WQCS Header Background Image
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00
0:00
Available On Air Stations

Jury Finds R. Kelly Guilty Of Racketeering And Sex Trafficking

NOEL KING, HOST:

A jury convicted R. Kelly on nine counts of sex trafficking and racketeering yesterday. He's expected to be sentenced to between 10 years and life in prison. Here's acting U.S. Attorney Jacquelyn Kasulis after the verdicts came down.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

JACQUELYN KASULIS: The jury delivered a powerful message to men like R. Kelly. No matter how long it takes, the long arm of the law will catch up with you.

KING: No matter how long it takes. With us now is Jim DeRogatis. He was one of the first journalists to report on R. Kelly's crimes. That was more than 20 years ago. Jim, thanks for being with us.

JIM DEROGATIS: Yeah, you bet.

KING: You've been on this one for a long time. How carefully were you watching the trial?

DEROGATIS: Oh, very carefully. I was writing a weekly column for The New Yorker, trying to look at some of the issues and the stories behind the stories coming out in court in Brooklyn. It is such an epic saga that, you know, there's going to be a lot to wrestle with in its wake. You know, first and foremost, this is the most - now the most notorious predator in the history of popular music, and that is quite an accomplishment. But the body count here - as I confirm, the victims and those women I've talked to - it's approaching 70.

KING: Seventy.

DEROGATIS: Twenty-two were at the heart of this case. And then the other thing is that this is the first #MeToo verdict bringing down a wealthy, powerful man whose victims were almost primarily all women of color.

KING: Talk about why that's significant. Yeah.

DEROGATIS: Well, you know, I led with my verdict column in The New Yorker with the story of Tiffany Hawkins, 15-year-old singer and volleyball player from the South Side of Chicago who was victimized by Kelly at age 15 in 1991. She tried to bring charges through the Cook County State's Attorney's Office in Illinois, and they were not interested. And what Tiffany told me, which has been repeated by many other women over 21 years - Tiffany said, I was a young Black girl. Who cared? And that haunts me.

KING: You, over the years, spoke to dozens of women who say he abused them. He victimized them. Have any of those women reached out to you since the verdict?

DEROGATIS: I heard from quite a few yesterday.

KING: Really? What'd they say?

DEROGATIS: They all say there's satisfaction that finally he has been held to account, but they all say it's too little, too late for them personally. And then they ask the question, why did it take so long?

KING: And in your mind, what is the answer to that question? Was it that they were young Black women? Was it that he was famous? Was it some combination - Black women and girls, I should say.

DEROGATIS: Yeah.

KING: Was it some combination of things?

DEROGATIS: It was a combination of things. You know, music, which I've devoted my life to - something about music has - it has not had its #MeToo moment, its reckoning. There is something about the evil that Kelly portrays in his music. It may sound hyperbolic, but he celebrates an unfettered vision of hedonism that shows zero concern for where he takes his pleasures, the people he takes his pleasures with. It was there from the beginning. The album he wrote for Aaliyah, whom he began sexual contact with, we heard in court, at 13 - the album came out when she was 15. He called it "Age Ain't Nothing But A Number." So, you know, we're going to have to wrestle with why is music in particular a haven for this sort of bad behavior that we don't only call out, but we sort of embrace?

And then race - it always comes down to race, you know? When we started this story, December 2000 in The Chicago Sun-Times, we were trying to bring down a successful Black superstar. We were racist was the accusation we kept getting. And yet, you know, this man was preying on the daughters, cousins, sisters, aunties, wives of the Black community.

KING: So if you don't see any evidence of the music industry, which you love, changing, what do you do with that?

DEROGATIS: I think the dilemma of separating the art and the artist is one that has always been with us. It's going to be very difficult. Right now, you know, his numbers have been going up. What becomes of this catalog, and can people - should people separate the art and the artist in that case? And I say no because his entire musical career is either celebrating this vision of hedonism or dropping to his knees to ask forgiveness of the Heavenly Father for unnamed sins. And this trial has laid bare exactly what those sins are.

KING: Jim DeRogatis is a journalist and author of the book "Soulless: The Case Against R. Kelly." Jim, thank you for being with us. We appreciate it.

DEROGATIS: You bet. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.