within our two Americas.”

Meek Mill was arrested in 2007. It followed him for more than a decade.

To truly understand what made Mill’s case so prominent, it’s helpful to revisit how it all started.

In 2007, Robert Williams, still a teenager, wasn’t yet Meek Mill, although he was already held in high regard as a local Philadelphia battle rapper. In January 2007 a police officer named Reginald Graham, who worked with a Philadelphia narcotics unit, claimed to have seen Williams selling crack cocaine. The next day when Graham and another officer approached Williams while he walked from a relative’s home to a local corner store, everything changed.

Accounts given by officers at the time allege that Williams pulled out a gun and pointed it at them. When Williams attempted to run, the officers quickly caught up. Williams was struck by officers and appears visibly injured in a mug shot taken at that time; officers have said the injuries were the result of his resisting arrest.

The rapper’s account of events is somewhat different. He doesn’t deny having had a gun but says he never pointed it at police and instead ditched it as officers approached. He also argues that the officers used excessive force, going so far as to use his head as a battering ram to gain entry into his relative’s home. I had “a concussion, stitches, braids ripped out,” Mill told Billboard in 2015. “My blood was on the ceiling, on the floor.”

What is for certain is that in 2008, Williams faced multiple gun and drug charges. In 2009 Judge Brinkley, whose Philadelphia court would become a recurring setting in Williams’s legal saga, sentenced him to serve 11 to 23 months in county prison. Williams left prison after five months and was placed on house arrest for a brief period. He also was placed on probation for five years.

Meek Mill speaks to supporters during a Stand with Meek Mill rally in Philadelphia on June 18, 2018.
Meek Mill speaks to supporters during a Stand With Meek Mill rally in Philadelphia on June 18, 2018.
Gilbert Carrasquillo/WireImage via Getty Images

In the years that followed, after Williams secured a record deal and had a platinum-selling debut album called Dreams and Nightmares, he contemplated the prospect of touring the country but continued to face strict probation requirements. In 2012 after Mill was arrested on suspected marijuana use, Brinkley briefly barred him from touring. In 2014 he was sentenced to serve three to six months in prison for failing to have his travel plans approved by the court, tweeting negatively about his probation officer, and being “disrespectful.”

Mill faced additional punishments in 2015 and 2016 for probation violationsand had more years added onto the initial five-year probationary period. Mill’s team argued that Brinkley was being too strict about relatively minor infractions.

In 2017, two events would prove to be the final straw in Brinkley’s eyes. In March, Mill was involved in a fight at a St. Louis airport. In August, he was seen popping wheelies on a dirt bike as he drove down a New York City street. Mill was charged with misdemeanor assault for the airport incident and reckless endangerment for what transpired in New York. The first charge was later dismissed, and a court said it would drop the reckless endangerment charge if Mill kept out of trouble for six months.

But Brinkley argued that Mill had been given too many chances, sentencing him in November 2017 to serve two to four years in prison as a result of his probation violations, unapproved travel, and a failed drug test. That decision arrived despite the advice of prosecutors and his probation officer. One month later Brinkley denied him bail, arguing that the rapper was a “danger to the community” and a flight risk.

The birth of the #FreeMeekMill movement

At that point, Mill’s ongoing legal troubles began drawing attention from supporters in the music industry. Fellow rappers like Jay-Z, Rick Ross, and T.I. called for Mill to be released from prison. Beleaguered former NFL quarterback Colin Kaepernick tweeted about the rapper’s incarceration, and New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft visited Mill in prison along with 76ers owner Michael Rubin. Fans posted messages of support, uniting under the banner of #FreeMeekMill.

Mill, his supporters argued, was being treated unfairly by a justice system that had closely monitored him for the better part of a decade. “He’s been stalked by a system that considers the slightest infraction a justification for locking him back inside,” Jay-Z wrote in a New York Times op-ed published in November 2017.

A movement quickly grew. Philadelphia, racial justice advocates noted, had the highest numbers in the state when it came to people on probation or parole being reincarcerated, and often this resulted from technical violations. And nationally, roughly one-third of the more than 4 million people on probation or parole are black.

