Heard on the Hill

State Department official en route to Switzerland to monitor A$AP Rocky detention, Espaillat says

‘Sweden is going to walk out of this with a black eye,’ congressman says of rapper’s detention

ASAP Rocky performs onstage during the BET Hip Hop Awards 2018 at Fillmore Miami Beach on October 6, 2018, in Miami Beach, Florida. A U.S. State Department official is headed overseas to more closely monitor the rapper’s two-week detainment in Sweden. (Paras Griffin/Getty Images)

Updated July 19 1:10 p.m.An official from the U.S. State Department is headed overseas to more closely monitor the detainment of American rapper A$AP Rocky, who has been held in a Swedish jail for more than two weeks, according to Rep. Adriano Espaillat.

The New York Democrat said the State Department has notified him that Carl Risch, assistant secretary of State of consular affairs, is currently en route to Sweden. He is expected to be there on the day of A$AP Rocky’s Friday hearing.

[U.S., Sweden need to move ASAP on Rocky’s detention, Espaillat says]

Despite this, Espaillat said Secretary Mike Pompeo should “do more” and called the detainment “unconscionable.”

“Sweden is going to walk out of this with a black eye,” said Espaillat during a sweltering July press conference on Wednesday. “They are a country that proposes to the rest of the world that they are a mecca — a haven of democracy and niceties.”

Espaillat, who represents the Harlem neighborhood where the rapper was born and owns a home, was also joined by Reps. André Carson, Hakeem Jeffries and Joaquin Castro.

Espaillat said he believes that race is playing a factor in Rocky’s treatment.

“This is not justice,” he said. “And this particular instance sheds light on how men of color, particularly black and brown men, are often detained, targeted and incarcerated despite the innocence, including in European countries.”

A$AP Rocky, whose legal name is Rakim Mayers, was arrested along with two associates in Stockholm following an apparent altercation with two men who had accosted them in the street. The Harlem rapper, who was in the country to perform at the Smash music festival, is being held on “suspicion of assault” while the preliminary investigation continues, according to the Swedish Prosecution Authority.

According to a video posted on the rapper’s Instagram account, two men can be seen approaching Rocky and his crew in a hostile manner. One of the men throws a pair of headphones at a member of Rocky’s security detail. From the video, it appears the rapper is trying to diffuse the situation, asking the two other men repeatedly to stop following and go in another direction.

On July 2, Rocky and his two associates went to give a statement to Swedish authorities, who arrested the men.

“The conditions of the facility are horrific and include 24/7 solitary confinement, restriction of amenities for the most basic of human functions, lack of access to life-sustaining food as well as unsanitary conditions,” John Ehmann, Rocky’s manager, wrote on Instagram. Ehmann added that a member of the U.S. Embassy had his request to visit Rocky initially rejected, a violation of Article 36 of the Vienna Convention on Consular Relations.

Since then, Rocky has “been allowed to visit with a U.S. Embassy Consult and an attorney, but only in the presence of Swedish officials,” Ehmann wrote. “It is troubling and worrisome that the laws are not being applied equally.”

Nikita Rispers, cousin of A$AP Rocky and parent of fellow detainee David Rispers Jr., said her son is being held in horrible conditions. Since receiving news of her son’s arrest, she’s suffered anxiety attacks and been “devastated, stressed out mentally, and frustrated.”

They also haven’t gotten much sleep, added her husband David Rispers Sr. “Our whole family is just very stressed out,” Nikita Rispers said as her voice trembled.

Even though Rocky and his associates were arrested on July 2, Tuesday was the first time Rispers has spoken to her son. Going 15 days without hearing from him was nerve-wracking, and for a time they were concerned with his physical safety, they said.

Rispers is being kept in 24-hour solitary confinement but is allowed 15 minutes of fresh air. Since the U.S. Embassy’s involvement, he is given ramen noodles, a slice of bread and an apple to eat, according to his parents.

Despite the conditions, the Rispers said their son is in good spirits.

Swedish authorities are giving prosecutors until Thursday, July 25 to bring charges against Rocky and his associates, a six-day extension of the original July 19 deadline, according to a statement from the Swedish Prosecution Authority.

"Stockholm District Court has granted the prosecutor more time to continue the preliminary investigation," the authority said.

Espallait said during a July 19 conference call with reporters that Swedish authorities have already made up their minds and are "bent" on indicting the young men.

He added that the Swedish ambassador "seems not to understand" why Americans find the case so troubling. Espaillat has not ruled out flying to Sweden himself. 

The case has also drawn the attention of Kim Kardashian West, who, along with husband Kanye, is lobbying President Trump, Jared Kushner and Pompeo to get involved. Swedish prosecutors say they have yet to hear from anyone at the White House, according to the New York Post.

However, Trump said during an oval office press conference that he is trying to help A$AP Rocky and that several African-American friends called him about it, according to a White House pool report. "We are one," he said before adding that First Lady Melania Trump was the one who brought the issue to his attention. "We hope to get him home soon."

A representative for Reverend Al Sharpton’s National Action Network said the activist is prepared to go to Sweden to provide emotional support for the young men.

Sen. Johnny Isakson, who is co-chairman of the Congressional Friends of Sweden Caucus, is “aware and defers to the State Department and Rakim Mayers’ representatives in Congress,” according to a statement from spokeswoman Amanda Maddox.

Get breaking news alerts and more from Roll Call on your iPhone.