Black men and women, it’s time we had the talk.
The #MeToo movement, though useful in so many ways, appears to have taken away the most fundamental constitutional right: the presumption of innocence.
Comments made by Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance Jr. signal that the harm will only worsen. And, history shows that things will get especially worse for Black men — a population that studies show have been falsely accused of rape and sexual assault nearly three times as much as anyone else.
Following the conviction of the movie mogul Harvey Weinstein, Vance said this:
“It’s rape even if there is no physical evidence.”
That’s a powerful statement from a very powerful individual.
Black Men Routinely Face False Accusations
Why Vance’s words could have an impact in the Black community?
Consider a 2017 Michigan State University report, “Race and Wrongful Convictions in the United States.” That comprehensive report revealed that 59 percent of those exonerated of sexual assault are African Americans, four-and-a-half times their proportion in the population.
Based on erroneous convictions, a prisoner serving time for sexual assault is three-and-a-half times as likely to be innocent if he is Black than if he is white.
Because this column could cover a book, we’ll limit this part of the talk to discuss the killing of a mogul: Russell Simmons.
Setting ‘The Record’ Straight
HBO Max has picked up the controversial “On the Record” documentary that featured three women claiming Simmons sexually assaulted them.
The film premiered in January at Sundance.
The decision by the network to pick up the #MeToo-inspired film followed Oprah Winfrey’s exit from the movie as executive producer.
Drew Dixon, Sheri Hines and Sil Lai Abrams are profiled in the film.
Simmons has maintained his innocence.
A 2019 Black Press investigation revealed differences that may have forced Winfrey to back out of the picture and likely should give HBO pause before its planned airing in May.
Simmons already has taken and passed nine lie detector tests administered by the president of the California Polygraph Association, arguably the most respected group in its field.
A series of interviews conducted by The Black Press with several of Simmons’ friends, former acquaintances and employees, and individuals connected to his accusers revealed a common sentiment: Simmons was admittedly “a massively unconscious playboy and by today’s standards a womanizer,” but there’s no evidence that he’s ever resorted to violence.
Some, like actresses Rebecca Gayheart and Rae Dawn Chong, provided candid comments, while others requested to have their names omitted.
Three former Def Jam presidents and other have executives said it was evident that Simmons and Dixon had a consensual relationship.
Kevin Liles, who served as president of Def Jam for more than a decade, said he couldn’t understand how the matter with Dixon was going on or occurred at all because Simmons didn’t have an office in the building and he wasn’t involved in Def Jam daily operations, just Phat Farm.
In December, a former intern of Drew Dixon sent a letter to Winfrey describing her experiences with Dixon.
“While I take no sides in the accusations, I do have an opinion as well as an opposing view with Dixon’s statements,” said the intern, who began working for Dixon when she was just 17.
According to an earlier BuzzFeed interview, Dixon claimed that she always brought someone with her when she went to Simmons’ home.
“I accompanied her on at least 10 occasions to Simmons’ home,” the intern wrote in the letter to Winfrey. “On each occasion, I was made to wait downstairs while she went up alone, or she would take a car service and have the driver take me back to my destination.
“As a young 17-year-old intern, my only wish was to meet Russell Simmons in person as he rarely appeared in the office,” wrote the intern, who did not want her name publicly disclosed. “At no point was I ever personally introduced to him as Drew’s intern. On one occasion, she mentioned that Russell didn’t like having people come with her to his home, and that was why I could not accompany her upstairs to his apartment.
“At no time did she seem apprehensive or afraid about going to his home and was rather very eager to go to his home to showcase a CD or give him a personal update on her projects,” the intern said. “She would also go to his home during the day for work-related issues and later return to the office. At no time did I ever witness her return to the office upset, angry, or with a changed demeanor.”
Model and actress Kara Young said Dixon revealed to her that she approached Tyra Banks, asking to appear on Banks’ talk show because her father and her uncle had raped her, and she wanted to tell her story.
Jayson Jackson, who dated Dixon around the time she claimed Simmons assaulted her, has said his ex would “do anything to be famous or even infamous.”
In fact, when a dispute arose about her expenses after she was fired by Lyor Cohen, Dixon asked Jackson to back up her story. Jackson said he couldn’t do that because he had no knowledge of the alleged harassment or assault.
He also said this about his recollection of his time at Def Jam:
“I never had the impression Russell was running after women in the office. He dated famous models so that he might have raped the A&R director is far-fetched.”
Jackson described Dixon as “astute and very opportunistic.”
Another Def Jam executive said, “Her stars didn’t align in the music business as she had hoped. She got a settlement for expenses owed to her after she left Def Jam, and another private settlement from her next employer, L.A. Reid of La Face Records. She was now capitalizing on her experience in another way.”
Sheri Hines, another of Simmons’ accusers featured in the documentary and a former member of the female rap group Mercedes Ladies, wrote in her 2008 autobiography of the same name that one of the book’s characters, Ron, a prominent hip-hop club owner and manager, raped her.
While she had previously said publicly that she had dedicated the book to Simmons and Grandmaster Flash, she later claimed that the character Ron was based on Simmons.
Hines, who also goes by the pseudonym Sheri Sher, alleged that Simmons forced her to have vaginal intercourse in his New York office in 1983 after running into him at Hotel Diplomat.
However, records indicate that Hotel Diplomat shuttered about five years earlier. In her book, Hines said she met Simmons at a hip-hop show he was promoting at the hotel.
In a statement, rap star Kurtis Blow, said the last promotion at Hotel Diplomat with Simmons as the promoter occurred in August 1979.