While advocates moved to make the #FreeMeekMill movement symbolic of broader sentencing issues in the justice system, Mill’s lawyers worked to get their client released from prison. They began by pointing at Brinkley, alleging that the judge carried a “vendetta” against the rapper and her refusal to let Mill out on bail indicated that she needed to be removed from the case. The judge, meanwhile, has maintained that she has been fair in her decisions and that punishments occurred because Mill, by repeatedly violating the strict terms of his probation, “thumbed [his] nose at” the court.

“He’s been on probation for nearly 10 years,” Joe Tacopina, one of Mill’s lawyers, told CNN in 2017. “Nobody goes on probation for 10 years.” In June the Pennsylvania Supreme Court issued a split ruling on the matter, allowing Brinkley to remain on Mill’s case.

In an April 2018 opinion filed with the state supreme court, Brinkley refused to recuse herself and defended herself from allegations of misconduct; she argued that Mill’s sentence was “reasonable” and “appropriate.” A representative for Brinkley did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Article continues:

As Puerto Rico Braces For Storm, DHS, FEMA To Move $271 Million To Border Operations – Claudia Grisales August 27, 20198:12 PM ET

Homes in the Cantera area of San Juan, Puerto Rico are covered with FEMA tarps after Hurricane Maria. The island is now bracing for another major storm. Carlos Giusti/AP

Homes in the Cantera area of San Juan, Puerto Rico are covered with FEMA tarps after Hurricane Maria. The island is now bracing for another major storm. Carlos Giusti/AP

As a major storm heads for Puerto Rico, the Department of Homeland Security and its Federal Emergency Management Agency said Tuesday they will move $271 million in funds to support President Trump’s border enforcement efforts.

The Department of Homeland Security said it will transfer the emergency funds — including $155 million from FEMA’s disaster relief fund — to support new Immigration and Customs Enforcement detention beds as well as facilities for related court cases, according to documents obtained by NPR.

In a July notification to Congress about the transfer, DHS said the $155 million comes from recoveries of prior year funds and that “absent significant new catastrophic events” the department believes the fund will still have enough money to operate.

Congressional Democrats slammed the move on Tuesday, which comes at the peak of hurricane season and as Tropical Storm Dorian was poised to reach hurricane levels.

“The Trump administration’s plan to divert money away from FEMA at the start of hurricane season to continue its efforts to separate and jail migrant families is backwards and cruel,” Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., said. “Taking these critical funds from disaster preparedness and recovery efforts threatens lives and weakens the government’s ability to help Americans in the wake of natural disasters. Congress appropriated these funds to meet the American peoples’ priorities and I strongly oppose this effort to undermine our constitutional authority.”

DHS alerted Congress to the move in a 15-page notification dated July 26, which NBC first reported earlier Tuesday. The agency is required to give Congress a 30-day notice to the plans.

Democrats, opposed to the move, waited to respond until the end of that notification period in hopes of delaying the costly action, a congressional source familiar with the plans said.

“I have significant concerns about the intended use of funds, and consequently, about the tradeoffs between that use and activities that would otherwise be funded from the source accounts,” California Rep. Lucille Roybal-Allard, chair of a House Appropriations subcommittee, told DHS Secretary Kevin McAleenan in an Aug. 23 letter.

Article continues:

Being an Optimist May Help People Live Past 85 – Jacquelyn Corley, STATAugust 27, 2019

Individuals who scored higher on an optimism assessment were likely to live significantly longer lives, a new study finds

Being an Optimist May Help People Live Past 85
Credit: Getty Images

Humans have been searching for centuries for the secret to living longer, but the answer may be as simple as maintaining a positive state of mind. A new study published Monday by researchers at Boston University adds to the evidence that optimistic men and women may live longer than those who are pessimistic.

Researchers found that people who scored higher on an optimism assessment were more likely to live past the age of 85. Those with higher optimism levels at the start of the study were more likely to have advanced degrees and be physically active, and less likely to have health conditions like diabetes or depression. However, when researchers accounted for these variables, they still found that optimism was associated with people living significantly longer.

