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Justice for Black Women & Girls: R. Kelly Found Guilty in Sex Crimes Case After Decades of Abuse

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Image Credit: Jane Rosenberg/Reuters

R&B singer R. Kelly is guilty of a series of charges, including racketeering based on sexual exploitation of children, kidnapping, forced labor and transporting people across state lines for sex. Jurors in the federal trial returned their verdict Monday after 11 accusers — nine women and two men — and 34 other witnesses detailed Kelly’s pattern of sexual and other abuse against dozens of women and underage girls for nearly two decades. “He just became more egregious, more bold, with the kind of crimes that he was committing against Black girls and women,” says dream hampton, executive producer of the documentary series “Surviving R. Kelly,” which helped publicize Kelly’s predations and fueled demands for accountability. “It was time for it to end.”

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Transcript
This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: A warning to our viewers and listeners: Today’s top segment contains graphic descriptions of sexual abuse.

Sexual predator and trafficker R. Kelly, the famous R&B singer, was found guilty Monday of a series of charges, including racketeering based on sexual exploitation of children, kidnapping, forced labor and transporting people across state lines for sex. Kelly’s sentencing is scheduled for May next year. He faces decades in prison. Eleven accusers — nine women and two men — and 34 other witnesses detailed Kelly’s pattern of sexual and other abuse against dozens of women and underage girls for nearly two decades.

This is Acting U.S. Attorney Jacquelyn Kasulis speaking outside the Brooklyn Federal Courthouse.

JACQUELYN KASULIS: Today’s guilty verdict forever brands R. Kelly as a predator, who used his fame and fortune to prey on the young, the vulnerable and the voiceless for his own sexual gratification, a predator who used his inner circle to ensnare underage girls and young women and men for decades in a sordid web of sex abuse, exploitation and humiliation.

To the victims in this case, your voices were heard, and justice was finally served. This conviction would not have been possible without the bravery and resilience of R. Kelly’s victims. I applaud their courage in revealing in open court the painful, intimate and horrific details of their lives with him.

AMY GOODMAN: Monday’s guilty verdict comes after years of allegations R. Kelly had abused minors, including as far back as 1994, when he married then-15-year-old R&B singer, the late Aaliyah. She died in a plane crash. He was arrested in 2002 and accused of making a recording of himself sexually abusing and urinating on a 14-year-old girl.

It was the remarkable docuseries Surviving R. Kelly that helped give a platform to his accusers — Black women and girls. The first witness to testify in R. Kelly’s latest trial was Jerhonda Pace, who described how she was sexually and physically abused by Kelly when she was 16 years old. In this clip from Surviving R. Kelly, she was 15 when she met Kelly in 2008 outside his child pornography trial.

JERHONDA PACE: I went to his trial because I was a superfan at the time. I didn’t believe he was guilty, and I didn’t want to believe that he was guilty. I was a freshman in high school. He was old for me to like him, but I fell in love with his music.

After Robert’s trial, his friend sent me a message and invited me to R. Kelly’s party. And in the middle of me texting him back, Rob, he actually called my phone. And he was telling me — he said, “I remember you.” And I said, “Well, what do you remember me from?” He said, “You came to my trial. Thank you for your support.” I was shocked. I felt like I was on top of the world.

AMY GOODMAN: That was survivor Jerhonda Pace, who says she was later sexually, mentally and physically abused while living in a cult-like atmosphere in R. Kelly’s home when she was 16. Pace testified, quote, “He wanted me to put my hair up in pigtails and dress like a Girl Scout,” and said, quote, “He recorded us having sexual intercourse.” Pace also testified that Kelly gave her herpes and never told her he had a sexually transmitted disease.

She responded to the verdict Monday, writing, in part, “I’m thankful to stand with those who were brave enough to speak up. I’m happy to FINALLY close this chapter of my life. I testified and the jury found him guilty. No matter what you think of me or how you feel about things; today, I MADE HISTORY. I wanna see you be brave,” she said.

Meanwhile, cases against R. Kelly have also been filed in Illinois and Minnesota.

