Credit: Mark Dent/Billy Penn

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Even Rick Ross showed up. It was a few minutes into the Meek Mill criminal justice reform rally when the former corrections officer turned superstar rapper made a surprise appearance, wearing a heavy black coat and his trademark sunglasses.

“This feels personal,” he said. “I think the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania may need to take a second look at this bizarre sentencing and make sure this travesty of justice is fixed.”

Ross was part of a star-studded group speaking in front of about 1,000 people outside the Juanita Kidd Stout Criminal Justice Center to raise awareness for Meek Mill’s prison sentence. Other supporters included Sixers legend Julius Erving, rapper Freeway, Eagles safety Malcolm Jenkins and members of Meek Mill’s family.

The Philly rapper, born Robert Rihmeek Williams, was recently sent back to prison by Judge Genece Brinkley for two to four years for violating his probation terms. Mill was arrested twice this year, once for a fight at an airport and a second time for a motorbike incident. He’s also violated his probation in previous years. Rally organizers called for the recusal of Brinkley, who also allegedly once asked Meek Mill to record a cover of the Boyz II Men song “On Bended Knee” with a personal shout out to her.

Chants of “Free Meek Mill” rang out across the gathered crowd, who were holding signs with phrases like “The System is Rigged” and “Rally for Meek.”

Erving and Pa. Rep. Jordan Harris attempted to move the conversation beyond Mill and discuss how probation violations could lead to prison time for many Pennsylvanians. Erving channeled Martin Luther King Jr., saying, “Whatever affects one directly, affects all.”

Harris said, “Today we are not here for the justice of one… Today we are here for the justice of all the people who are locked up and incarcerated and have not received the just care of the criminal justice system.”

About one-third of Pennsylvania’s 500,000 prisoners are recidivists from probation or parole.

All of the speakers were hampered by a sound system that amounted to little more than a guitar amp. It was difficult to hear anyone if you were standing farther than a few feet away. But the crowd didn’t seem to care.

Teenagers Kevin Lofton and Tyler Johnson watched from afar. They came mainly in support of Meek Mill but said they knew friends and family members who they believed had been wronged by the justice system.

“If you’re black,” Johnson said, “you’re getting thrown under that bus.”

Mark Dent is a reporter/curator at BillyPenn. He previously worked for the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, where he covered the Jerry Sandusky scandal, Penn State football and the Penn State administration. His...