This morning, R. Kelly, who in the last decade has been accused of sexual assault and misconduct by hundreds of young girls and women, and who was charged last month with 10 counts of aggravated sexual abuse, gave his first interview since the latest allegations resurfaced.
By the time we publish this article, chances are you will have already seen the interview. In an emotional tirade, Kelly vehemently denied the allegations and, not surprisingly, said all the women who accused him of rape and emotional abuse were lying. "I have been assassinated," Kelly said. "I have been buried alive."
"What I saw was a man that needs help," wrote Jerhonda Pace, one of Kelly's current accusers, on Twitter after the interview. "Him believing he's doing no wrong is no different than an adult telling a child that Santa is real. The child grows up thinking Santa is real because that's what they've been hearing since their baby days." It's true that what the public saw this morning was not the same smug predator that ignorantly dismissed a female Huffington Post reporter in 2015. But as broken as the 52-year-old appears, this interview should have never happened. When accusations first resurfaced against the singer, Kelly's streaming numbers increased by 16 percent. "I really don't wanna believe it's because black girls don't matter," said Jada Pinkett Smith in response to the spike. If anything, the increase proved that the narrative against him is fragile, and, unfortunately, playing the role of the victim has always worked for Kelly in the past. At his 2008 trial, his defense team compared Kelly's victim to Satan and said the accusations were to extort money from Kelly. The singer clung to a similar story this morning. "They was describing Lucifer," Kelly said, "I'm not a devil...all you have to do is push a button on your phone and say: 'So and so did this to me. R. Kelly did this to me."
The prosecution in this case also fuels its precarious nature. Michael Avenatti is a notorious loudmouth, who famously tried to file a defamation lawsuit against Trump when he represented Stormy Daniels, only to have the case fall apart when it was revealed that Daniels never gave Avenatti permission to submit such a lawsuit. He also botched his representation for Julie Swetnick, one of Brett Kavanaugh's accusers, when he posted e-mail exchanges to his personal Twitter. Additionally, he was arrested on suspicion of domestic violence last November, and while the felony charges were dropped, he is still currently under a restraining order against his ex-girlfriend. He, of course, vehemently denied those charges.
Not surprisingly, his handling of Kelly's recent case has been just as publicized, with Avenatti blabbering on about how guilty R. Kelly is at every turn. "R. Kelly's tears are out of fear and despair," he wrote on Twitter following the R&B singer's interview this morning. "Because he knows that after over two decades of sexually abusing underage girls, we blew this wide open and have him and his enablers dead to rights. #Justice." A few months ago, when another tape emerged of R. Kelly allegedly having sex with a 14-year-old, Avenatti talked graphically about the acts on the tape, merely to draw attention to the fact that he had seen it. "The images and language depicting alleged child sexual abuse he's sharing do not shed further light on the survivors," wrote Jezebel. "They do, however, keep Avenatti's name in the headlines." With all these details out in the open, and with R. Kelly continuing to play the victim, it will no doubt be difficult to conjure up an unbiased jury, which, if you recall, is the same fatal flaw that led to Kelly walking free in 2008.
With all these balls up in the air, Kelly timed his meltdown perfectly. His performance this morning will convert a lot of speculative people into R. Kelly supporters and will no doubt continue to perpetuate the narrative that America shouldn't believe black women. Throw in the Internet's tendency to make wisecrack memes out of just about anything, and you have a case that's brimming with ways it can fail. These women deserve better.
Mackenzie Cummings-Grady is a creative writer who resides in the Brooklyn area. Mackenzie's work has previously appeared in The Boston Globe, Billboard, and Metropolis Magazine. Follow him on Twitter @mjcummingsgrady.