City Hall Staying Out of R. Kelly Controversy

"Can't we just go back to listening to people complain about potholes?"
"Can't we just go back to listening to people complain about potholes?"
Photo by Ed Schipul via Flickr

Right now a lot of people in City Hall are probably wishing they'd never heard the name "R. Kelly." After multiple entreaties to the mayor's office, late Tuesday afternoon the Press received an official statement about R&B star and alleged pedophile R. Kelly's upcoming appearance at Free Press Summer Fest in June, perhaps the most-discussed subject on Houston social media since the festival's lineup was announced last week. The message was delivered via email from Janice Evans, Chief Policy Officer and Director of Communications for the Office of Mayor Annise Parker:

This is a privately-produced event. Our concern is that the organizers abide by all the permitting requirements for such an event. Those requirements do not include city approval of the participants. We have nothing to do with booking the performers.

So there you have it. But we also learned more about the meeting that took place Monday night between FPSF founders Omar Afra and Jagi Katial and members of the community who are upset with the decision to book Kelly. Among them were representatives of local nonprofit Girls Rock Camp Houston, who posted the following open letter to FSPF's producers on the GRCH Facebook page Tuesday afternoon:

REWIND: FPSF Taking Some Heat for R. Kelly Booking

Dear Free Press Houston and Pegstar,

Over the last five years Girls Rock Camp Houston, a diy, punk, feminist empowerment camp, has created a safe space for all definitions of girls and young women to succeed in any music-related venture, as well as creative expression. We could not have done this without the continued support of Free Press Houston. From giving us ad space, to promoting our events, featuring our camp in your various media outlets, and providing us with a venue for our final showcase, your unwavering support has never gone unappreciated.

Free Press Houston's local media coverage of organized rallies and protests, exposure of corruption and crimes of sex trafficking, has been an important asset to the Houston community. Your local news coverage and social commentary are a much needed alternative to mainstream publications and local news.

This past week, you released the lineup for Free Press Summer Fest 2015, which includes R. Kelly as a headlining act. A pedophile. Indicted on 21 counts of child pornography. Has filmed video footage of himself engaging in sexual acts with underage girls. Teenage girls he would prey on outside of their gospel choir class at Kenwood Academy in Chicago. Leaving long lasting emotional and psychological trauma, for some resulting in attempted suicide. After dozens of lawsuits, the girls feeling like they could get no justice, settled. The girls of Chicago are the girls of Houston and they matter. They deserve the right to live without fear, violence, intimidation and predatory sexual behavior. R. Kelly should not be able to continue to profit from performances that glorify his persona of sexual predator.

Girls Rock Camp Houston stand together against the scheduled R. Kelly performance at Free Press Summer Fest 2015 and we, the undersigned, call on Free Press Houston and Pegstar to cancel the performance, agree not to reschedule, or work in any way to promote R. Kelly in the future.

Respectfully,

Girls Rock Camp Houston

According to GRCH director Anna Garza, the meeting lasted about three hours and included a reading of the above letter. Afra and Katial "seemed receptive and understood our concerns," she said.

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"Everyone is working towards a resolution," she told the Press. "We continue to hope that Free Press Houston and Pegstar will pull R. Kelly from Summerfest."

Omar Afra agreed with Garza's characterization of the meeting, if not her objective.

"We definitely have a partnership with them and everyone was cool and reasonable," he said via email Tuesday afternoon. "But there is a process we have agreed to go through with them and them us and it will take some time."

Asked to elaborate on this "process," he said, "Hearing each other out more than anything."

You know what that means. Stay tuned...

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