#FreeRocky: Europe and American exceptionalism


Peace, Security & Defence

Picture of Robert Arenella
Robert Arenella

Communications Assistant at Friends of Europe

Can the United States do whatever it pleases? For those that subscribe to a transactional worldview, it may seem that its economic, political and martial contributions to Europe would afford it outsized extraterritorial considerations. Others, however, may believe that European states are equally sovereign to the Americans.

Harlem-born rapper A$AP Rocky – real name Rakim Myers – finds himself the unwilling catalyst for a return to this debate following his recent arrest in Sweden. As President Trump calls on the Swedes to release him from detention, it has become clear that the United States is attempting to assert dominance within the transatlantic relationship.

The case is pretty straightforward. Myers was arrested on assault charges in Stockholm after he and his entourage beat up the two men who had been harassing them. While video does confirm their victims’ confrontational behaviour, it also shows Myers and his crew stomping one of the men in the resulting brawl. The artist was arrested and has been held without bail, which is not part of the Swedish legal code. Myers and his supporters contend that he was acting in self-defence and that the conditions he is being held in are inhumane.

Myers’ desire to legally assert his innocence and his demands for adequate prison facilities are areas in which the US State Department is well prepared to aid him. Foreign Service Officers are able to help Americans detained abroad find local, English-speaking attorneys and petition local governments to provide any necessary medical care. However, they are not able to secure the citizen’s release, participate in their trial or even act as their translators.

A failure to stand firm in the face of Trump would mean confirmation from Sweden that the US sets the rules in this relationship

America’s diplomatic corps is only allowed to facilitate the detainee’s participation in the judicial system of a sovereign state – not to subvert it through the procurement of an extrajudicial release.

Unfortunately, this message has been trampled due to the current political situation in the United States. On the heels of controversial tweets that called for four congresswomen of colour to leave the country due to their criticisms of his administration, Trump has leveraged his relationship with celebrity couple Kanye West and Kim Kardashian West to paint himself as a champion of African Americans and, by extension, minorities in a blatant example of tokenism. In so doing, and in pressuring Sweden to forgo its legal obligations to prosecute, he has weakened the mandate of his own country’s diplomats.

This may all seem tangential to foreign relations and the state of the international rules-based order given the celebrity context, but at its core, this case highlights the balance of power within a transatlantic relationship currently fraying over trade and military spending disputes. By expecting and demanding that Sweden relinquish its right to conduct its own legal obligations, Trump is asserting that Americans, regardless of their conduct, are above the law by virtue of their citizenship. This belief in the exceptional status of Americans, awarded due to the States’ financial might and military participation in European affairs, implies that the transatlantic partnership is both hierarchal and transactional. 

Trump’s request connotes a belief that the execution of law is reliant on the subject’s status – be it wealth, accomplishments or nationality

Americans must understand what this demand entails. Although Myers is an extremely talented artist, Trump’s request connotes a belief that the execution of law is reliant on the subject’s status – be it wealth, accomplishments or nationality. It also intimates that there is the US and the rest. Like any good friend, EU member states must frankly inform their American partners that such a disregard of professed shared values and the presumption of primacy are both categorically demeaning and false.

Thus, it is essential that Sweden remains firm and continues to try Myers while working with the US Embassy in Stockholm to ensure that he is given sufficient care during his time in custody. A failure to stand firm in the face of Trump would mean confirmation from Sweden that the US sets the rules in this relationship.

Given the plaintiffs’ actions ahead of the altercation and Myers’ considerable resources, there are good chances that he will have his day in court and be back in the studio soon. The US President’s involvement in this case is not needed. Three years ago, American rapper Freddie Gibbs was acquitted after being detained in Austria on false allegations of sexual assault without any presidential intervention.

Sweden is expected to provide Myers with a fair trial and should address concerns of poor treatment. By demanding this, rather than an extrajudicial release, Myers’ fans will help uphold the rule of law and promote equality in the transatlantic relationship.

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