Several members of Congress are calling for the release of rapper ASAP Rocky, who has been detained in a Swedish jail following an altercation in Stockholm last month.
Reps. Adriano Espaillat, D-N.Y.; Hakeem Jeffries, D-N.Y.; André Carson, D-Ind., and Joaquin Castro, D-Texas, demanded the release of the rapper and two of his associates in a news conference Wednesday. The congressmen said the men have faced "inhumane conditions" and "human rights violations" since they were detained two weeks ago - including 23 hours per day of solitary confinement.
Jeffries invoked the words of civil rights icon Martin Luther King Jr: "Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are here to confront injustice in Sweden."
TMZ first reported on the June 30 fight that led to the rapper's arrest. "A$AP Rocky and his crew pummeled a guy in Sweden, leaving him battered and bloodied in the street," the July 1 post began. It featured video of what the news and gossip site characterised as a "vicious attack." The following day, the gossip site posted a different video, which showed the rapper attempting to diffuse a tense situation. That video, and one other, had also been posted to Rocky's Instagram account, where he wrote: "We don't know these guys and we didn't want trouble. They followed us for 4 blocks, and they were slapping girls butts who passed, give me a break."
On July 3, the Associated Press reported that Rocky, born Rakim Mayers, had been "detained for a suspected attack on an unknown person." Two days later, the AP reported that a Swedish court had ordered him to be detained for two weeks as authorities investigated the fight. In the meantime, concerns have mounted amid reports that the rapper - whose supporters maintain he acted in self-defense - has been held in a squalid holding cell. A Change.org petition urging the rapper's release has received more than 600,000 signatures.
On Wednesday, Castro echoed claims that the rapper and his crew were provoked. "(Rocky) has been detained for weeks for acting in self-defense and trying to stop any altercation from happening," he told reporters.
Espaillat - who represents New York's 13th congressional District, which includes Rocky's native Harlem - has spearheaded efforts to help the rapper. He expressed concern about Rocky's reported mistreatment in letters he sent earlier this month to the State Department, the Swedish ambassador to the United States and the US Embassy in Sweden. On Wednesday, Espaillat said a representative from the department would be traveling to Sweden on Friday, when Swedish authorities are expected to make a decision about whether to prosecute or further detain the men. But he and his colleagues pressed the State Department to do more - calling on Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, specifically, to "speak up."
"These are Americans who are being held, by all accounts, in unjust circumstances," Jeffries said.
Before the news conference, a spokesperson for the State Department told The Washington Post that the department is "following this case closely," adding that "one of the most important tasks of the Department of State and US embassies and consulates abroad is to provide assistance to US citizens who are detained abroad."
ASAP has also received public support from celebrities including Diddy, Justin Bieber, T.I., 2 Chainz, Kris Jenner and ASAP Ferg, a fellow member of the ASAP Mob hip-hop collective. Several of Rocky's hip-hop peers, including Tyler, the Creator, Schoolboy Q and Lil Yachty, have pledged to boycott the Scandinavian country. Quavo, a member of Atlanta rap outfit Migos, recently told TMZ that he had faced harassment from Swedish police. Carson seemed to reference this at Wednesday's conference, noting that "other members of the hip-hop community ... have been targeted by the same government."
But the rapper has also received renewed backlash for comments he made in a 2015 interview with Time Out New York, where the rapper balked at suggestions he should rap about police brutality - particularly the fatal police violence that had led to unrest in Ferguson, Missouri.
"What ... am I Al Sharpton now? I'm ASAP Rocky. I did not sign up to be no political activist," he told the magazine, before ticking off a list of things - fashion and drugs among them - that did interest him. "I live in ... Soho and Beverly Hills," he added. "I can't relate. I go back to Harlem, it's not the same."
He later said, in an interview with Power 105.1's "The Breakfast Club" that his comments had been taken out of context and that he had been frustrated at repeatedly being asked to address racial unrest. "I didn't ask for that kind of responsibility," he told the hosts. "By default, I wake up everyday as a proud black man."
Kyra Valley, a policy adviser from Sharpton's National Action Network appeared at the news conference Wednesday. She said Sharpton met with Rocky's mother, as well as relatives of the other men, and that the organisation would "continue to stand" with them and their families.
Throughout the conference, the congressmen emphasised that Rocky and his colleagues are "men of colour." As the presser wrapped, a reporter asked Espaillat if he felt the circumstances surrounding their detention had anything to do with race.
"I think that race matters and plays a factor across the world," he said. "I think that it may have played a factor as well in Stockholm."