A Legal Lynching for Mike?

"Legal Lynching!" That's what Marlon Jackson reportedly called the new charges of child molestation against brother Mike. The implication being that Jackson again finds himself rudely dumped on the legal hot seat because he is rich, successful, popular, and, of course, black -- fair game for every scam artist out to make a buck by fingering him for child abuse.

At first glance, it seems plausible that Jackson's being unfairly persecuted because of who he is and not what he did. In the decade since he settled the other high profile child abuse case, there have been no other charges, or even allegations of child molestation against him, even though he has brazenly traveled the world with a bevy of young boys, some even well known child celebrities. He has also beaten back a bushel of lawsuits suits against him.

Though Jackson is aging, he is far from a faded, down and out hard-luck, pop star. In recent years, he has bagged several honorary awards, and though critics tagged his last album a commercial flop, it sold 2 million copies and was only a flop by the rarified standard of the king of pop's past success. Sony Music Entertainment Corporation has shelled out millions promoting and marketing his so-called flops. His Casper the ghost looking bleached skin, nose pinch job, eyeshade, and straight hair have always gotten tongues wagging and fueled tabloid gossip. The mad press scramble to get the dope on the latest child hit on Jackson proves that he is still hot copy.

Then there's the race card. Jackson played the racial victim to the hilt when he took the podium at a surreal press conference in Harlem in 2002. With a beaming Al Sharpton standing behind him and 300 wildly cheering black supporters in the audience, he tore a page from the racially inflammatory rhetoric of the Black Muslims, and denounced Sony Music for its "devilish" (as in white devil) treatment of him.

But whether the latest charges against him are yet another play for pay grab at Jackson's pocketbook, he shouldn't be let off the hook. All it took was the as yet unsubstantiated word of another teen that Mike is a child molester and sex abuser, for former fans and a once fawning public to believe that a bleached black man who for years made his living grabbing his crotch before millions could do terrible things to children. This is hardly a surprise. Even before the 1993 court settlement, Jackson sowed the deep seeds of public doubt about his motives.

In a widely quoted interview, he told Ebony Magazine, "Children are loving, and they don't gossip, they don't complain, they're just open hearted, they're ready for you. They don't judge." What did he really mean by that? Was there something murky and sinister in those stray remarks? Over the years, he's publicly voiced similar sentiments about children that have made many suspect that he's up to no good on his Neverland Ranch.

Even if Jackson beats back the latest charge in a court of law, he will still lose badly in the court of public opinion. The public has long memories and even longer tongues when it comes to the emotionally hyper-charged issue of child sexual abuse. The rumors, whispers and doubts that plagued him in the years before, and the decade after, the 1993 court settlement will again plague him for years.

The reason is simple. Despite the widespread attention and public revulsion over child victimization, the rash of tough state and federal laws against child molestation, and the eagerness of judges, prosecutors, and juries to toss the book at child sex offenders, according to a survey by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services on child abuse and neglect in 2000, the rate of child sexual abuse again has soared. That doesn't count the many thousands of child abuse cases that aren't reported.

It's also the type of crime that even the mere allegation of a misdeed instantly ignites public passions, and outrage. Many prosecutors regard even the allegation of child molestation as a crime. In part this is a reaction to the lingering guilt and shame that for many years courts and much of the public turned a blind eye to child abuse. In part it's also a reaction to rich and famous celebrities such as Jackson whom many feel use their wealth and fame to thumb their nose at the law and get away with misconduct. In fact, Jackson's attorneys have already spun into maximum damage control, and downplay the new charges as a rerun of the same old soap opera of a decade ago. Jackson claims that the charges are nothing but a plot to put the final nail in the coffin to his long career.

Some wonder out loud whether Jackson may actually wind up in a jail cell this time. There will be endless legal battles ahead before anything like that would or could happen. But given the intense emotions that surround him and the allegation against him, the battle to save him and what's left of his image can hardly be called a legal lynching.

Earl Ofari Hutchinson can be heard on KPFK Radio, 90.7FM, Tuesdays, 7-8PM, and seen on TV on On Target with Earl Ofari Hutchinson, L.A. Channel 36, 9-9:30PM Mondays. He hosts the Saturday Brunch Roundtable at Coleys Restaurant from 10-11AM in Inglewood 310-672-2542

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