Real Discussion Doesn’t Start With A Cover-UpFree Access


“Brown has seemed to overcome early issues that caused him to be a lightning rod for controversy.

In 2009, Brown assaulted then girlfriend and fellow R&B star Rihanna. He was eventually sentenced to 180 days of community service and five years of supervised probation. The two ultimately reconciled and released remixes of each other’s songs via Twitter, and Brown was featured on a song on her album Unapologetic.

In 2013, Brown was charged with assaulting a man outside a Washington, D.C. hotel which was a violation of his probation that resulted in him serving 100 days in jail in 2014.”

Those are the lines for which Ronnie Sidney II would presume to apologize: a mere mention of a dramatic series of events that, right or wrong, have entirely shaped the image that many have of Chris Brown. In order to respond to this, I must first acknowledge that Mr. Sidney is not alone in his belief that this newspaper has treated Mr. Brown unfairly.

The only interaction I have ever knowingly had with Chris Brown’s father occurred one day more than ten years ago, when he stormed into the newspaper office, bellowed almost incoherently about the paper printing mean stories about his son, and then just as quickly slammed back out. Others in the office had to tell me who he was. To this day, I have never actually met the man.

And yes, that is the same father whose abuse of Chris Brown’s mother has been so dramatically described – the same father whose abusive behavior we can apparently freely discuss without regard to his feelings on the subject.

CORRECTION: It has been brought to my attention that this is incorrect. It was Chris’s stepfather who allegedly abused his mother and NOT his father. It was truly not my intention to disparage anyone here, and certainly not my intention to lay false accusations of abuse on anyone. My own experience with the elder Mr. Brown was that he was simply a father defending his son and I apologize for any other impression I may have created with my confusion of the facts. 

Until the article about plans to honor Chris Brown locally was released in early February, that incident with a barely coherent father defending his son was the only indication I had that there was any controversy surrounding the newspaper’s treatment of Mr. Brown. Since the release of that article, I have heard from a handful of people and read the comments of others on Facebook, who feel that the newspaper has been unfair, inconsiderate, or outright mean to Mr. Brown.

To be frank, I have been surprised. The idea that a newspaper should withhold mention of news is constantly surprising to me.

Let me be clear: this is not the high school yearbook, nor is it a fan club newsletter. This is the newspaper of record for two counties, one of which happens to be the place from whence Chris Brown hails. Every single one of Mr. Brown’s scrapes with the law are absolutely news here and this paper would be remiss in not giving them full and complete coverage. As many in this community can attest, the Rappahannock Times has a long history of publishing news items that some folks, even some of our own families and friends, would have preferred we not air. We don’t plan on backing away from that policy for Chris Brown or anyone else.

I am unapologetically definitive on this issue. Every article – every word – ever run by this newspaper about Mr. Brown was not only jus- tified, but necessary to fulfilling our role in this community. We have not reported anything that was not public record, nor have we created tabloid-style hype surrounding any of the unfortunate incidents in which Mr. Brown has been involved.

That said, our role here is to cover the entire story, and we must acknowledge there are times when we fall short of that. Have we reported on every record-setting album sale or Grammy win? No, in honesty we have not. Did we cover Mr. Brown’s documentary? No. Ticket sales for his European concert tour? No. Have we made any serious attempt to reach out to Mr. Brown and air his side of any story? I don’t believe we have.

The fact is, we have been remiss in not fully covering the positive aspects of Mr. Brown, his career, and his relationships inside and outside of this community. Mr. Brown is and always will be a son of Tappahannock, and all his accomplishments are news in this community. I could write a very long book explaining the limitations and complications of running an underfunded, weekly newspaper. Instead, I will just acknowledge our faults and tell you we are constantly working on improving.

And that brings us to the heart of the matter: our faults. All our faults.

For those who are quick to dismiss Chris Brown and the idea of the community honoring him due to the incident with Rihanna or his legal troubles more broadly, I get it. I do. But if we’re honest we all must admit that it is much easier to hold animosity towards the behaviors of those artists we are not already inclined to support.

James Brown. Glen Campbell. Eminem. Flavor Flav. Tommy Lee. Frank Sinatra. John Lennon. Ringo Starr. Ted Nugent. Michael Jackson. Lou Rawls. Axl Rose. Slash. Yanni. Miles Davis. Chuck Berry. Ozzy Osbourne. R. Kelly. Wilson Pickett … The list of musical artists who have been accused of violent behavior is extensive. Expand the parameters to include actors, writers, visual artists, film producers, sports figures, and politicians, and I could fill columns of this paper for weeks with their names.

