R. Kelly’s prison sentence comes after decades of outcries by victims who were ignored too long
R. Kelly’s legal saga has been an unnecessarily drawn out debacle fueled by denial, greed and the willingness to ignore the cries of mostly Black girls and women.
R. Kelly “used his position of fame and influence as a pop superstar to meet girls as young as 15 and have sex with them.”
It has been nearly 22 years since those words first appeared in the opening paragraph of a story by then-Chicago Sun-Times pop music critic Jim DeRogatis and reporter Abdon Pallasch.
This week, finally, Robert Sylvester Kelly was sentenced in a New York federal courthouse to 30 years in prison for exactly what court records and interviews with the songwriter’s earliest victims revealed in that story published on Dec. 21, 2000.
Kelly, at long last, has had his wings clipped. No more “I Believe I Can Fly.”
“Finally!” Pallasch wrote on his Facebook page Wednesday after 55-year-old Kelly was sentenced and ordered to pay a $100,000 fine.
“The surprising thing,” DeRogatis told WGN Radio, “is that it took so long for justice to catch up with him [Kelly].”
The wheels of justice turn slowly but grind exceedingly fine, as the ancient proverb goes.
Kelly’s legal saga, which is far from over — his child pornography and obstruction of justice trial in Chicago’s federal courthouse is set to begin Aug. 15 and he has a pending case at the Leighton Criminal Courthouse — has been a drawn-out debacle, fueled for far too long by denial, greed and the willingness of far too many to ignore the cries of mostly Black girls and women.
You don’t matter. You are lying. Shut up. Don’t ruin the career of a successful Black man, many in the community seemed to be telling the victims who dared to speak out against the beloved R&B star.
When the Sun-Times in 2002 received a 26-minute, 39-second videotape that allegedly showed Kelly performing sex acts with an underage girl, it led to child pornography charges against the Chicago-born musician.
Yet Kelly was eventually acquitted by a Cook County jury in 2008.
Kelly may have escaped criminal conviction then, but his predatory behavior toward underage girls was well-documented.
A “sickness” is how one victim described it.
Still, Kelly’s career flourished and the music industry embraced him with open arms as he continued to rape girls with the help of an enabling posse. The press, meanwhile, also turned a blind eye to the accusations. It was left to DeRogatis to uncover the truth, by himself, over many years.
“We braced for other media to jump on the story. It never happened,” Pallasch, now a spokesman for Illinois Comptroller Susana Mendoza, wrote in 2021.
It wasn’t until the docuseries “Surviving R. Kelly” aired in a post-#MeToo 2019 that authorities said “enough” to the man who’d married the late singer Aaliyah D. Haughton when she was 15 and he was 27.
Dream Hampton’s Lifetime program, in which DeRogatis and Pallasch both appeared, was powerfully raw. It brought the story to a wide audience. But if it weren’t for the two doggedly pursuing the story years before the series aired, R. Kelly’s crimes may have never seen the light of day.
Kelly could have continued proclaiming that he’s “The World’s Greatest” before adoring crowds, instead of languishing in prison.
DeRogatis and Pallasch did what reporters are supposed to do: Expose wrongdoing in spite of angry naysayers and critics.
The two have always maintained that the Black girls and women who were victimized by Kelly are the heroes for telling their horrific stories. Nobody matters less in our society than young Black women, the victims repeatedly told them.
No longer silenced, these women didn’t mince words when they addressed Kelly before his sentencing on federal racketeering and sex trafficking charges Wednesday.
The singer, who had his eyes downcast, heard them loud and clear, trapped in a courtroom with nowhere to escape.
When and if he completes his sentence in his New York case, R. Kelly will be 85.
Now, finally, it’s his turn to face the music.
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