R. Kelly was released from jail in Chicago on Monday, three days after he was arrested and charged with 10 counts of aggravated criminal sexual assault. The charges involve four women and girls, three of whom were under the age of 17 at the time of the alleged crimes. A judge set bail at a million dollars and forced the singer to surrender his passport. Almost immediately after he posted bond and pleaded not guilty on Monday, Kelly was spotted at a McDonald’s in downtown Chicago—a spot his accusers say he used to frequent to prey on young girls. Kelly has been accused of abuse, predatory behavior and pedophilia throughout his career but has avoided criminal conviction despite damning evidence and multiple witnesses. Last month, the explosive documentary series “Surviving R. Kelly” thrust the case back into the spotlight. We speak with the documentary’s executive producer, dream hampton.
AMY GOODMAN: But first, now, we’re going to turn to R. Kelly, the famed R&B singer who was released from jail in Chicago Monday, three days after he was arrested and charged with 10 counts of aggravated criminal sexual assault. The charges involve four women and girls, three of whom were under the age of 17 at the time of the alleged crime. A judge set bail at a million dollars, forced the singer to surrender his passport. Kelly eventually posted bond, after spending the weekend in jail, pleaded not guilty Monday. Almost immediately after his release from jail, R. Kelly was spotted at a McDonald’s in downtown Chicago, a spot his accusers say he used to frequent to prey on young girls.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Kelly’s bond was posted by Valencia Love, an African-American Chicago-area businesswoman who identified herself as a friend of Kelly’s. Lawyer Michael Avenatti, who says he is representing an R. Kelly whistleblower, says he gave prosecutors a tape showing the singer engaging in sexual acts with a 14 year-old girl.
AMY GOODMAN: R. Kelly has been accused of abuse, predatory behavior and pedophilia throughout his career, but has avoided criminal conviction despite damning evidence and multiple witnesses. Last month, the explosive documentary series Surviving R. Kelly thrust the case back into the spotlight. Activists have been calling for justice for the black girls and women preyed on by R. Kelly and for the music industry to disassociate itself from the musician, with the #MuteRKelly campaign.
Well, for more, we’re joined by dream hampton, executive producer of the six-part Lifetime documentary series Surviving R. Kelly, also an executive producer of the HBO documentary It’s a Hard Truth Ain’t It and the upcoming BET six-part documentary series Finding Justice.
dream hampton, it’s wonderful to have you with us. First, respond to this latest news of the indictment of R. Kelly on 10 charges and his answer to that indictment, saying he’s not guilty.
dream hampton: You know, Amy, we had to run his “not guilty” claim about 30 times during our 6-hour docuseries. More offensive has been his attorney. I don’t know what yellow pages, I don’t know what billboard, he got this low-rent attorney from, Steve Greenberg, who continues to use the most misogynist—I mean, he’s from the '80s. It's really—it’s surprising to me. Well, not surprising. I mean, R. Kelly squandered a $200 million fortune settling lawsuits over the past 25 years, creating an ecosystem where he is moving up to five and six girls across state lines constantly, having to feed them, when he does allow them to eat. So, I’m not surprised that, A, he wasn’t able to post bail. I’m not surprised that he has the kind of attorney that he does right now.
I’m just worried about the two girls that remain with him, that he had sitting behind him in court the other day, when he did have—when he was unable to post bond. I mean, I’m talking about Azriel Clary and Joycelyn Savage, both of whom’s family we featured in the Surviving R. Kelly documentary. And he brought them to court to say to us and the world that not only is he remorseful, but that he’s going to show off—like he’s going to flaunt, in this moment, when he’s facing 10 counts, 10 new counts, he’s going to bring two girls that are 30 years younger than him, one of whom he began sleeping with—raping, statutory rape—when she was 17, which is illegal in the state of Florida, which may result still in a fed case. He brought those two girls behind him and to have them sit behind him in court. The hubris is amazing.
And I don’t who to blame. On one hand, I blame us. And by “us,” I mean black people. We have stood by this man. We have told him again and again that what he’s doing isn’t wrong, that we believe him, despite, you know, all evidence to the contrary. And it’s emboldened him. He’s used this kind of love that he has in the black community as a currency.
And I hope that this ends soon. I mean, when I interviewed the girls, each and every one of them talked about not wanting to see him in jail, actually, but wanting him to get help. They actually—even though they didn’t use the words “restorative justice,” they have a restorative justice framework for this man. They want him—when they said they wanted him to get help, I took that to mean that they wanted him to get a combination of professional therapy and spiritual kind of help, probably.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Well, what about this issue, dream hampton, of what should happen to him if he is convicted of these crimes? You heard the clip from Michael Avenatti. Is jail what you—a long stretch in jail what you think should happen with him?
dream hampton: You know, I’m not a carceral feminist, so my instinct isn’t to say, “Let’s send people to the prison-industrial complex.” And I was just saying that at the end of each interview, where these girls had talked about all their pain and trauma, they, each of them, said they wanted him to get help. None of them said they wanted him to go to jail. But a restorative justice process requires that someone admit the harm that they’ve done, that they own that harm, that they come to this process. I just did a film inside of an Indiana prison, and all of these men are owning their harm. They are entering a restorative justice process. They are saying, “I take responsibility for what I did. I may have a systemic analysis, but I also take responsibility for what I did.” R. Kelly is not doing that. So, maybe jail is the only place for him.