Often, researchers focus on finding risk factors the heighten the likelihood of falling ill. But Lewina Lee, the lead researcher on the new study and an assistant professor of psychiatry at BU School of Medicine, said, “These findings reinforce the value of looking at psychosocial assets and not just deficits in overall health and health outcomes.”

The study, published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, involved long-term follow up of women enrolled in the Nurses’ Health Study and men in the Veterans Affairs Normative Aging Study. The women have been followed since 1976, and in 2004 they completed a six-question optimism assessment. Their survival was tracked until 2014. The men have been followed since 1961, and in 1986 they completed a baseline assessment with 263 true or false statements about their experiences and their outlook on life. Survival outcomes were tracked through 2016.

Article continues:

Alibaba, Tencent, Five Others To Receive First Chinese Government Cryptocurrency – Michael del Castillo Aug 27, 2019, 05:13pm

China’s central bank will launch a state-backed cryptocurrency and issue it to seven institutions in the coming months, according to a former employee of one of the institutions who is now an independent researcher. Paul Schulte, who worked as global head of financial strategy for China Construction Bank until 2012, says the largest bank in the world, the Industrial and Commercial Bank of China, the second largest bank in the world, his former employer, the Bank of China, the Agricultural Bank of China; two of China’s largest financial technology companies, Alibaba and Tencent; and Union Pay, an association of Chinese banks, will receive the cryptocurrency.

A separate source, who’s involved in the development of the cryptocurrency, dubbed DC/EP (Digital Currency/Electronic Payments), confirmed that the seven institutions would be receiving the new asset when it launches, adding that an eighth institution could also be among the first tier of recipients. The source declined to provide the name of the additional company. Speaking under terms of anonymity, the source, who previously worked for the Chinese government, confirmed that the technology behind the cryptocurrency has been ready since last year and that the cryptocurrency could launch as soon as November 11, China’s busiest shopping day, known as Singles Day.

At the time of launch, the recipient institutions will then be responsible for dispersing the cryptocurrency to 1.3 billion Chinese citizens and others doing business in the renminbi, China’s fiat currency, according to the source. The source added that the central bank hopes the currency will eventually be made available to spenders in the United States and elsewhere through relationships with correspondent banks in the West. “That’s the plan, but that won’t happen right away,” the source said.

The plan to use a diverse set of China’s trusted intuitions to disperse the cryptocurrency is reminiscent of a number of other ideas currently percolating around the world. For instance, Facebook’s planned libra cryptocurrency will be backed by a basket of currencies issued by central banks with support from companies like Mastercard and Uber in the United States, Vodaphone in England and Mercado Pago in Argentina. And last week, Bank of England governor Mark Carney floated the idea of a new currency backed by a number of central banks to replace the U.S. dollar as the global reserve currency.


Federal Judge Blocks Missouri’s 8-Week Abortion Ban From Taking Effect – ABIGAIL WEINBERG August 2019

The law has been put on hold pending litigation by Planned Parenthood and the ACLU.

Steve Pellegrino/Zuma

In May, Missouri passed a law banning abortion after eight weeks of gestation, with no exceptions for rape or incest. On Tuesday, a federal judge blocked the law a day before it was scheduled to go into effect.

Missouri’s law, which includes exceptions for medical emergencies, criminalizes physicians who perform abortions after eight weeks of gestation—before many women know they are pregnant. After Missouri’s Republican Gov. Mike Parson signed the bill into law, Planned Parenthood and the ACLU sued the state, calling its attempt to challenge Roe v. Wade unconstitutional. US District Judge Howard Sachs put the law on hold to allow the legal proceedings to unfold, the AP reports.

The judge allowed a ban on abortion based solely on race, gender, or Down Syndrome diagnosis to temporarily stay in effect, according to Buzzfeed. The state’s ban on abortions of non-viable pregnancies, however, violates Supreme Court precedent, according to Sach’s reasoning.

