It is perhaps appropriate that on the day when the U.S. Senate apologizes for failing to pass laws banning lynching that a jury in Santa Maria, California acquitted Michael Jackson of all charges in his child-molestation trial. From 1882 to 1968, 4,723 people, including 3,446 blacks were murdered by angry mobs. Nearly all were innocent of the charges leveled against them. Not one had the opportunity to defend himself against those charges. Not one faced a jury of his peers.
Today, a jury of Michael Jackson’s peers, citizens of the area near his ranch, voted to acquit this black man of charges not entirely dissimilar from those leveled against many of the black men lynched by their Southern peers. Michael Jackson had been accused of molesting white boys. Those men had been accused of raping white women.
The coincidence of these two events shows how much has changed in America since the Civil Rights’ movement of the 1960s. Michael Jackson received the fair trial that was denied many black Americans up until the time that Jackson, as a singer for the Jackson Five, first gained national attention. I believe the Santa Maria jury got it right. The one person I know in LA who has met Michael Jackson is convinced of the pop singer’s innocence (while acknowledging his strangeness).
It just doesn’t strike me that someone whose own talents and success deprived him of a childhood would himself deprive other children of theirs. To be sure, Michael Jackson often acted inappropriately, but the jury did not believe that evidence presented against him showed that he had molested the boys making the accusations.
Up until this past week, I haven’t paid much attention to the trial. I was aware that the mother of one of the accusers had previously filed several frivolous lawsuits, based on fictitious claims. But, today, I was as eager as many others to hear the outcome. While running on the treadmill at my gym, I watched two news channels (Fox and CNN) report the same thing, indeed oftentimes using the same footage–the jury (in the Jackson trial) would soon announce the verdict.
Back here, I flipped on Fox, then, after putting a load of laundry in, returned to my apartment and checked out the four major networks as well as the news networks. They were all covering the Jackson trial, almost all showing the same footage outside the court room. Odd that something of so little consequence to most Americans would so dominate the news.
Perhaps it is our culture’s obsession with celebrity. Perhaps it is Michael Jackson’s strangeness. Perhaps it is his talent. Few pop singers have been as gifted performers as he. Just as Frank Sinatra could (and Barbra Streisand can) inhabit a song with his voice, as if he was living the words that he sang, Jackson, when he performed on stage and in his music videos, inhabits a song with his entire body. His album “Thriller” came along just as music videos were coming into being. And he succeeded in that medium as few have.
Watching him in those videos, particularly “Thriller,” the words, his voice and his performance all blend together.
I could understand why many of his fans flocked from around the globe to cheer for him at his trial. He has an unusual talent and unique (and powerful) stage presence. Outside the courthouse, one woman even released a dove each time the court clerk announced that the jury had found Jackson “Not Guilty” of a particular.
Michael Jackson is one of the most gifted pop singers in American history. And he’s one who helped pioneer a new medium (music videos). He is also a strange man whose life has not always been easy. But, one’s strangeness does not make an individual guilty of a crime. It’s fortunate that the jurors in this case understood that.
We should be grateful for many of the changes of the past forty years. Today, a very talented black man received the justice denied many black Americans in some of the ugliest incidents in American history.
-Dan (AKA GayPatriotWest): GayPatriotWest@aol.com
UPDATE: One reader e-mailed me while another noted in the comments “the only alleged molestation victim who has been publicly revealed in the latest accusation (to my knowledge), is Hispanic, not white.” Because I did not follow the case closely, I had not previously been aware of that. And it’s interesting to note that many of those who have gossiped about the case have noted Mr. Jackson’s fondness for white boys. Just goes to show how gossip distorts things. And another sign that it’s better to trust a jury which has heard the case than the voices of an angry crowd unfamiliar with the charges.