President Donald Trump tweeted on Saturday that he had spoken on the phone with Sweden’s Prime Minister Stefan Löfven about a matter of great personal import: the fate of American rapper A$AP Rocky, who is currently being held in a Swedish jail.
“Stefan Löfven assured me that American citizen A$AP Rocky will be treated fairly,” Trump wrote. “Likewise, I assured him that A$AP was not a flight risk and offered to personally vouch for his bail.”
Just had a very good call with @SwedishPM Stefan Löfven who assured me that American citizen A$AP Rocky will be treated fairly. Likewise, I assured him that A$AP was not a flight risk and offered to personally vouch for his bail, or an alternative....— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) July 20, 2019
....Our teams will be talking further, and we agreed to speak again in the next 48 hours!— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) July 20, 2019
Rocky is currently being held in jail in Sweden after after being accused of assault during an altercation he had with a man in Stockholm in June. The president’s offer to pay his bail will not help him as Sweden does not have a bail system. As the New York Times reports, it also rarely confiscates a suspect’s passport. Rocky is being held because, due to his considerable financial resources, he is considered a flight risk.
Löfven’s press secretary, Toni Eriksson, said the call was “friendly and respectful” and that the prime minister promised the rapper would receive a fair trial. Löfven also is said to have told Trump “that in Sweden everyone is equal before the law and that the government cannot and will not attempt to influence the legal proceedings.”
A$AP Rocky, born Rakim Mayers, is a member of the New York hip-hop collective A$AP Mob; other prominent members include rapper A$AP Ferg and producer A$AP Ty Beats. His arrest came following a dispute on a Stockholm street; Rocky and members of his entourage claim they began fighting with two men who were following them and bothering other passersby. They claim the altercation arose from self-defense and from a desire to protect women who were being sexually harassed.
However, footage published on the Swedish news outlet Aftonbladet seems to show Rocky hurling another man to the asphalt with enough force to lift his feet off of the ground. Another video shows the attacked man trying to defend himself from a flurry of kicks and punches while curled up on the street. Rocky was arrested shortly after, on July 3; a court ordered him jailed while police investigated the incident.
The rapper has complained that he has been treated unfairly and has called his conditions in the jail substandard. A Change.org petition created by his team calls the conditions in the jail “inhumane” and alleges Rocky is being held in solitary confinement without “access to palatable and life sustaining food.”
Henrik Olsson Lilja, who was Rocky’s lawyer before he changed counsel, said the rapper is being given plenty of food, but did say not all cells at the facility have their own toilets (those detained there share bathroom facilities). Furthermore, Sweden’s ambassador to the US told the New York Times Rocky was not and is not in solitary confinement, but that he had been given his own room so that he might have some privacy. She also said he is allowed to socialize with others in the jail in common spaces.
Despite these reassurances from Swedish officials, however, US celebrities and politicians have decried Rocky’s detainment.
Rep. Adriano Espaillat (D-NY), who represents Rocky’s native Harlem in the House, accused Swedish officials of racism at a press conference last week, saying, “I think that race matters and plays a factor across the world. I think that it may have played a factor as well in Stockholm.”
At the same press conference, New York’s Rep. Hakeem Jeffries quoted Martin Luther King, Jr., saying, “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are here to confront injustice in Sweden.”
Celebrities have also begun advocating for Rocky, including his friends in the music industry, like Nicki Minaj and Justin Bieber. However, it is two friends who have the ear of the president that helped make Trump’s phone call with Löfven possible.
First, reality star and criminal justice reform activist Kim Kardashian West contacted Trump’s son-in-law Jared Kushner to ask if the Trump administration could do something to help Rocky get released.
Next, Kardashian West’s husband, rapper Kanye West, spoke with Trump by phone; Trump tweeted Friday that they’d had a good call, and that he’d “see what we can do about helping A$AP Rocky. So many people would like to see this quickly resolved!”
The next day the president delivered on that promise. Trump tweeted Saturday morning that he called Löfven and that the prime minister assured him that “A$AP Rocky will be treated fairly.”
Trump’s direct intervention into the matter is a testament to the power of the personal connections between Kardashian West, Kanye, and the president. Last year, Kardashian West successfully persuaded Trump to commute the life sentence of Alice Johnson, a 63-year-old who was in prison for drug trafficking. Kanye has praised Trump for some time, and visited him in the Oval Office in 2018.
The president’s interest also seems to be a vulgar political calculation intended to win over black voters. In a week in which he sent racist tweets and said nothing while an audience at a rally responded to a xenophobic rant by shouting, “Send her back,” Trump signaled he seems to see the A$AP Rocky case as a means by which he can gain the approval of the black community (and be seen as a unifier) in comments he made at the White House Friday.
“Many, many members of the African American community have called me, friends of mine, and said, ‘Can you help?’” Trump said. “I personally don’t know A$AP Rocky, but I can tell you that he has tremendous support from the African American community in this country, and when I say African American, I think I can really say from everybody in the country, because we’re all one.”