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ASAP Rocky’s Arrest Prompts Trump to Lecture Sweden On Criminal Justice

ASAP Rocky’s Arrest Prompts Trump to Lecture Sweden On Criminal Justice


Spotlights like this one provide original commentary and analysis on pressing criminal justice issues of the day. You can read them each day in our newsletter, The Daily Appeal.

The ironies of the Trump administration can seem to pile up, beginning with his campaign against elitism and corruption, and including the first lady’s pet project combating online bullying. But President Trump’s decision to lecture Sweden on matters of criminal justice surely deserves at least an honorable mention.

In late June, the rapper ASAP Rocky (real name: Rakim Mayers) was involved in a street brawl in Stockholm, Sweden. Rocky and two of his friends were arrested on July 3 on suspicion of assault after they came in voluntarily to answer police questions about the fight, which was captured on several videos. One of those videos shows Rocky throwing a man across the street. Regarded as flight risks, all three were held at a detention center from July 5 until the trial ended on Aug. 2. By the time a panel of four judges convicted Rocky of assault, he was no longer incarcerated and was not even obligated to be present at his verdict. Rocky and his co-defendants were sentenced to a two-year conditional discharge, meaning that if they were to return to Sweden and commit another crime, they would face additional penalties. They were also obliged to pay the victim $1,300.

All of this sounds ordinary enough, and maybe it would have been, if the U.S. president hadn’t intervened. Trump became a close watcher of the case after Kanye West asked his wife, Kim Kardashian West, to ask Trump for help free Rocky. Trump later called the Swedish prime minister. He even called in his hostage envoy.

No part of the incident seemed to work out the way the president had hoped.

Kjelsson is proud of his country’s low recidivism rate, defined as crimes committed during the first three years after release. “It is currently sinking and is at 29 percent.” But, he warned, “if you watch the news, you’ll get a different picture.” In the news and on social media, people are promoting longer prison sentencing, and less spending on prison and rehabilitation. That view is growing, and it may have something to do with the sizable number of refugees and asylum seekers welcomed by the country in recent years. Some citizens would have wanted the government to invest those resources elsewhere, on education or the elderly, for example. The government seems to be responding to these arguments. “We are slowly moving toward harsher sentencing in Sweden which is strange because there is absolutely no research that can be found that is in support of this solution. No research says that harsher sentencing equals less crime and less recidivism, but the public opinion is strong and the media and social media are driving this I think.”

None of which will stop Kjelsson and his colleagues from trying. While visiting, I remember asking another staff member how she felt when former prisoners returned. Did she feel disappointment? She looked at me with a look somewhere between surprise and amusement. “Disappointment? No!” she exclaimed. “I feel like we failed this person, and we will do better next time.”