Michael Jackson in the lion's den
By Leslie Feinberg
"Not guilty." Those two words received short
shrift in the massive media storm surrounding Michael Jackson's
Jan. 16 arraignment in Santa Maria, Calif., on child
The word "circus," however, took center stage in media
coverage. And in virtually all the accounts, it was
Jackson--facing charges that could lock him in a jail cell for
more than two decades--who was accused of creating that
Christopher Darden, who was a prosecutor in the O.J. Simpson
criminal trial that ended in acquittal by the jury, told
reporters, "The circus has begun, and he [Jackson] is the ring
master." Darden told the syndicated TV show Entertainment
Tonight, "It's a circus from minute one, and it's going to be a
circus up until sentencing happens, or"--Darden had gotten
ahead of himself--"up until we get a verdict in this case."
The mass demonstration of public support for Jackson outside
the courthouse was also billed as a "circus." Thousands came
from Los Angeles and Fresno, Calif., Las Vegas, Phoenix and
Philadelphia, and from South Carolina and other parts of the
United States. People also traveled from Brazil, England,
Japan, France, Spain, Holland, Germany and Australia to stand
up for Jackson.
Police estimates of the crowd outside the courthouse seemed
low--1,500 to 2,000--based on the aerial views visible on
electronic coverage. But the day after the arraignment,
virtually all the print media reported "hundreds."
Assume for a moment that the widespread use of the word
circus is not being used to dehumanize Jackson by associating
him with the most immediate images of circuses: clowns, "freak
shows" and performing animals. Perhaps the media are merely
trying to convey the mood of spectacle?
If that is true, might not the following have been offered
as the generator of spectacle at Jackson's court
More than 2,500 police were standing six rows deep around a
court complex now guarded 24 hours a day. Cops used attack dogs
for "crowd control." Extra court officers were shipped in from
nearby Santa Barbara.
Half a dozen police and media helicopters circled and
hovered in the air above the court complex.
More than 600 journalists, producers and television crew
members jostled each other and everyone else. Some 100
television stations from around the globe sent personnel. Forty
TV satellite trucks were parked outside.
Vendors hawked T-shirts and fast food.
If Jackson's court appearance was a circus, it was
reminiscent of the brutal ancient circuses organized by the
emperors of the Roman Empire as part of the political tactic of
public diversion. Those who found themselves in the center ring
of the Circus Maximus had to fight--often to the death--for
In the lion's den
Inside the courtroom, Santa Barbara County Superior Court
Judge Rodney Melville castigated Jackson for being 10 minutes
Attorney Mark Geragos tried to explain that unprecedented
traffic and crowds had delayed their arrival.
But the judge interrupted: "There are no ifs, no excuses. I
will not have it."
Under pressure from the prosecution, Melville imposed a gag
order to keep any parties from speaking to reporters.
The judge ruled that Jackson's lawyers can see copies of
search warrants and affidavits, and transcripts of tape
recordings on which the prosecution is basing its case.
Prosecutors had fought to keep a seal on the records. Melville
denied a motion by media outlets--including The Associ ated
Press--demanding the material be released into the public
The judge also barred cameras, including television, from
the court--a ruling that enraged the networks.
Geragos asked the judge to recognize Jackson's new
co-counsel, Benjamin Brafman, a New York attorney who is not a
member of the California bar. "Such requests are routinely
granted," the Jan. 17 New York Times reported, "but Judge
Melville refused to allow Mr. Brafman to speak. Later, the
judge relented and gave Mr. Brafman courtroom privileges."
Jackson's role in the proceedings only took five minutes.
Two hours later, when his lawyer asked if Jackson could leave
the courtroom, "as a personal courtesy," the judge told the
court, "I assume Mr. Jackson has to go to the bathroom."
Melville then warned Mr. Geragos to instruct Michael Jackson
to restrict his "liquid intake" before court.
Support for Jackson is becoming an objective factor that the
judge and prosecutor have to take account of now. Jack son's
entire family was with him during his court appearance. The
Nation of Islam is providing security for him. The Rev. Jesse
Jackson admonished the prosecutor and media for the way they
have treated Michael Jackson. Civil-rights activist Dick
Gregory is waging a 40-day hunger strike to support Jackson.
