SEX TRAFFICKING - I was raised not to revel in the misfortune of others, but I can’t think of a better reason to make an exception to that rule than in the case of R&B icon R. Kelly.
On Monday, a federal jury of seven men and five women finally offered his accusers something that has evaded them since the 1990s: a semblance of justice.
As surreal as it feels to find R. Kelly now a convicted felon, I can’t get over how long it took.
Kelly was found guilty on one count of racketeering and eight counts of violating the Mann Act, a law to curb sex trafficking that bars transporting people across state lines “for any immoral purpose.” The verdict arrived on the second day of jury deliberations and after six weeks of testimony from over 45 witnesses. With their testimony, prosecutors convinced the jury that through an entourage of managers and aides, Kelly maintained what amounted to a criminal enterprise that helped him sexually abuse and control minors.
During the trial, one woman testified that Kelly compelled her to have an abortion and that Kelly told her he married the singer Aaliyah in 1994, when she was 15, so she could have an abortion with his legal consent. She also said she was forced into sexual encounters with other women and was unable to leave the room without Kelly’s permission. Another witness said Kelly knowingly gave her herpes. Audio presented by prosecutors featured Kelly violently threatening his victims.
The singer, who will be sentenced May 4, could face decades in prison with this conviction. Kelly also faces federal charges of sexual assault and abuse in Illinois. Kelly denies those charges. Considering this is someone who referred to himself as “The Pied Piper of R&B,” I’m relieved that R. Kelly is most likely going to remain in prison for what increasingly looks like the rest of his life.
But even as surreal as it feels to find R. Kelly now a convicted felon, I can’t get over how long it took.
It was fairly evident that Kelly and his legal team didn’t take these allegations seriously. His defense attorney, Deveraux Cannick, compared him to Martin Luther King Jr. and talked of Kelly’s relationships flippantly as “Older man, somewhat younger women. ... Some people just like it that way.”
His enablers also didn’t seem concerned with the true nature of his crimes. One former police officer who worked for the singer testified that he never saw Kelly with underage girls and then proceeded to directly contradict himself, referring to them as “little friends” — just one example of court testimony against Kelly showing that his fortune allowed him to effectively buy the right to violate young girls.
Until Monday, they had reason to be dismissive. For two decades, Black women and girls have tried to stress to the masses that he was a predator. Audiences have had plenty of reasons to believe them but by and large opted not to — proving people will ignore the humanity of other human beings if it gets in the way of their playlists.
It wasn’t just his listeners. People who knew better, who had swayable fans of their own, did nothing. He continued to collaborate with pop stars like Lady Gaga and score radio hits well into the 2010s. Much of the media — no matter what corner you turned — didn’t offer help, either. Some of us certainly tried individuallythrough the years, but it wasn’t enough, and there
If not for the enduring bravery of Kelly’s accusers, along with producers such as dream hampton and others who worked on the searing and industry-shifting docuseries “Surviving R. Kelly,” I’m not convinced anything at all would have happened. It was after the documentary that prosecutors in New York and Chicago began to investigate Kelly.
The same goes for activists such as Kenyette Tisha Barnes and Oronike Odeleye, who started #MuteRKelly, which pushed people to let go of a bad man no matter how great they find his material. As I mentioned in my interview in the “Surviving R. Kelly” series, it can be painfully
Much as I want R. Kelly to pay for what he did, I also want those who did nothing to hold him accountable to stop being useless. I suppose there might be a nicer way to put that, but why mince words when it comes to garbage human beings? Yes, it does now feel like an entirely different world from the one that acquitted R. Kelly 13 years ago in a separate trial — and that gives me hope that more can and will be done.
But some of us knew R. Kelly was wrong and recognized that we needed to do better not because it was no longer socially acceptable, but because it was the right thing to do. We have to learn that we must stop giving celebrity predators more time to prey simply because we enjoy what they produce. If that sentiment fails to register with us, it will take us just as long to catch the other R. Kellys out there.
Michael Arceneaux is the author of "I Can’t Date Jesus: Love, Sex, Family, Race, and Other Reasons I’ve Put My Faith in Beyoncé," a New York Times bestseller, and the new essay collection, "I Don't Want To Die Poor."