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A$AP Rocky and Europe’s growing race problem

By Bryan 18X Crawford -Contributing Writer- | Last updated: Aug 6, 2019 - 1:30:26 PM

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Street style, ASAP Rocky arriving at Alyx Spring-Summer 2019 menswear show held at Bercy Popb, in Paris, France, on June 24th, 2018. Photo: AP Marie-Paola Bertrand-Hillion/Abaca/Sipa USA

New York rapper Rakim Mayers, known professionally as A$AP Rocky, languished in a Swedish jail cell for more than a month as he waited to stand trial in the European country for an incident that happened in Stockholm.

He and his two co-defendants were released August 2 and allowed to leave Switzerland and return to the United States; a sign that they may be found not guilty, although the judges presiding over the case still have to render a final verdict, and will do so on Aug. 14.

A$AP Rocky and two other men—Vladimir Cornell and David Riggins—were accused of attacking 19-year-old Mustafa Jafari, throwing him to the ground, punching him, kicking him, and allegedly hitting him with a glass bottle; the focus of the prosecution’s entire case against the three men.

Portions of the June incident show Mr. Jafari was harassing the men, even hitting Rocky’s bodyguard in the face with a pair of headphones, was caught on video that quickly went viral. Less than 24 hours later, the three were arrested by Swedish authorities and were placed in jail and detained without being charged for more than two weeks because they were deemed to be flight risks. But after a weeklong trial, one in which the rapper took the stand in his own defense, the trio was allowed to leave the country.

In fairness, A$AP Rocky is no stranger to run-ins with the law or controversy of this kind. At different points in his life he’s either been jailed or sued for physical confrontations. In 2012 he was arrested after a fight in Manhattan, as well as attacking a man and assaulting two people who photographed the altercation. A year later, he was charged with misdemeanor simple assault for slapping a woman at a music festival. In 2016 A$AP Rocky was involved in a fight in New Zealand, and just this past January in Toronto, the rapper was involved in an altercation with another man after one of his shows.

A$AP Rocky was also lambasted for comments he made following the murder of Mike Brown in Ferguson. In a 2016 interview on The Breakfast Club, he expressed indifference about the situation and what activists were standing up for, saying, “Why, because I’m Black? So every time something happens because I’m Black I gotta stand up? What the f**k am I, Al Sharpton now? I’m A$AP Rocky. I did not sign up to be no political activist. I don’t wanna talk about no f***ing Ferguson and s**t because I don’t live over there! I live in f***ing Soho and Beverly Hills. I can’t relate.”

While Swedish authorities may or may not have been privy to Rocky’s history of physical violence, some Black people in the states called his arrest and detainment karma for his seemingly insensitive and detached comments toward the death of a young Black at the hands of a White police officer.

Others felt racism, even if European racism, was involved.

The altercation in Sweden, by American standards, seemed pretty benign when you consider that neither Rocky or anyone in his crew were the initial aggressors. This lone fact sparked both domestic and international outrage, and even a debate on foreign policy. Donald Trump, at the urging of rapper Kanye West, attempted to intervene by contacting Swedish Prime Minister Stefan Löfven to have A$AP Rocky released, but was unsuccessful. Mr. Trump then sent Presidential Hostage Affairs Envoy Robert C. O’Brien to be an observer during the trial.

The A$AP Rocky incident has also shined a light on predominantly White European countries, opening a broader conversation about race relations throughout the region, and how people who are non-Whites are treated in these nations.

Sweden, often seen as progressive, has had problems with race. According to the United Nations Human Rights division, some of these anti-Black or anti-immigrant views, based largely on racial biology, became state-sanctioned policy in Sweden. While the country presents itself as a nation whose foundation is based on equality and solidarity amongst its citizens, that dynamic doesn’t seem to readily apply to anyone who is non-White. A good example of this is the case involving another American rapper who ran afoul of Swedish law, G Eazy, a White man.

The Oakland-based music artist was arrested in Sweden in May 2018 and charged with assault, drug possession, and use of narcotics. He was released by Swedish authorities 48 hours after being arrested on far more serious charges than A$AP Rocky and his two cohorts. Upon hearing about the situation involving Rocky, G Eazy took to Twitter and wrote, “This is the sad truth. The difference between me and Rocky’s treatment in Sweden brings to mind two concepts that disgustingly go hand in hand: white privilege and systemic racism. Let’s call it what it is. He should not be behind bars right now.”

The European tour circuit has always been a cash cow for American music acts. But overseas, there is an insatiable appetite for rap music and fans in Europe have been known to embrace all of the Black artists who travel through the region to perform. But the racialized incident involving A$AP Rocky isn’t the first to happen to an American Black man accused of committing a crime abroad; his is just the most recent. In 2016, Gary, Indiana native and hip hop star Freddie Gibbs was arrested in Toulouse, France, and extradited to Austria to face sexual abuse charges against two Austrian women who accused him of raping them a year prior in 2015. Mr. Gibbs spent four months in jail before being acquitted of all charges in September 2016. Another incident involving a U.S. rapper traveling to Europe involved Future and his bodyguard, who was sucker punched and knocked unconscious outside the airport in Ibiza, Spain. The attacker, a White man, was allegedly angered when Future wouldn’t take a picture with his friend. The rapper’s bodyguard intervened and when he turned his back, was assaulted by the man who then celebrated. Some of the incident was caught on video and posted online. In an TMZ video, however, the Brit involved says Future disrespected his friend and the bodyguard followed and threatened them.

And the day before A$AP Rocky was released from custody in Sweden, filmmaker Tariq Nasheed was not allowed to board a flight to London for a screening of the fifth installment of his “Hidden Colors” film series. While trying to get an explanation as to why he had been banned from entering the UK, Mr. Nasheed learned the British government considered him to be “not conducive to the good of the public” in Britain. Mr. Nashed joins the Honorable Minister Louis Farrakhan as Black men who have been barred from traveling to the UK.

As Blacks in America continue to navigate in a world where the president of the United States consistently espouses racist views publicly, fanning racial tensions and emboldening racist Whites, such attitudes aren’t confined within U.S. borders and are present in Europe. But because these countries are almost exclusively White, and due to the fact that most Americans don’t know bigoted and xenophobic attitudes towards non-Blacks that exist throughout the European Union, the structural discrimination and racism that exists overseas goes largely unnoticed in the mainstream American consciousness. In 2018, the UN Human Rights division’s Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination issued a report which found that Sweden was rife with hate crimes and discrimination, due in large part to the country opening its borders to large swathes of non-White immigrants from other countries.

In the last five years, Sweden has accepted as many as 400,000 people seeking asylum in the country, according to a Minnesota Public Radio report; more than any other nation in the EU.

This has created an environment in Sweden very similar to what is currently being seen in America, where racial tensions, xenophobia and bigotry are not only at an all-time high, but publicly displayed and openly promoted with the biggest fear Whites becoming a minority in what they consider to be their country.

According to Politico, even though more than 15 million “Afro-Europeans” live in the region, all of the institutions that exist throughout the EU—municipal, political, educational, judiciary, law enforcement, etc.—are almost exclusively White. Also, Europe’s history of colonialism runs almost as deeply as America’s history of anti-Black and systemic racism. Those who know that history understand that the two are inextricably linked.

While it is a good thing that A$AP Rocky, Vladimir Cornell and David Riggins will be allowed to return home, what happened to them in Sweden, when compared to how Swedish authorities treated G Eazy, it appears the racial divide across the world between Black and White continues to grow. Any Black person who travels to Europe may want to be careful as to how they conduct themselves when they’re so far away from home.