ASAP Rocky should be enjoying his summer in the midst of his European tour, but instead, he’s incarcerated in Sweden, facing up to six years in jail for aggravated assault. Rocky and three members of his entourage were arrested on July 2 after he got into a physical altercation with a man who he filmed following his group and trying to pick a fight. Though the video footage shows the Harlem artist trying to verbally defuse the situation multiple times before punches were thrown, Swedish officials detained him, and he could be held for up to two weeks as they decide whether to charge him.
Rocky has now joined Meek Mill, 21 Savage, and many others as rappers who are facing unjust treatment at the hands of the law. Meek Mill has had to contend with America’s treacherous probation system for over a decade, while 21 Savage is fighting deportation in an ICE case. Rocky’s legal woes are taking place in Sweden, a country that in 2018 let G-Eazy walk without jail time for fighting nightclub bouncers with coke on him — but apparently considers Rocky’s self-defense a bigger threat to society.
Swedish officials have arguably violated Rocky’s human rights throughout his legal ordeal. A simple review of the video that Rocky posted would prove that the man followed Rocky and his team for over four blocks, despite Rocky telling him to go away because he didn’t want to risk fighting him and going to jail. Unfortunately, that’s exactly what happened. Rocky turned himself in to Swedish police, who detained him.
Sweden then reportedly violated the Vienna Convention for Consular Relations treaty by not allowing Rocky to meet with a US Consulate official upon his arrest, as is custom when an American is arrested in the country. It took two days for the jail to grant the Consulate access to Rocky, for reasons that aren’t apparent.
What’s also up in the air is the exact nature of Rocky’s current confinement. ASAP Ferg announced on Instagram that his brother-in-rhyme Rocky is “in [Sweden] locked up in solitary confinement with no visit or phone call privileges.” Rocky’s manager John Ehmann wrote in a Change.org petition that the artist is dealing with “24/7 solitary confinement, restriction of amenities for the most basic of human functions, access to palatable and life-sustaining food as well as unsanitary conditions.”
TMZ, America’s leading bastion of sensationalism, reported that Rocky is in a “horrific” facility with only a yoga mat to sleep on and inedible food. They also claimed that he’s not in solitary confinement, but bunking with a cellmate who throws his feces around the cell. Rocky’s lawyer Henrik Olsson Lilja spoke to Swedish outlet SVT on Tuesday. While Lilja’s comments didn’t refute the latest TMZ report, which he said he didn’t read, he said that Rocky is in a “common detention,” has access to edible food, and has no restrictions on who he can talk to.
Lilja’s claims that Rocky’s treatment is “common” may not be any solace if he’s indeed in solitary confinement. There are “common” injustices all over the world. Criminal justice reform activists in America are aiming to abolish solitary confinement because studies show the torturous isolation induces “visual and auditory hallucinations, hypersensitivity to noise and touch, insomnia and paranoia, uncontrollable feelings of rage and fear, distortions of time and perception,” and more degrading effects.
There are conflicting reports about the nature of Rocky’s incarceration, but most people agree with his lawyer that it was the initial arrest that was inhumane. Sweden has a deserved reputation for being a model for criminal justice reform and actually aims to rehabilitate the people they incarcerate.
In 2014, Nils Öberg, director-general of Sweden’s prison and probation service, told The Guardian that “some people have to be incarcerated, but it has to be a goal to get them back out into society in better shape than they were when they came in.” In theory, that progressive mindset has an unspoken pretense that if incarceration is about rehabilitation in Sweden, then people who don’t actually need rehabilitation shouldn’t be incarcerated. Why is Rocky at risk of six years in prison for merely defending himself?
There’s a precedent for Black entertainers like him to fall prey to overzealous prosecutors who have internal biases and aim to make “examples” of them. Last year, G-Eazy pled guilty to charges of drug possession and assault after a fight at a Stockholm nightclub where he punched a bouncer and resisted arrest. Cops found cocaine on him, but he faced no jail time and was allowed to leave the country. Asking “why” G-Eazy got off lighter than Rocky despite a worse act would be a purely rhetorical question.
Rocky’s arrest is especially disheartening to Black people all over the world who are sick of being treated as a threat for simply being. The man who Rocky fought chased them down multiple blocks while angrily accusing Rocky’s crew of breaking his headphones. Footage proves however that he broke them himself by attacking Rocky’s bodyguard with them. The irony would be comical if it wasn’t a stark parallel to the no-win situations that randomly manifest in Black people’s lives — and too often end them. Whether it’s trigger-happy cops who shoot us out of fear, white people calling the cops on us for no reason, or people like Michael Paul Adams, who recently slit the throat of 17-year-old Elijah El-Amin because he was “threatened” by his rap music, there’s an inherent fear of Blackness that manifests in needless violence against us. Black people don’t have to be the gangbanger Ice Cube portrayed in “Today Was A Good Day” to wake up pondering if we’ll “live another 24” hours.
And we’re left to feel powerless when we’re punished as aggressors for merely defending ourselves. Sweden is praised for their criminal justice system, but their needless investigation is essentially emboldening Swedish citizens to harass the next rapper that comes to Stockholm, getting them arrested when they decide to defend themselves.
That kind of reputation will have more rappers adopt the mindset of Tyler The Creator, who tweeted out “no more Sweden” in solidarity with his friend. This incident may hit home with Tyler as he was banned from the UK and New Zealand because of his lyrics. While he wasn’t incarcerated or assaulted, he did have his livelihood affected by countries who held his status as a rapper against him. Rap music — and Black culture — runs the world, but Rocky’s plight is the latest example that not everybody is happy with that circumstance.
There’s a popular adage that the legal system is never there when you need it, but quick to turn up when its time to punish you. The Swedish police department wasn’t there to stop the man who allegedly followed Rocky and his crew for four blocks — and groped a woman — but prosecutors are apparently doing studious work to determine whether Rocky should be convicted. The only just solution is for Rocky to be immediately freed and allowed to leave the country. Hopefully, for once in this predicament, Swedish officials can do the right thing.