Last Sunday I said I would find time to write about Al Jarreau in the coming week, but a few days ago Jeff Giles told me to put my ode to the seven-time Grammy winner on hold for now. That’s because he has something special in the works that will involve several of Popdose’s writers.
Unfortunately for Jeff, I have a problem with authority, so I now present my exclusive interview with Al Jarreau in its entirety:
Me: So were you, like, a huge Moonlighting fan back in the ’80s? I know I was!
Al: I’m embarrassed to say this, but I think I only saw it once. I kept forgetting when it was on. Was it Thursdays?
Me: This interview is over.
Full disclosure: the preceding interview took place in my imagination. But did you see how I totally stormed out of the imaginary hotel suite where I was interviewing Mr. Jarreau? He never knew what hit him.
And now the third part of my epic yammer about my recent trip to Ocala, Florida, for the tax protest trial of actor Wesley Snipes. For those just tuning in, the trip was my birthday gift to my lawyer/friend Dave-o, who loves attending trials in his spare time. We had front-row seats next to the jury box, but we got in trouble with the judge when we yelled “Always bet on black!” right as the jury foreman was about to hand over the verdict. C’mon, who doesn’t enjoy a humorous reference to Snipes’s catchphrase from Passenger 57? The Honorable Sourpuss McCrankypants, that’s who.
Snipes and his lawyers didn’t want his trial to take place in Ocala. Last November attorney Robert Bernhoft filed a motion stating that the small town, located 90 miles north of Tampa, is a “hotbed of Klan activity” and that the prosecution chose a setting “with the best possibility of an all-white southern jury.” The defense’s bid to move the trial to New York, where racism doesn’t exist, was rejected.
Ocala is in Marion County, which is adjacent to Lake County, where one of Snipes’s codefendants, Eddie Ray Kahn, had offices for a couple of his tax protest organizations. The second codefendant, accountant Douglas Rosile, had an office in Venice, Florida. Snipes himself was born in Orlando and owns a home in the area, but he grew up in the Bronx. Kahn and Rosile were convicted on felony charges of tax fraud and conspiracy, while Snipes was found guilty on three misdemeanor charges for not filing tax returns from 1999 to 2001; he faces up to three years behind bars. Sentencing for the three men is scheduled for April 24, according to thesnipestrial.com.
In Chris Nashawaty’s article about Snipes in the December 21, 2007, issue of Entertainment Weekly, Snipes said, “People think I’m Nino Brown [the drug lord he played in New Jack City] or Blade. They think I’m an evil dude.” (Never mind that Blade is essentially a good vampire who kills bad vampires. He’s just lacking in the area of people skills.) When Nashawaty asked who “they” are, Snipes responded, “People in positions of authority and who control mass media.”
Oh, so “they” are racists who could’ve used their influence to convince the citizens of Ocala that Snipes was guilty of not paying his taxes for six years. “They” may also be responsible for the “systematic racism” Snipes mentioned in Entertainment Weekly in regard to his lawsuit against the makers of Blade: Trinity. Nashawaty writes, “Snipes says that the reason the IRS is targeting him has nothing to do with money at all, but rather his fame — that his arrest would be a high-profile trophy to deter others from claiming similar refunds.”
Wait, so now the trial didn’t have anything to do with race? It was about fame? Make up your mind, Wesley! Or have your legal team do it for you.
There are documented cases of all-white juries convicting innocent black men, so Snipes’s fears certainly weren’t unfounded (if he is in fact innocent). There were also plenty of black men who were lynched back in the late 19th century and early 20th century by all-white mobs for crimes they didn’t commit, although I’m guessing tax fraud wasn’t high on the list of alleged offenses.
Back in 2002 I watched an HBO documentary called O.J.: A Study in Black and White, in which the 1995 verdict of the O.J. Simpson murder trial and the response to the verdict were discussed. University of Southern California critical studies professor Todd Boyd explained why black people jumped up and down when they heard the verdict, as opposed to white people who were shocked into silence: in essence — I’m paraphrasing here — “For every black man who’s been killed or thrown in jail for something he didn’t do, you didn’t get this one.”
But as Chris Rock said in his 1996 HBO stand-up special Bring the Pain, “That shit wasn’t about race. That shit was about fame. ‘Cause if O.J. wasn’t famous he’d be in jail right now. If O.J. drove a bus he wouldn’t even be ‘O.J.’ — he’d be Orenthal the bus-driving murderer.” As for complaints that the predominantly black jury was “stupid” to let Simpson off, Rock said, “White people would’ve done the exact same shit, okay? The exact same shit. ‘Cause if that was Jerry Seinfeld charged with double murder, and the only person that found the glove just happened to be in the Nation of Islam, Jerry’d be a free man.” Fame was probably on Wesley Snipes’s side last month in Ocala, even if no one on the jury could identify anything he’s done in the past decade except for the Blade movies. (Trust me — Dave-o and I played Trivial Pursuit: Celebrity Defendant Edition with them during lunch breaks and they were completely clueless.)
Speaking of fame, Snipes’s lawyers interviewed more than 60 potential character witnesses, including Demolition Man costar Sylvester Stallone, White Men Can’t Jump costar and longtime friend Woody Harrelson, and filmmaker Spike Lee, who directed Snipes in Mo’ Better Blues and Jungle Fever. Lee wants the actor to portray James Brown in a biopic he’s developing, which would certainly be a better showcase for Snipes’s talents than the straight-to-DVD movies he’s been making recently.
No witnesses were called to the stand, however. “We chose not to call witnesses because there was no need to. The government prosecutors have put on a case that simply does not come close to meeting the standard of its burden of proof,” said attorney Daniel Meachum. Fair enough, but Dave-o and I are star whores, and we wanted to get a glimpse of some celebrities other than Snipes. We even bought extra disposable cameras. I got a good shot of Judge McCrankypants in full “furrowed brow” mode, but you can probably guess how he reacted when the flash went off.
Dave-o and I won’t be making a return trip to Florida for Snipes’s sentencing in April, but I do think Dave-o had a good time in Ocala during his birthday week. I also think the people of Ocala got a bad rap from attorney Robert Bernhoft. Dave-o and I invited ourselves into these people’s homes for supper almost every evening, and when they talked about the celebrity who was in town because he hadn’t paid his taxes, they politely whispered the term “colored gentleman” instead of saying it at a normal volume. In my book, that’s progress.
Just kidding, people of Ocala! I’ve never been to your town, but I am a white southerner, so I’m empathetic to knee-jerk charges of racism along the lines of “The way you’re eating that sandwich sure looks prejudiced.” Hell, everyone’s prejudiced in one way or another. That’s one of the things that makes us human. (Flawed, of course, but still human.) Everyone pays taxes too. Or at least everyone should. That’s one of the things that keeps us out of prison.
To celebrate the conclusion of this three-part legal thriller, here are some songs from a few of Wesley Snipes’s films from the early ’90s, when the future seemed a lot brighter.
The Venice Beach Boys, “Just a Closer Walk With Thee” (from the White Men Can’t Jump soundtrack)