And many other African American political and cultural leaders
have publicly stood up for Jackson.
The day of the arraignment, simultaneous demonstrations of
support for Jack son took place in Mexico, Ireland, Hun gary,
Russia, England, the Nether lands, Sweden and other
Jermaine Jackson said that his brother Michael and their
entire family "are overwhelmed at the outpouring of support
from the fans. It is a testament, a true testament to Michael's
messages of love and inclusion, that so many people of diverse
backgrounds are traveling around the globe to support him."
Jackson appeared not to leave the courtroom intimidated. He
climbed up on top of his vehicle and sang to the crowd. The
throng of supporters pushed past police and surrounded Jackson,
chanting slogans and singing lyrics from one track of his 1995
album " that indicts the Santa Barbara District Attorney Tom
"Mad Dog" Sneddon for what is widely perceived as his vendetta
'Mad Dog' Sneddon
Jackson is accused of sexual misconduct with a 12-year-old
boy with cancer who had asked to meet the singer. The alleged
acts for which Jackson was being arraigned were supposed to
have taken place between Feb. 7 and March 10, 2003.
That timing is very odd.
According to the charges, Jackson would have begun molesting
the boy amid the furious scrutiny and criticism he faced after
having appeared with the 12-year-old in a television
documentary, aired last Feb. 6, in which they were shown
holding hands and saying that they had slept in the same room
but not in the same bed.
Reportedly based on a complaint to a county hot line from an
enraged school administrator who saw the documentary, Los
Angeles County child welfare officers began investigating
Jackson's relationship with the boy.
The investigation, which ended Feb. 27, concluded that the
allegations of molestation were groundless. The boy, his mother
and his siblings all denied that any improprieties had taken
Further adding to questions of credibility in this case is
the fact that the boy's family has a history of litigation
involving hundreds of thousands of dollars in compensation
Sneddon, who unsuccessfully brought charges of child
molestation against Jackson a decade ago, said he did not think
the Los Angeles County findings were relevant to his case.
Sneddon's widely publicized appeal in November 2003 for
anyone, anywhere, who had any evidence of misconduct by Michael
Jackson to contact his office is a prosecutorial version of
"reality television": Who wants to be a millionaire?
Attorney Mickey Sherman told the CBS News Early Show: "I
think everyone expected there would be more victims com ing out
of the woodwork and that hasn't happened. I think that's rather
The stench of racism
"Wacko Jacko," "bizarre," "freak"--Jackson is publicly
dehumanized by media pundits for his perceived sexuality,
gender expression and sex ambiguity. But this inhuman
tabloid-journalism scarcely masks the deep racism involved in
Googling the words "Jackson" and "race card" lifts the
In actuality, the "racist card" has already stacked the
deck. Just two examples, pain ful to repeat in print, offer
greater understanding about the intensity of racism involved in
the demonization of Michael Jackson.
One newspaper article refers to the compact-disk players
that some Jackson supporters played outside the courthouse as
"ghetto blasters." (The Australian, Jan. 16)
And Orville Schell, dean of the graduate journalism school
at the University of Cali fornia at Berkeley, dredged up a
vicious Jim Crow metaphor familiar to white supremacists when
he said of Jackson, "He is a tar baby of monumental
proportions, into which all too many reputable news outlets are
being stuck." (St. Petersburg Times, Jan. 11)
Jackson faces an amorphous charge of molestation, defined in
California as lewd and lascivious. According to Michael
Hestrin, a Riverside County, Calif., deputy district attorney,
"There's no requirement that Michael Jackson touched the child
underneath the clothing, it could be on the shoulder, it could
be anywhere on the body." (mtv.com, Jan. 16)
Hestrin added, "The prospective jurors in this case are
going to be largely affluent, largely white." There is no legal
requirement to include any number of Black, Latino, Native or
Asian people as jurors.
Michael Jackson, in the center ring of the Circus Maximus,
is fighting for his life.
Reprinted from the Jan. 29, 2004, issue of
Workers World newspaper
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