The world is watching as ASAP Rocky’s detainment in Sweden persists. Fans continue to circulate videos that seemingly support Rocky’s account of the alleged altercation with two Swedish men that led to his arrest, and many have signed a Change.org petitioncalling for #JusticeforRocky. Meanwhile, the ASAP Mob leader’s friends and colleagues are tirelessly working to contact the proper authorities to ensure his safe homecoming.
Now, the Harlem rapper is getting a political push, as well. Congressman Adriano Espaillat, U.S. Representative for New York’s Thirteenth Congressional District, is advocating for Rocky’s return. On Wednesday, July 10, Congressman Espaillat addressed several letters to the U.S. State Department, U.S. Embassy in Sweden, and the Swedish Ambassador in Washington, outlining Rocky’s innocence and pleading for justice in his case.
Although the case for Rocky appears to be strong, and the fan petition garnered more than 400,000 signatures in its first day, Congressman Espaillat is determined to elevate the conversation and speak up for an important member of the Harlem community.
“He’s part of a growing, young movement of artists that, first of all, I commend because they identify with the neighborhood where they live, which in this case is Harlem,” Espaillat explains. “Harlem is a neighborhood that is very special because Harlem is not just about the Apollo or 125th Street. It’s really about an attitude and a personality and a history and a legacy. And so, for him to be a young person and continue to identify with Harlem, and be a strong presence of the artist community in Harlem, is great. That’s why I’m going to bat for him.”
Congressman Espaillat spoke with Complex about the violations on ASAP Rocky’s rights and the campaign to bring him home. The interview, lightly edited and condensed for clarity, is below.
Who are you sending these letters to?
I’m writing to the State Department as well as the U.S. Embassy in Sweden. The Swedish Ambassador right here in Washington, but also I’m writing to the U.S. State Department, which is in charge of the all the different embassies across the world, as well as the U.S. Embassy in Sweden.
Do the letters differ in any way?
They’re similar, but they are not the same.
We’re directing them to the U.S. authorities over there, the State Department, and then, of course, the Swedish authorities. For the State Department, we're asking them to try to get to see him, and see what they can do on the ground over there. From the Swedish Embassy here in Washington, just asking to listen, because I've seen the tape of what occurred, and clearly, he was provoked, and harassed, and followed, and accosted, and I think he acted in self-defense.
I will speak to the ambassador, and I will let him know that there is a growing movement, and that there are people signing the petition, and that the world is watching.
You outlined Article 36 in your letter. Can you elaborate on what that is?
This is an article within the Vienna Convention for Consular Relations which basically entitles any foreign national in any country to contact the embassy right after an arrest. It is concerning that this right was not extended to him. Or at least to our knowledge, he has not contacted the embassy there or was not offered, immediately after his arrest, the ability to contact his country’s representatives in Sweden.
Why wasn’t he allowed those rights in this case?
I cannot explain the behavior of the Swedish authorities because if you see the video, you will see clearly what this was, right? In fact, the first aggressor was the perpetrator when he threw his headphone at one of ASAP’s supporters or his security. So, I cannot speculate why they’re doing this. But what I could say is that the whole world is watching and that he has already endured financial damages because he hasn’t been able to make some concerts and some appearances.
As well, there is a real outcry by the music industry, and people across the world feel that this is unjust. It will speak badly of [Sweden] if he’s not released within a reasonable amount of time.
What prompted your support?
Well, I represent Harlem, and he’s a constituent of mine in Harlem. But I’ve also gotten folks who have approached me about it in the last couple of days. So I looked into it and felt I should do something about it.
I imagine not many politicians go to bat for entertainers often.
Well, you know, he’s a young man, a young talent, and I think he’s getting a raw deal there.
I think he doesn’t deserve to be in jail. He deserves to be back at the Apollo.
There have been reports discussing the fact that he is allegedly a flight risk, and that is why they extended his detainment. Is that in any way confusing to you?
Of course. They don’t have to keep him in jail. If he has a court appearance, first and foremost, it should be done expeditiously. It shouldn’t be a long, protracted wait because that’s damaging in itself. So you got to wait a couple of months just to tell that you’re innocent? And then you’re away from your family and your work for several months? That’s not fair. That’s not just. I think that not only is it incumbent upon the Swedish authorities to release him or have him see a judge as quickly as possible. And for that to be done expeditiously without any further financial damages to him and his family.
In your letter, you mentioned the conditions in the detention center. Have you heard any developments regarding those arrangements?
What I heard was Swedish authorities were alleging that the conditions were fine, but I’ve also seen plenty of allegations from the general public and social media and elsewhere, that in fact, that is not the case. So, I am concerned about the conditions in the jail.
Have you personally met ASAP Rocky?
No, I haven’t met him, but I know of him. And I know he is a celebrity in Harlem. He has a big crew that follows him that are artists as well. He is part of the Harlem culture.
Being a representative of the Harlem community, what have you observed regarding Rocky’s presence and influence? What does he mean to the area?
He’s part of a growing, young movement of artists that, first of all, I commend because they identify with the neighborhood where they live, which in this case is Harlem. Harlem is a neighborhood that is very special because Harlem is not just about the Apollo or 125th Street. It’s really about an attitude and a personality and a history and a legacy. And so, for him to be a young person and continue to identify with Harlem and be a strong presence of the artist community in Harlem, is great. That’s why I’m going to bat for him.
Do you think the videos, along with the Change.org petition, will aid in his return?
The video speaks for itself. I will speak to the ambassador, and I will let him know that there is a growing movement, and that there are people signing the petition, and that the world is watching. And we've seen, unfortunately, how videos have not brought justice in the past. The [Eric] Garner case is one of them, where we clearly saw in the video what occurred. And you know, it's already 400,000 signatures in just 24 hours. So that's close to half a million people that signed on. I will continue to fight until he's brought back home.