AMY GOODMAN: And, dream hampton, what do you make of him immediately going to McDonald’s after he was freed? I mean, some may say, “What on Earth are you talking about? What difference does that make?” But talk about this as a site of—this as a place where he preyed on girls, where he looked for, chose, told people to get them?
dream hampton: Yeah, we had a couple of students who had gone, who are alumni of Kenwood Academy, in the film, and then people who corroborated these kinds of stories off camera, who talked about McDonald’s, as you say, being one of the sites of his predation. He would cruise McDonald’s near high schools and have the same kind of men that were around him, when we saw the footage of him in McDonald’s, going up to young girls and giving them his number. And that’s one of the ways that he would meet underage girls. It’s amazing that, again, in this moment, he’s flaunting, again and again, his predation. He has absolutely no remorse for what he’s done. And maybe he has no understanding of what he’s done.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: What about the music industry here, their role in this, all these years, these allegations, and none of the commercial music industry folks seemed to be bothered?
dream hampton: Well, I’m less interested in the individual, say, players in the music industry than I am, say, Jive Records and Sony—who finally, you know, dropped him. This should have happened in '02, when a tape of clear abuse circulated, went viral on the streets, so to say. It should have ended then. And black women and lots of well-meaning men have asked for that for almost two decades. So, I think of people like Barry Weiss, who was the president of Jive Records, who wouldn't come on camera. I think about individual handlers that he had at his record label, who also wouldn’t come on camera. I think about Spotify, who, for a moment, said they would do this really—take the small step of removing him off of their promoted play lists, and then walked that back a couple of months later, when some men in the company got upset. So, yeah, and then I also think about award shows. I think about—I have a television—I have a docuseries coming out on BET. But BET is a network that, again and again, gave him space on their award shows to do these epic performances, after we all knew that he was guilty. Even though he was found not guilty in court, we knew he wasn’t innocent. We saw the tape. It’s been an open secret, his predation, for almost two decades.
AMY GOODMAN: We know you have to go in a minute, but I—this is one of the examples, Surviving R. Kelly, your dramatic, explosive six-part Lifetime documentary series—most incredible examples of journalism having an enormous effect, as soon as it went down. You had people coming forward. You had the, in Chicago, prosecutors asking for information from people, saying, “Don’t be afraid to come forward.” And you have your elevation of the voices, especially of black women organizations, like #MuteRKelly. And can you talk about the impact of the activism to bring R. Kelly to justice?
dream hampton: Yeah. Well, Amy, I mean, I’m sure that back when the elections were happening in Chicago, the campaign to get rid of Anita Alvarez, #ByeAnita, who wouldn’t prosecute police who were guilty of terror in the community, you know, you had groups like BYP100 and Assata’s Daughters, who wouldn’t explicitly endorse Kim Foxx, because they’re not in that business, but they got rid of Anita Alvarez. That paved the way. So, that’s grassroots activism that gives us a Kim Foxx, who, as you said, made this open call in Chicago, a city where I talked to more women off camera, who wouldn’t come on camera because they knew they’d be doxed, disbelieved and dragged on social media, but they would corroborate the details that I needed during my vetting process. So I talked to way more women in Chicago who wouldn’t come on camera than did. So, when Kim Foxx made that open call asking for other people, I really thought about the work that had happened before I even began filming, again, of grassroots activists like BYP100, BLM, Assata’s Daughters.
And then, yes, you’re right. I mean, I partnered with A Long Walk Home. That’s Salamishah Tillet and her sister Scheherazade Tillet’s organization. They work with young teenage girls and, well, youth, really, girls and—well, people along the gender spectrum, quite frankly, who—teenagers who are survivors of sexual violence in Chicago, many of whom have their own personal stories with R. Kelly. I partnered with them early on to be, you know, present for the survivors, who were unpacking all of this trauma for our cameras.
And, of course, I wanted to feature the work of #MuteRKelly. I went home to my hometown, Detroit, and one of the first scenes I shot was a protest in front of Little Caesars Arena. I hope you hear the disdain in my tone when I talk about that, but—when I say that name. But, yeah, in front of this arena, I shot these protesters who were a part of a chapter of #MuteRKelly. And so, I’m so grateful for the work that laid the foundation for us to do what we had to do.
And, yes, of course, finally, I’m grateful for every survivor who came forward, because they knew that they weren’t getting paid. We don’t pay them. We treated this like a documentary project. We knew that we might get sued. So, they couldn’t be paid to come on camera, and they did it anyway. And they knew that they would be disbelieved. So I’m really grateful to the survivors.
AMY GOODMAN: Well, dream hampton, we want to thank you so much for being with us, executive producer of the six-part Lifetime documentary series Surviving R. Kelly, also an executive producer of the HBO documentary It’s a Hard Truth Ain’t It and the upcoming BET six-part documentary series Finding Justice. You can go to democracynow.org to our two segments [Part 1, Part 2] on Surviving R. Kelly, when the series first came out, as we talked to survivors and activists from #MuteRKelly.
This is Democracy Now! When we come back, we go to talk about the North Korea summit that’s taking place in Vietnam right now. Stay with us.