For more, we go to Chicago to speak with dream hampton, executive producer of the six-part Lifetime documentary series Surviving R. Kelly, which won a Peabody Award and was nominated for an Emmy.

dream, welcome back to Democracy Now! You blew this case wide open. You’re the reason this trial was held. Others found him not guilty. Can you respond to the guilty verdict on charge after charge?

dream hampton: I agree with Jerhonda Pace. I mean, and let’s look back at Jerhonda’s story. Like you just said in your recap, she was a high school student going to the courtroom in 2008 to support him during a trial where he is accused of child pornography, amongst other things. R. Kelly cruises a 10th grader. I mean, that’s the hubris that this man had during his first trial, a trial that he was able to manipulate, first by putting it off for years, secondly, and most importantly, by keeping the victim close to him. She was a teenager who thought she was in love with him. But by delaying that first trial for so many years, he made sure that should she decide to testify against him, she would appear as a 20-year-old.

So, there were times when I was making Surviving R. Kelly that I had to deal with R. Kelly’s own biography, which, of course, included incredibly painful sexual trauma. He, himself reports, is the victim of sexual abuse. But I had to also look at how deeply manipulative he was. After 2008, after that trial, he took to forcing, coercing women to write false confessions. And all of these things added up and escalated, quite frankly. He just became more egregious, more bold, you know, with the kinds of crimes that he was committing against Black girls and women. And it was time for it to end.

And I’m so proud that, you know, Black girls like Jerhonda Pace, now Black women, found the courage to sit for us, underneath these hot lights for hours at a time, and to share her story, to reopen and relive that trauma, which is so hard. And I hope that this does begin a healing journey for them all, and not just for the ones who sat for our camera. I talked to dozens of women, to corroborate the women whose stories were on camera, who didn’t want to come on camera.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And, dream, I’m wondering if you could talk a little bit about the resistance that you encountered in terms of developing the series that you made, and also if you could talk about the reaction in the African American community over the years, if there’s been a difference in how folks in the African American community view the allegations and charges against R. Kelly versus the general population.

dream hampton: Yeah, I’ll take the second question first. I mean, Black women are in the Black community, and Black women have led this fight for justice for decades. I think about someone like Jim DeRogatis, who has heroically stayed on his feet, and he depended on Black women coming forward, on trusting him, on opening up and sharing this incredibly painful abuse with him. I think about the founders of #MuteRKelly, who worked to deplatform him, to sanction him, to boycott, to divest. I think about, you know — and so that’s what I have to hold in my heart.

I have been Black my whole life. I am from Detroit. I know what rape culture is in my community, and I know what it is in the larger country and, quite frankly, in a global context. And it’s exactly what the support of R. Kelly looks like. It is about disbelieving testimony after testimony over decades, quite frankly, of Black girls and women, if it means protecting a Black man from, quite frankly, an unjust criminal system. It’s complicated when it comes to our community. It’s incredibly complicated. So, yeah. And now I can’t remember the first question. I’m sorry.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Oh, and the other issue was the resistance that you encountered in the making of your series.

dream hampton: Well, you know, we were working for Lifetime, and they have a particular audience. And I think that these women’s testimony, in some ways, might have been enough for the network, but they were trying to do something different, they told me, with this documentary, and I had hoped to bring in some of the systemic stuff. I didn’t get resistance from the network necessarily, but I could not get the president of Jive Records, Barry Weiss, for instance, to come on camera. I couldn’t get people who had worked at Jive Records, at R. Kelly’s record label, who worked with him after this tape, that Amy described in her opening, of R. Kelly sexually abusing — raping a 14-year-old, Sparkle’s niece, his R&B protégé singer who sacrificed her career to step forward and testify against R. Kelly in '08 and speak up for her niece. So, I wanted — while the women's testimonies were important, it was also important for me to have some corporate context. You know, we did get the cultural context in there, but it was important for me that we talk about the industry, and we never got around to that.

Not just the industry. We did talk about some of the kind of systemic support that he had on the ground in Chicago, which included employing off-duty police officers, many of whom are still active in the force. BuzzFeed, Jamilah King — Jamilah King at BuzzFeed just wrote an incredible article last week about the cop who testified — Hood is his last name — trying to defend R. Kelly, quite frankly, on the stand, but his testimony ended up helping the prosecutors.

And so — and, you know, I had evidence of this as we were making the documentary, where a parent would call the CPD to get a wellness check, and we had testimony from people who had been in the studio that the police called R. Kelly to give him a heads-up that the police were coming, on the behest of the parents, to do a wellness check, and he was able to shuttle the girls out of the studio. So, those — or the police would show up for a wellness check, ask someone at the front door if the girls were OK, and leave.

