Jackson Case Bigger Than Jackson's Guilt or Innocence

Even before a Santa Barbara County grand jury indicted Michael Jackson, the child molestation case against him was certain to be much bigger than the one time king of pop's guilt or innocence. Last November, one of Jackson's brothers angrily threw down the gauntlet when he called the charges a legal lynching. The implication being that Jackson squirms on the legal hot seat because he is rich, successful, popular and black. Then Jackson upped the ante when he claimed in a "60 Minutes" interview a month later that Santa Barbara County sheriff's deputies manhandled him during his arrest. The sheriff's department quickly denied the charge. Family members, friends and Jackson groupies rallied around Jackson, and accused Santa Barbara County District Attorney Tom Sneddon of waging a personal vendetta against Jackson.

But Jackson's 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 latest dope on anything that moves in the Jackson case when the trial begins will almost certainly dwarf the press attention in the O.J. Simpson case.

Even if Jackson beats the charges, he has lost 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 a multi-million dollar court settlement he made with a child sex accuser in 1993 will again plague him for years to come. But Jackson can't be absolved of blame for playing fast and loose with the public's justified horror of child sexual abuse. All it took was the still to be proven word of a 12 year old 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.

The reason is simple. Child molestation is the type of crime that even the mere allegation of a misdeed instantly ignites public outrage. Many prosecutors regard even the allegation of child molestation as a crime. Public rage at the legions of Catholic priests and church officials that for years blatantly and shamelessly hid behind their religious collars to commit heinous sex crimes has further fueled the deep revulsion against pedophiles.

Public sensitivity about the Jackson case is also a reaction to the lingering guilt and shame over the fact that courts and much of the public turned a blind eye to child abuse for many years. But it's also a reaction to rich and famous celebrities such as Simpson, Martha Stewart, Enron and Tyco executives who many feel use their wealth and fame to thumb their nose at the law and get away with misconduct.

Then there's the race card. Polls show that the Jackson case shapes of as Simpson redux. The majority of blacks think he's innocent, even say that he's been framed, and the majority of whites say he's guilty. Jackson stirred the race pot even more when Nation of Islam officials turned up at his legal team's press conferences, and his advisor's meeting. Muslim bodyguards will probably surround the Pop King at his upcoming court appearances. Though there's no evidence that they are anything other then one more ornament in Jackson's traveling ménage, they spruce up his credentials with some blacks as a black brother being dumped on by an unjust white legal system.

Child sexual abuse, however, is so fraught with public revulsion, that even many blacks that publicly are more than willing to give Jackson the benefit of the doubt privately blast him for his seemingly unnatural fascination with boys. And mainstream black leaders have steered a wide berth around him. Leading members of the Congressional Black Caucus, for instance, openly snubbed Jackson during his whirlwind schmoozing political fence mending jaunt to the Capitol earlier this year. Earlier this month, a group of African diplomats in Washington D.C. vigorously protested the awarding of a humanitarian award to Jackson for his financial contributions to the AIDS fight in Africa.

Jackson has not been proven guilty of any child sex crimes and must have his day in court. The indictment is only the first round in the DA's quest to put him behind bars. Before anything like that happens there will be endless legal battles ahead. But given the intense emotions that surround him and the hot button issues in the case that stir public passions, the Jackson case will be much more than just another glitter celebrity case.

Earl Ofari Hutchinson is an author and political analyst.

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