By Mark Chappelle Coston
According to the laws of the land, the accused are innocent until proven guilty. However, certain crimes are so heinous in our society that we instead deem them GUILTY until proven innocent. And if perchance they’re not perceived to be proven “innocent enough,” then in the public eye they remain guilty.
In 2006, a fatal car accident almost lead to serious vehicular manslaughter charges for R&B starlet Brandy Norwood. Though never convicted, Michael Jackson was twice accused of child molestation. Now, in the realm of gospel music, we have a example of narrow escape with gospel singer BeBe Winans. BeBe, born Benjamin Winans, was arrested in March on charges of assaulting his ex-wife Debra in front of their two children during an argument regarding child custody.
HIS SIDE OF THE STORY
Yesterday, BeBe’s representatives released a statement that all charges against the singer had been dismissed with prejudice. “Dismissed with prejudice” means that not only is he cleared of the accusation, but the plaintiff is barred from filing new complaints based on the same event. The statement is as follows:
Gospel singer BeBe Winans has been exonerated of all charges of allegations that he assaulted his ex-wife Debra Winans. Judge Gloria Dumas of the General Sessions Court for Metropolitan Nashville-Davidson County signed an order on Friday, December 4, 2009, dismissing all charges with prejudice. With this order, this domestic matter is over and cannot be reopened.
“This has been a trying year, beginning with the death of my father,” says Winans. “Even though this allegation has affected not just me, but also the entire Winans family, my children and certain aspects of my career, I chose to stay quiet because I knew the truth. To be exonerated of all charges shows the power of trusting in God, and is a wonderful Christmas gift for me and my children.”
On February 13, 2009, the Grammy Award winning singer was accused of allegedly shoving his ex-wife to the ground during an argument. Court filings stated that the alleged altercation was based on custody issues dealing with their two children. Winans was arrested on March 11, 2009 on a misdemeanor domestic assault charge and was briefly held at the Davidson County jail before posting $1000 bond.
During the media frenzy, Winans maintained his innocence all along, choosing to take the high road, never responding to his ex-wife and allowing justice to prevail. The allegations, however, have stirred up a fire inside Winans to begin a persistent effort to fight for the father or the man who may be going through the same struggle. “This situation has made me a changed man,” says Winans. “But it has also helped me see that there needs to be legislation that protects the rights of fathers when it comes to the custody of their children. All men are not deadbeat Dads, all men are not abusing women. And it’s unfortunate that the legal system and society assume the worst before they hear the truth. My children are my first priority and I want and need to become the voice for the men around the world who are doing the RIGHT thing!”
The statement came ironically on the eve of the release of embattled pop star Chris Brown’s album Graffiti, his first since the fallout from physically abusing then-girlfriend Rihanna. It stands to reason that we can gauge by the album’s success the effect a stigmatized offense such as domestic violence against women can have on a man’s celebrity.
Since the arrest, BeBe has maintained his innocence and chosen not to respond to any of his ex-wife’s statements. Instead, he rejoined with his sister CeCe to focus his efforts on the first BeBe & CeCe Winans studio album in 14 years. Despite the cloud of accusations, Still topped the Billboard Gospel charts as well as peaking at #2 on the Billboard R&B charts when it was released in October.
HER SIDE OF THE STORY
In connection with Chris Brown’s altercation with Rihanna, Oprah Winfrey famously took a stand against domestic abuse choosing not to support any man who would abuse a woman. In November, Debra Winans publicly expressed her disappointment with Winfrey for taking exception to her stance on abuse by continuing to have BeBe as a panelist on her talk show’s feature Oprah’s Karaoke Challenge.
Although BeBe was never convicted of the charges against him, the appearance of favoritism and hypocrisy was enough to sway Oprah’s decision. She chose to remove BeBe from Karaoke Challenge until the accusations were resolved.
Recently, Debra gave a candid (but decidedly positive) interview to gospel-singer-turned-journalist Lexi. Though the interview was primarily in support of her self-published book Life Altered Not Over, the interview did not skirt the issue of the alleged abuse. Debra, divorced since 2003 and legally separated since 2001, spoke without acrimony about the courtship, progression, and dissolution of her marriage to BeBe.
According to Debra, the altercation began when BeBe allegedly pushed her to the ground during a heated debate over their children’s custody after which point they both became physical. She also states in the interview that the couple previously had a similar altercation where she was grabbed by the arms and dragged up stairs.
During her interview with Lexi, Debra highlighted that in speaking out publicly about the woes that led to the demise of her marriage, her goal was to minister to and validate the concerns of women in positions similar to hers. Debra also addressed those who believe she only authored her book for financial gain and vindication against her ex-husband. She responded plainly that if she truly wanted to damage her ex-husband’s career, she could have done so years ago.
In the wake of the dismissal of all charges against BeBe, his ex-wife expressed her discontent. According to an exclusive interview granted to BET’s Torrence Glenn, Debra feels that justice was not served and that BeBe had a hand in sabotaging the process.
STUCK IN THE MIDDLE
A jury ruled Michael Jackson not guilty, but cynics still decry him as a pedophile even in death. Brandy Norwood was never even charged with a crime, yet callous naysayers who still nurse the original shock of the tragedy are quick to call her a murderer. Although the court has declared BeBe innocent, his ex-wife still claims foul play. Depending on which party you’re sympathetic to, opinions can vary wildly.
No one can aptly judge guilt but an omniscient God. Yet it’s almost certain that a portion of people (including Winans’ fans) may never release him from even the possibility that he could have abused his ex-wife. If you’ve ever been the victim of abuse or another crime, it becomes all too easy to project past hurts and anger onto an undeserving target.
“Speak and act as those who are going to be judged by the law that gives freedom, because judgment without mercy will be shown to anyone who has not been merciful. Mercy triumphs over judgment!” – James 2:12-13
If we are truly trying to be like Christ, we would actively seek to trade our preconceived notions and biases for even-handed compassion that hopes all things, believes all things, seeks the truth, and keeps no record of wrongs. Sadly, the people of God have been known to make hasty, harsh judgments in the name righteousness.
When we do so, especially to a brother or sister in the kingdom of God, it’s bound to boomerang on us. Some of us may disregard the court’s ruling and from now on feel obligated whenever BeBe’s name is spoken to swear, “Oh no, I can’t support him. Didn’t you hear about what he did to his wife?”
I can’t make a confident judgment call as to whether or not BeBe is innocent. All I know is that whenever one of us chooses to sling mud, we all end up dirty.