Abortion in Missouri is already illegal for fetuses that would be viable outside the womb, and the state has has only one abortion clinic. The lone clinic is under threat of closing pending thanks to a different court case about whether it has complied with requirements set by the Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services. For now, though, obtaining an early-term abortion in Missouri is still legal.

Report finds majority of 2019 ransomware attacks have targeted state and local governments – BY MAGGIE MILLER – 08/28/19 03:00 AM EDT

© Getty Images

The majority of ransomware attacks in the U.S. in 2019 have targeted state and local governments, a report published Wednesday by cybersecurity group Barracuda Networks found.

The report counted a total of 55 ransomware attacks on U.S. state and local government entities between January and July of 2019. These attacks involve a malicious actor or group encrypting a network and asking for money, often in the form of bitcoin, to allow the user access.

“The team’s recent analysis of hundreds of attacks across a broad set of targets revealed that government organizations are the intended victims of nearly two-thirds of all ransomware attacks,” Barracuda wrote in the report. “Local, county, and state governments have all been targets, including schools, libraries, courts and other entities.”

The total amount of ransomware incidents documented by the report does not include the recent spree of 22 attacks on Texas municipalities, many of which were small local governments.

Several school districts in Louisiana were also targeted by ransomware attacks in recent weeks, while the city governments of Baltimore and Atlanta have both been crippled in the past year by ransomware incidents.

The report also revealed that small towns are more likely to be targeted by ransomware attacks, with 45 percent of the municipalities attacked in 2019 having fewer than than 50,000 residents, while a further 24 percent of the cities attacked had less than 15,000 residents.

Barracuda noted that the main avenue hackers are using to gain access to these systems is through “malicious software, delivered as an email attachment or link,” which then infects the networks and locks down the system until a ransom is paid.

To combat these attacks, Barracuda recommended that city and local governments focus on email security tactics, such as using email phishing-detection systems, putting in place an “advanced firewall,” backing up data to the cloud, and making sure employees are trained on how to spot suspicious emails.

Article continues:

New Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker Footage Shows Rey Breaking Bad – BRIAN BARRETT CULTURE 08.26.19 12:54 PM

While it’s not the first trailer for Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker, the new footage Disney showed off at its D23 conference this past weekend is a whole lot more illuminating. It’s got plenty of fan service, packing in snippets from every previous film in the nanology (even the bad ones!). It’s got the late Carrie Fisher and yet another showdown between Kylo Ren (Adam Driver) and Rey (Daisey Ridley). But most of all, it’s got an enticing addition to the Star Warslightsaber canon.

Sure, you could pick apart individual screenshots from the trailer. Maybe there’s an important plot giveaway in there. But rather than throw bones with C-3PO’s red eyes or a gaggle of Imperial Star Destroyers, let’s luxuriate in the footage’s real star: that double-bladed, collapsible lightsaber! It joins a proud lineage of non-standard energy swords, from Mace Windu’s inexplicably purple blade to Kylo Ren’s glowing crossguard action to Darth Maul’s extremely dope double-sided model.

Rey’s model seems at first like a more practical version of the latter; it offers at least the same reach, but can fold up into a sort of double-lightsaber, which presumably helps avoid scuffing up the floor with kyber crystal plasma. But couldn’t you also just turn it off when you’re not using it? And is there any benefit to having two parallel blades, other than slicing through something twice for some reason? Or if you hold it sideways you could slice it once in two different locations. Either way, seems like maybe overkill? When it’s collapsed like that, do you have to hold both handles to effectively wield it? Seems tricky. And since each half of the lightsaber comes with a full-length hilt, it can’t be that comfortable to carry around. Also results in a pretty wide middle section.

OK, yes, most of the attention has focused the fact that it’s red, and she’s wearing a dark cloak, so maybe she enlists with the dark side at some point in The Rise of Skywalker, or at least entertains the idea. But why waste time pondering her motivations and plot arcs—whoever her parents turn out to be, you’re going to be disappointed—when you can nitpick the most purely fun moment in the two minutes, 11 seconds Disney doled out today?

Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker comes out December 20. Hopefully, when it does, we’ll get the latest in lightsaber innovation. Move fast and break Siths.