Hines has said that Simmons lured her to his office under the guise of offering her a record deal in 1983, but Simmons didn’t have a production deal that allowed him to sign artists until 1985.
Hines also wrote that Simmons’ office was within walking distance of Hotel Diplomat, but records show the Def Jam founder’s office was at least two miles away in upper Manhattan.
Hines claimed to have spent a lot of time with Simmons and Blow and former Mercedes Ladies bandmate D’Bora “Baby Dee” Lippett at the Disco Fever nightclub. Hines said Dee was living with her family at the time, and Blow and Simmons would pick them up in a limousine at Hines’ mother’s house in the Bronx.
Blow and Baby Dee have both refuted those claims.
“I did not travel by limo for several years after that time,” Blow said. “And, by then, I was no longer dating Baby Dee. I don’t recall ever picking up Hines or Baby Dee in a limo.”
Lippett said she was stunned to hear Hines’ allegations against Simmons.
“She seemed to have an obsession with Simmons,” Lippett said. “She would constantly talk about how Simmons liked her and thought she was beautiful. She said when they had sex, Simmons had no staying power.”
Lippett called Hines a “street fighter” who “would have whooped [Simmons’] ass” if he had attempted to assault her.
Sil Lai Abrams
Sil Lai Abrams, another accuser whose story is chronicled in “On the Record,” wrote in her book that she was “in no state to recall the events.”
Carmen Ashurst, a former Def Jam president, said that Abrams confided in her that she had slept with Simmons one afternoon, but he failed to take her out on the town.
In an affidavit, Ashurst said she was “absolutely sure that Abrams, who also has accused former “Extra” host, AJ Calloway and according to her own book which contains numerous contradictions to her story and a story of two other sexual assaults, told her that she was ‘sick of men using her for sex.’”
Abrams had said that before her sexual encounter with Simmons, she had asked to be taken home, but Simmons’ driver, drove her to the mogul’s home against her will.
“To be clear, I have never driven anyone to any location against their will,” Kenneth Lee, who was Simmons’ driver, said in an affidavit.
“If a passenger told me that she or he wanted to go home, I would have taken that person home without exception and regardless of any instruction from Mr. Simmons or anyone else. Mr. Simmons never instructed me to take anyone somewhere against her or his will.”
Abrams has also claimed that Simmons apologized for sexually assaulting her.
Simmons passed a three-hour polygraph test that was specifically about whether he had apologized to Abrams or anyone else for attacking them.
In all, six individuals familiar with Simmons and Abrams’ past relationship swore under oath that Simmons did nothing wrong. An ordained minister said she was threatened by a reporter when she backed Simmons.
“[Abrams] told me that she was mad at Russell because she felt he was using her and never took her out on a date,” the twice ordained minister said.
In her book, Abrams wrote about having “sex with as many celebrities” as she could. Following her alleged encounter with Simmons, Abrams wrote in her book that about the night in question “couldn’t wait to get home to Simmons’ bed.”
Alexia Norton Jones
Jones, whose story is also included in “On the Record,” has told multiple media outlets that Simmons raped her on their “first and only date.”
However, multiple acquaintances of both Simmons and Jones told the Black Press that the pair dated numerous times.
“Their relationship lasted approximately five months,” Kenneth Jennings, who also drove for Simmons, said in an affidavit.
Jones’ father Clarence has steadfastly declined to publicly back his daughter’s account of her relationship with Simmons and has said he was aware of them dating and saw them out on dates.
He did not return several calls seeking comment for this story.
Lumet, who was included in the film after Simmons spoke of her to Winfrey, said that, against her will, Simmons ordered his driver to take her to Simmons’ house, where he sexually assaulted her.
However, Lumet said that Simmons “didn’t punch, kick, drag or threaten” her. She also said the two encountered each other socially many times after the incident.
Simmons has told friends that he feels terrible for Lumet because “she really does believe her own story.”
“And therein lies one of the most important lessons of the #MeToo movement that this important moment begs for more communication and for bridges to be built,” he said.
Believe the Women?
Some of Simmons’ famous friends said the allegations had left them stunned.
“I am one who certainly does ‘Believe the women,’” said actress Rae Dawn Chong, an ex-girlfriend of Simmons.
The phrase, “I believe the women,” was born out of the #MeToo movement because, for so long, female victims of sexual assault and harassment routinely were told that no one would believe them.
“I have a deep affection for my friend, Russell, and I do believe that some of the women believe they were traumatized,” Chong said. “But I believe this is a teaching moment for all involved and an opportunity to heal. One of the things I’ve always liked about Russell is that he’s a person of character and he will give you an answer.”
HBO Max, Minimizing Truth?
A source close to Simmons said neither HBO nor the film’s creators, Dick and Amy Ziering, have indicated that they would use the approximately 30 witnesses Simmons’ camp provided to HBO.
Network officials did not return a request for comment.
Those close to Simmons maintain their belief that Winfrey pulled out of the film after recognizing that there were simply too many holes in the stories of the women.
After Simmons spoke with Winfrey, the source said he breathed a sigh of relief, telling those close to him that he immediately told his daughters that Winfrey would have no choice but to back out.
The source said Simmons was further excited by the Black Press’ investigation into claims against him.
“The bottom line is Russell believes the #MeToo movement is good for his daughters, and the future of all humanity and he’s always supported women’s rights,” the source said. “He’s reflected on all of this, and he understands that feelings are hurt, but he never raped anyone, and he never was violent toward any woman.
“The bottom line is that the evidence against the leads in the stories is so strong that these stories should never have been printed by any credible organizations and certainly should not be relied on as ambassadors for such a powerful movement,” the source said.