This is not to say that any of their acts of violence are unimportant or at all acceptable. But we do need to have an honest dialogue about our ability to separate these acts from the work of those whose work we admire. Let’s be real, some of the same people disparaging the idea of honoring Chris Brown would gladly honor someone else with criminal accusations if it were convenient or if they admired that individual’s work.

Do you doubt me? Consider that in the relatively recent history of this country we have had popular Presidents elected from both parties, both credibly accused of sexual violence.

If we are going to assert that we want to have an honest conversation about all of this, let’s at least be honest about it. Absolutely no one is suggesting that Mr. Brown be honored for beating up Rihanna. The suggestion is to acknowledge and honor his accomplishments as a performer, of which there are many. And you know that when the discussion is about someone whose work you admire, you are perfectly capable of separating the work from the failings of the man (or woman), so why are we not giving the same grace to Chris Brown and his fans?

The fact is that abuse and violence are far too common in our society. There is no doubt that we want to send a very clear message that these behaviors are totally unacceptable. The problem is that some of you want to take the easy way out by asserting that the people committing the behaviors are unacceptable themselves

Consider for a moment: if all we have to offer an individual who commits violence is a lifetime of judgment and rejection regardless of future behavior, why would anyone stop being violent at all?

Those of you expressing concern about what message we send when we honor someone’s work and talents despite their failings, might take a moment to consider what message we send when we refuse to do so.

According to the CDC, 1 in 4 women and 1 in 7 men will experience physical violence by their intimate partner at some point during their lifetimes. About 1 in 3 women and nearly 1 in 6 men experience some form of sexual violence during their lifetimes. These are harsh statistics, and our hearts naturally go out to the victims. But the reality is that it is not only the victims who are our sons and daughters, brothers and sisters, neighbors and friends.

Has Chris Brown truly come to terms with his past and taken full responsibility for his actions, as Mr. Sidney suggests? Perhaps only Mr. Brown can truly answer this question, but the rest of us can make observations based on his behavior. If it is surprising to some that Mr. Brown’s legal troubles still get play in the media and public conversations, it should be at least equally surprising that Mr. Brown and his fans remain so eager to quash any mention of it. One would think that more than a decade on, someone taking full responsibility for his actions would have reached an understanding of how shocking and polarizing those actions were and an acceptance that they will continue to be a source of discussion.

Taking full responsibility is not embodied by trying to control the narrative, justifying bad behavior by suggesting that noncelebrities do the same out of the spotlight, or expecting that the rest of us tiptoe around the facts in order to avoid hurting sensitive feelings.

These are serious conversations we could be having as a community – conversations about violence, pain, shame and anger, love and forgiveness, art and admiration, and the role that racial animus, social status and celebrity play in skewing all these considerations. Our immediate reactions may be simple, but the issues themselves are not. They are worthy of deep reflection and open dialogue. Instead, our time is being wasted arguing over whether we are justified in even acknowledging the simplest of facts.

If Mr. Brown and his supporters would like to move forward, as they assert, they would be wise to stop engaging in the same defensive posturing about whether we are entitled to have the discussion and let us get on with that discussion. As any therapist knows, you can’t get past it without going through it. Like it or not, we all need to go through this together.

In closing, I would simply point out that, as I have personally told Mr. Sidney in the past, he does not have the authority to apologize for anything printed in this newspaper. In fact, he does not have the authority to apologize for the words or actions of anyone other than himself. We have chosen to give him the respect of publishing his letter just as he sent it. It would be nice if he gave us the respect of not continuing to assert authority he does not have.

Erin Kelley

Owner, Rappahannock Times

One response to “Real Discussion Doesn’t Start With A Cover-Up”

  1. Jessica Davis says:

    Dear Editor,
    I am a survivor of domestic violence and reached out to Mr. Sidney for help. I find it presumptuous that Mr. Sidney claims clinical knowledge of the Brown case. There is no evidence to suggest that he directly worked with the Brown family in that capacity. It was my experience that Mr. Sidney does overreach at the expense of marginalized groups, especially women. In my case, Mr.Sidney’s actions left me with a hefty bill and ultimately he enabled my partner, an addict. Forgiveness is a Godly attribute, but enabling abuse is a crime. Why not consider making a day to honor true heroes in our community who still live here and give back? I invite Mr.Sidney to read Jerrell Golden’s Transparency to learn more about what true redemption and living a Godly life means. This book is available in our public library

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *