Advertisement

Stop celebrating R. Kelly

R & B singer R. Kelly comes to Baltimore frequently; he had a show most recently at the Pier Six Pavilion in July. Every time he performs, local radio stations help promote the show — offering free tickets to listeners and setting up outside concert venues to blast music and interact with fans.

My Facebook page notes the occasion, too. I see people dressed up to go out to hear Mr. Kelly sing and photos snapped by friends while waiting for the concert to begin.

Advertisement

All this for a man repeatedly accused of abusing women.

According to the report, Kelly imposes strict rules of conduct on young women, including restrictions on their ability to contact others. (July 17, 2017)

Last week, yet another woman came forward, saying she too was a victim of mental and sexual abuse by the singer.

Jerhonda Pace (nee Jerhonda Johnson) told Buzzfeed that she was just 15 when she waited outside Mr. Kelly's 2008 trial on child pornography charges, hoping to meet him. She did, and when she was 16, he began having sexual contact with her, she said. He paid her to buy her silence, she said, but she is now speaking out anyway because she says she wants to help other young women.

"I didn't have anybody to speak up on my behalf when I was going through what I was going through with him," she said.

R. Kelly has been making music — sometimes slow, seductive date-night tunes, other times upbeat hits to play at a family reunions — for decades now. Despite accusations of sexual abuse, which began in 1994 when he married then 15-year-old singer Aaliyah, he has worked steadily and maintained a legion of adoring fans. He's been nominated for 26 Grammy awards, and has won three (most recently in 2014). He got the coveted last performance of the night at the 2015 Soul Train awards, a run through his many hit songs, where Erykah Badu proclaimed that he had "done more for black people than anyone."

So why is he so adored? Why do Baltimore concert venues and radio stations help promote him? And why do people continue to pay money to see him perform?

In addition to a child pornography trial that concluded in 2008 with a not guilty verdict, Mr. Kelly was arrested on similar charges in Florida in 2003. That case was thrown out when a judge ruled police had insufficient cause to initiate a search of his house. Mr. Kelly has settled several lawsuits from women alleging that he had sex with them when they were underage, but he has routinely denied any impropriety, including Ms. Pace's claims and another Buzzfeed report published in July alleging that he was keeping a number of women at his home, cut off from their cell phones and their families. "It was as if she was brainwashed," one parent, told Buzzfeed, about finally getting to see her daughter. She "looked like a prisoner — it was horrible."

Ms. Pace's story appears to fit into a pattern well-documented by Buzzfeed reporter Jim DeRogatis, who has covered this story for over a decade. Those who claim to be Mr. Kelly's victims share a common thread: They are young, black women, mostly from the city of Chicago, who don't have the money, power or influence that R. Kelly has.

We choose whom we celebrate, whom we elevate. It was just a few weeks ago when Mayor Catherine Pugh made the swift (and correct) decision to do away with Baltimore's Confederate monuments. People all over the country are re-thinking those monuments because they honor people who represented racism and brutality. In this same vein, we can't welcome a man who treats women the way R. Kelly's accusers say he does.

In Fulton County, Ga.,a group launched a petition last week looking to ban Mr. Kelly from local radio station airwaves and from coming there to perform; the effort garnered over 1,000 signatures. It was enough to prompt local officials to request that entertainment group LiveNation cancel an upcoming concert but not enough to hold up the concert itself — that was LiveNation's call to make, and, last Friday, the show went on. A small group of protesters stood outside, holding signs that read "mute R. Kelly" and "sex trafficking begins here."

In all, five shows on his latest tour have been scrapped.

There is no denying that Mr. Kelly is talented. What's up for debate now is how much that talent is worth, given the allegations of abuse that keep doggedly following the singer. Music fans have a say in what they will tolerate. They can make their voices heard by closing their ears and their wallets.

Advertisement
Advertisement