So, I mean, and this is true for all victims of sexual and gender crimes. It’s not — going to the police and going to the system for justice is not some clear path. The police are often the abusers in our community. Andrea Ritchie has done so much great work on this, as has Mariame Kaba. But it was complicated.

AMY GOODMAN: dream hampton, if you could talk about what happened to Aaliyah? He produced her first film [sic], R. Kelly did, “Age Ain’t Nothing But a Number.” He would end up marrying her. She would die in a plane crash years later. But talk about the significance of her experience. When did he start with Aaliyah?

dream hampton: We have evidence that, like with Sparkle’s niece, that he began grooming Aaliyah possibly at 12, which is really hard to say, you know? You talk about “Age Ain’t Nothing But a Number.” I mean, he is no Nabokov, but he authored that song, you know? R. Kelly is a songwriter.

And so, a lot of what R. Kelly has been doing for decades has been in the public. He called himself the “Pied Piper.” He famously, in a BET interview with Touré, when asked if he liked teenage girls, replied with “What do you mean by 'teenage'?” He mocked us by telling us that, in this video in 2002, this rape tape that had gone viral in the streets, pre-internet, that it was his brother on camera and not him.

So, in so many ways — and we open Surviving R. Kelly with a Facebook post of R. Kelly saying, “It’s been 30 years. If y’all wanted to get me, y’all should have gotten me then.” And, you know, I took that challenge, as did the entire team — Brie Miranda Bryant, Tamra Simmons, Kreativ at Bunim/Murray. You know, we realized that the hubris was staggering.

And I didn’t think that this would lead to charges. I have to be honest. When charges began being announced in February, just a month after our documentary aired, I was gobsmacked. I did not think that it would lead to this. What I had hoped that it would the to was a reckoning that the public, that my community, might reconsider their support of him and might look more deeply at rape culture, overall, in our communities.

AMY GOODMAN: I said the song — the “film” of Aaliyah; I meant the song.

dream hampton: Yeah, of course.

AMY GOODMAN: But also, if you could talk about for the first time young men coming forward who were abused as boys?

dream hampton: Yeah. I mean, I can’t say that I was surprised, given the reporting and the research that we did for Surviving R. Kelly. I would hope that the gender of his victims — R. Kelly was a young male victim himself of sexual abuse and rape. I would hope that the gender of the victims wouldn’t have an effect on whether or not R. Kelly’s supporters and fans continue to support him. I would want to believe that Black girls matter, that Black women matter. But I know that sometimes homophobia trumps our care for Black children, you know? And this isn’t just a Black issue. I just happen to be a Black woman who lives in Black community and works in Black community, writing about a genre artist who performs R&B mostly for Black people. So, that is who I’m caring about when I do this work.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And, dream, there are still trials that he must face in Illinois and Minnesota, as well, and his sentencing won’t be — on this federal case, a conviction won’t be until May. What do you expect will happen in Illinois and Minnesota? Are the charges there different from the ones he’s faced — that he just recently faced?

dream hampton: You know, I’ve not been keeping up with the trial, and the court proceedings, of course, were closed in New York. I didn’t travel to New York to witness. But when I think about the reporting that we did for Surviving R. Kelly, I think about someone like Susan Loggans, an attorney in Chicago, who settled case after case for — I don’t want to say “for R. Kelly,” but had victim after victim, Black women in Chicago mostly, signing nondisclosure agreements and receiving a pittance for restitution. I wouldn’t call it restitution. And restitution is owed, by the way. I mean, these are women who are going to need the kind of support that only money can begin to solve and help with. But I look at, you know, the people who weren’t called to the stand, who enabled him, these people who were part of this ecosystem of abuse. And I’m hoping that, in Chicago, there will be some consequences for the enablers.

AMY GOODMAN: dream hampton, we want to thank you so much for your work, for your films, for your documentary series on Showtime called Surviving R. — on Lifetime, called Surviving R. Kelly. dream hampton is a filmmaker, as well as a writer, and the executive producer of that series.

When we come back, we go inside the CIA’s secret plans to kill or kidnap Julian Assange. Stay with us.

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