Pointing the Finger at Elvis, Weinstein Doesn’t Absolve R. Kelly

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R. Kelly (Andrew Steinmetz)

keep telling myself I won’t write another R. Kelly column. (I’ve already written three articles.) But I’m beginning to realize that that is a futile exercise. Every time I step away from my computer, something new happens in the case. At this stage, it’s pretty obvious this is a media frenzy. The media has locked onto him and are going to follow this story to the bitter end.

I thought CBS’ treatment of Kelly, including daily stories and a one-hour special, was overkill. But a media colleague told me it was a legitimate story — and it got great ratings.

But I have noticed something else about the R. Kelly story. I’ve seen several articles and posts from black people claiming that Kelly is being unfairly treated. They often want to point the finger at white artists and entertainment figures who have also been accused of sexual misconduct. This is classic “whataboutism.” This occurs when you’re having a discussion about a topic and then the person opposing the argument tries to change the subject by pointing to an unrelated issue.

Firstly, trying to point the finger at other culprits is not the point. We’re talking about R. Kelly. The central argument about the R&B superstar is he has a track record of sexual relations with underage girls, exploitation and physical abuse. Andrea Kelly, who divorced the R&B singer in 2009, has frequently reported the abuse she suffered during the marriage. This included beatings and choking. At one point she said, “Robert you’re going to kill me.” He also documents his encounters, which is child pornography. If he’s not stopped, he will continue to damage more women’s lives.

I see this happening in arguments about Kelly. I’ve seen several African Americans try to deflect the charges against R. Kelly by saying “Well, what about the Catholic Church and Harvey Weinstein?”

Firstly, trying to point the finger at other culprits is not the point. We’re talking about R. Kelly. The central argument about the R&B superstar is he has a track record of sexual relations with underage girls, exploitation and physical abuse. Andrea Kelly, who divorced the R&B singer in 2009, has frequently reported the abuse she suffered during the marriage. This included beatings and choking. At one point she said, “Robert you’re going to kill me.” He also documents his encounters, which is child pornography. If he’s not stopped, he will continue to damage more women’s lives.

Singer John Legend has been criticized for refusing to work with R. Kelly, but participating in an Elvis Presley memorial. Presley started dating his first wife, Priscilla, when she was 14, and a recent Broadly article also stated he had several sexual encounters with underage women. But Presley is dead, we can’t charge him now. The only thing you can do is call for a ban on his music. And this is currently happening to Michael Jackson after the graphic sexual allegations revealed in “Leaving Neverland.”

As for allegations about the Catholic Church and Harvey Weinstein, there have been several articles, films and documentaries about their sexual crimes. In 2015, “Spotlight,” a film about The Boston Globe’s investigation into the church’s coverup of sexual abuse, won three Academy Awards and also garnered several other honors. “Untouchable,” a documentary about Weinstein’s history of preying on women recently debuted at Sundance.

I understand why some African-Americans are sensitive to members of their community getting unfair treatment by the media and the criminal justice system. There are valid points, but that doesn’t mean we should defend criminals. As I said in a previous column about Bill Cosby, he had a lengthy history of sexual crimes. I often wondered how he managed to keep it hidden so long. When the story finally broke open, dozens of more women came forward.

And the clues were all there. I first heard of Cosby’s pattern of behavior in 2004, when Andrea Constand, a Temple University employee came forward and claimed she had been drugged. I didn’t realize he had been doing this for almost four decades.

As I have said several times, R. Kelly has a long, documented history of sex crimes. And while he hasn’t been convicted, his behavior should cause people to stop and think. I don’t understand the parents who let their young daughters go and live with him. They claimed they thought since he beat the charges, he had been cleared of wrongdoing.

Kelly and Cosby are similar figures. They’re both in a mess of their own making. Black people shouldn’t defend the indefensible.

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Manny Otiko writes about race, politics and sports. He has been published in Salon and LA Weekly. Follow him on Twitter @mannyotiko.

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