Constable: Racism in R. Kelly case centers on the accusers
Allegations that music artist R. Kelly abuses girls and young women are older than some of his accusers. The racism that helps explain how Kelly has never been convicted is even older.
The popular R&B star, who famously grew up in a Christian home in the Chicago projects as Robert Sylvester Kelly, married 15-year-old pop sensation Aaliyah in a fraudulent ceremony in Rosemont in 1994 when he was 27. Two years later, his "I Believe I Can Fly" song became the feel-good anthem for kids as the theme for "Space Jam," the live-action/animated basketball movie starring Michael Jordan and Bugs Bunny.
By the turn of the century, the Chicago Sun-Times was writing about R. Kelly's behavior, and in 2002, the black superstar was arrested on child pornography charges. "Sexual predators are a scourge on society," then-Cook County State's Attorney Richard A. Devine said at the time. "This indictment should send a clear message that illicit acts with children will not be tolerated in the community."
But jurors found Kelly not guilty, in part because they said it wasn't obvious that R. Kelly was the man urinating on a 13-year-old girl in the video shown during that 2008 trial, and the girl didn't testify. "The things she was doing wasn't young," an older woman told me outside the courtroom, adding that Kelly did nothing wrong. Many young black women cheered Kelly outside the courthouse and blamed the victim.
Now 52 and the subject of new criminal investigations as a result of a six-part television documentary on Lifetime titled "Surviving R. Kelly," the singer/songwriter again denies any wrongdoing.
Obviously, Kelly hasn't beaten all those allegations because he is a black man. The bigger factor is that his accusers are black women and girls.
Chance the Rapper, as part of his apology for working with R. Kelly, noted that female blacks "are exponentially a higher oppressed and violated group of people" than even male blacks, and he acknowledged that perhaps he "didn't value the accusers' stories because they were black women."
As a court reporter covering a 1987 Lake County murder conviction of serial killer Alton Coleman, I remember looking through his lengthy criminal record that included six cases of rape and sexual assault, all against black women and girls. Coleman was acquitted or pleaded guilty to a lesser charge in every case.
A prosecutor told me then that convictions were more difficult to win in cases in which the victims were black and female.
In a groundbreaking 2017 Georgetown Law Center on Poverty and Inequality report titled "Girlhood Interrupted: The Erasure of Black Girls' Childhood," authors Rebecca Epstein, Jamilia J. Blake and Thalia González provided data showing that "adults view black girls as less innocent and more adultlike than their white peers."
Study participants said black girls need less nurturing, less protection, less support and less comfort and are more independent and know more about sex and other adult topics. While this explains why black girls receive harsher school discipline than their white peers, it also spells out how juries don't see black girls as the same innocent victims as their white girl counterparts.
With the #MeToo movement fully established and the #MuteRKelly project gaining momentum, it's heartening to see Chance, Lady Gaga and others apologize for working with Kelly and speaking out on behalf of black girls. Superstar John Legend, who spoke out in the documentary, said on Twitter, "I believe these women and don't give a (expletive) about protecting a serial child rapist."
If Kelly had married a 15-year-old white "American Idol" contestant from Naperville, went on trial for abusing a 13-year-old white girl from Barrington and now faced accusations from a stable of white girls from Schaumburg, his fate might have been decided long ago.