Saturday, 2 January 2010
Documents contained in Michael Jackson’s FBI file show that the LAPD tried to prosecute the star under the same legislation used in the past to smear black luminaries such as Jack Johnson and Chuck Berry.
Records show that the LAPD contacted the FBI on 7th September 1993 to ask whether the bureau would assist in the prosecution of Michael Jackson under the Mann Act.
The Mann Act, also known as the ‘White Slavery Act’, was introduced in 1910. Allowing officers to make arrests on the vague premise of ‘immoral behaviour’, the law was frequently used to smear black men, particularly those who consorted with white women.
Jack Johnson, the world’s first black Heavyweight Boxing Champion, was the first person to be prosecuted under the act. In fact, Geoffrey C Ward writes in his book ‘Unforgivable Blackness’ that the potential to smear Johnson had been one of the primary motivating factors behind the introduction of the law.
Johnson was viewed by the press and the establishment as a black man who didn’t know his place. Not only was Johnson a black world champion more than 50 years before segregation was lifted, but he flaunted his success in a society which demanded that he be humble. He wore expensive clothes and jewellery and invested his money in a fleet of luxurious automobiles, a hobby for which he was repeatedly punished by white policemen who issued him with undeserved speeding tickets.
But what riled the establishment more than anything was that Johnson consorted with white women. Johnson was often accompanied on his travels by prostitutes, but so were the majority of his white contemporaries.
In 1913 Johnson was prosecuted under the Mann Act for ‘transporting a female across the state line for immoral purposes’. None of his white contemporaries who also travelled with prostitutes were arrested or charged with similar crimes.
Johnson’s alleged victims had travelled with him willingly and admitted it under oath. Moreover, the trips in question had taken place long before the Mann Act was even introduced. However, an all white jury convicted him regardless.
Years later the Mann Act was also used to sabotage the career of black musician Chuck Berry.
In 1959 Berry met a 14 year old waitress in El Paso and asked her to work as a hat-check girl in his restaurant. The girl agreed and he drove her from El Paso to St Louis on his way back from a concert.
On this flimsy premise Berry was arrested for ‘transporting an underage girl for immoral purposes’. He was convicted under the Mann Act and sentenced to three years in prison.
In the same year Berry’s white copycat Elvis Presley began openly dating Priscilla Beaulieu, a 14 year old girl. Furthermore, Scotty Moore’s biography of Presley asserts that prior to his involvement with Beaulieu, the star had been dating an even younger girl.
Ergo, in 1913 the Mann Act was used to convict a black boxer whose only ‘crime’ was to indulge in the same behaviour as his white conemporaries. Later, In 1959, the Mann Act was used to prosecute a black musician for giving a job to an underage girl, while his white contemporary repeatedly slept with underage girls and went unpunished.
The Mann Act is an inherently racist law. Whilst it has not been used solely to prosecute African-Americans, the potential imprisonment of Jack Johnson was a primary motivating factor behind its introduction and since then it has been repeatedly used to convict black men of crimes that they didn’t commit.
That Jackson was also targeted under the Mann Act is certainly intriguing and only strengthens the argument that he was targeted by a malicious prosecution on account of his race. In a way, it shows that little has changed since the days of Jack Johnson. The United States Attorney’s decision not to prosecute Jackson under the Mann Act could be seen as a sign of progress, but the LAPD’s decision to pursue Jackson in the first place – given the sheer abundance of evidence suggesting his innocence – remains disturbing.
That Jackson wasn’t railroaded once he entered the courtroom is another indicator of progress. Of course, that the 2003 allegations against Jackson even made it into a courtroom was proof in itself that Jackson was given a bum rap – the allegations were nonsensical and his accusers were proven con artists – but while Johnson was found guilty of crimes that he patently did not commit, Jackson’s jury at least made the right decision.
In Jackson’s case it was only the media which tarred him as guilty.