Yesterday I was in line waiting to buy a ticket for an event and I heard a man comment about Michael Jackson’s death, saying, “It’s a sad day for America.” Angered at his ignorance, I loudly said to him (so that everyone else could hear me), “Sad day? Children around the world are all now a little safer.” He then agreed with me. This made me wonder what his original comment was all about. Did he really need me to bring down his wall of denial and open his eyes to the truth? Or was his original comment not even truthful, but merely stated because he was parroting what the nincompoops in the national media have been saying about Jackson?
Very few news sources have been speaking of the molestation charges, Jackson’s photo book of naked boys found in his residence, and about Jackson’s disturbing behavior with several young boys. I have become nauseated by the commentators describing Jackson’s “talent and charm”, his legacy and the number of fans who love him. It brought back the emotions that I experienced during Michael Jackson’s 2005 molestation trial when Jackson faced multiple counts of felony lewd acts upon a child.
The charges resulted after a February 2003 documentary, in which a stunned nation watched forty-four year-old Jackson sit on a couch holding the hand of a twelve year-old boy. Although Jackson claimed that he and the boy were just friends, many people who watched the documentary felt that Mr. Jackson and the child had a secret.
Watching the scene unfold on television as the famous pop star was booked and arraigned was surreal. The trial continued for sixty-six days, and each of those days Mr. Jackson arrived at the California courthouse surrounded by supportive family members, an entourage of body-guards, spokespeople, and even a man who held Mr. Jackson’s umbrella for him. I quickly saw the umbrella as a symbol of the many families who give an umbrella of protection to the father, mother, brother, uncle, or grandparent who has violated a child.
Over the course of the trial, it became increasingly difficult to watch Michael Jackson’s screaming fans outside the courthouse showing undying support for their idol. There was also a disturbing lack of support for victims of abuse. At first I thought this was because the media portrayed it that way in order to sensationalize the story, and I was so upset over this that I immediately made plans to drive the three hours to the courthouse.
For me to take such an action at that time of my life meant conquering deep fears. My raced and I felt sick inside as I approached the city of Santa Maria, but then I remembered the words spoken to me by the woman who had sliced my bread a few hours earlier at my local grocery store. When I told her why I was going to Santa Maria, tears welled up in her eyes, she took my hand, gently squeezed it and said “Thank you, and I mean that from a deeply personal level.” I did not know this woman, but I knew exactly what she meant, and suddenly all of my fears were gone. She had helped me remember why I had decided to stand outside the molestation trial of the most famous pop star in the world.
I was enraged that reporters had referred to the fans as “devoted,” “spirited,” and “full of character.” Labeling Jackson fans in such complimentary ways and the daily footage of their screams gave the signal that victims and survivors of abuse are not to be supported or believed, and that an adult sleeping with little boys is acceptable behavior.
When I pulled up to the courthouse with my professionally-made protest sign in the back of my car, I was shocked to see that I was the only person who had brought a sign in support of abuse victims, and I quickly discovered why. As soon as I stepped out of my car, I was harassed by the Jackson fans that outnumbered me fifty to one. They were dressed in their Jackson garb, sporting armbands and umbrellas just like their hero. Their signs read “Innocent!” and “We love you Michael!” My sign had writing on both sides. One side daringly stated, “Parents and Famous People Molest Children Too” and printed on the other said was, “Silence Allows Abuse to Continue.” I was clearly the enemy.
As I approached the front of the courthouse, the crowd immediately tried to intimidate me, and when I ignored them, they hurled personal insults. Others told me, “You don’t belong here.” I struggled with that mentality because it was a child molestation trial, not a Jackson concert.
I avoided an area near the fence that had been self-designated by Jackson fans as their territory. No outsiders were allowed. No one like me would last two minutes in that pit. After an hour of putting up with their snide remarks and vilification, the crowd suddenly took their focus off the television cameras and away from me. They unexpectedly began screaming and running to greet a large black vehicle. Michael Jackson’s SUV was entering the courthouse driveway.
I quickly positioned myself to allow Mr. Jackson to see my sign. I wanted him to know that not everyone was there in support of him. Before I was even aware of what was happening, three Jackson fans (a young man and two women) came up from behind me and shoved my sign down onto the trash cans. I held my sign tightly in my hands but they were holding it with such force that I could not move my arms. This was my warning that these people were not going to allow their icon to see that I opposed his actions. They felt it was their duty to protect him from reality. I now knew why an elderly couple had walked by me earlier and said, “You’re brave.”
I calmly withstood more verbal assaults throughout the day, but the next morning one of Jackson’s faithful followers recognized me while standing in the local drugstore making a purchase and minding my own business. The man with dark sunglasses slowly walked by me and whispered in a threatening tone, “Not guilty, bitch.”
Fear ran through my blood. I did not show it outwardly, but I couldn’t even think straight. I somehow managed to make my purchase and was contemplating on getting in my car and heading back home where I could watch the circus on television from the safety of my own living room, but I knew I could not cater to my fear.
In an act of defiance, I bought some masking tape and a big black felt pen. I went out to my car and changed one word on my sign. One side now read “Denial Allows Abuse to Continue.” I drove to the courthouse with my sign in tow, parked my car, and walked right by the Jackson fans with my sign turned towards them. I had decided that, like my family, I was not going to allow the Jackson fans to beat me. Similar to my abuser and my family, the goal of the Jackson fan brigade was to intimidate me into silence.
These faithful fans have a collective denial system that equals the one shared by many people in this country –the refusal to believe that incest and child sexual abuse can be perpetrated by externally “good” people. Jackson fans want people like me to remain silent, and they use the same tactics as family members who threaten children to keep the family secret, and who ostracize or punish adults who dare to point out the truth.
Fans of stars, and family members of abuse victims, often hang onto absurd explanations for obvious child abuse or inappropriate behavior. They don’t want to believe that their beloved family member, close friend, or adored pop star is capable of harming a child in a sexual way.
By returning to the courthouse that day I shocked the Jackson fans. They thought they had managed to send me home cowering. Instead, I turned my sign deliberately in their direction, and marched right by. I let them know that the new word on my sign, “Denial,” was meant for them. I had not given in, and they knew it because there was no further harassment and I was not even spoken to that day. My act of rebellion was worth twenty therapy sessions for me. I showed them, just like I showed my father, mother, and sisters, that I would not be silenced.
Victims and survivors need to know that it is safe to tell their story and that they will be believed. They do not need to be drowned out by people like those screaming Jackson fans, who are devoid of reality. Michael Jackson’s devotees have no idea what their blind support does to the psyche of those who have been victims of child sexual abuse.