The troubling context around Tupac’s infamous Red Wings jersey photo

Every once in awhile on social media, I’ll see someone from Detroit post the photo above: Tupac Shakur, whose still-unsolved murder was 20 years ago today, rocking a Detroit Red Wings home-game jersey, spitting into the direction of a camera, and seemingly angry at the world.

It’s one of the more pervading images of the troubled – yes, beneath the legendary discography, the man had his problems, OK? – rapper, right up there with the infamous gold-chain/bathtub photo shoot that Jay-Z references in the “All The Way Up” remix or the inspirational-quote favorite where he looks up toward heaven, fingers pressed together. Detroiters occasionally like to use it as a symbol of pride (the greatest rapper of all time wearing a Detroit shirt!) or as a reflection of the city’s tenacity. The subtext is always fuck you, we’re Detroit.

I’ve always wondered about the story behind this photo. What was he doing here? Why was he spitting at the camera? Where was he? And why a Wings jersey? You've probably wondered, too. So here's why.

The photo was taken on July 5, 1994 outside a courthouse in Manhattan. (Let’s immediately debunk that this photo was taken somewhere in Detroit. And not during hockey season.) Shakur was in the middle of a sexual assault trial, facing charges brought by a 19-year-old woman in November 1993. Per the New York Times:

The case grew out of an encounter between the woman and Mr. Shakur and three other men, including Mr. Fuller, in a hotel room on the 38th floor of the Parker Meridien.


The woman testified that she had had consensual oral sex with Mr. Shakur at a nightclub four days earlier. But in the hotel room, she said, Mr. Shakur wanted to share her with his friends, who forced themselves on her. The defense said that she had made the accusations out of jealousy when she saw Mr. Shakur with another woman.

In her statement in State Supreme Court in Manhattan, the woman said that Mr. Shakur and the three friends "set upon me like animals." Since then she said she has received threatening phone calls, lives in constant fear, has suffered nightmares and, while Mr. Shakur "has been glorified by his peers and fans," she has been viewed as a villain.

However, in December 1994, Shakur was found guilty of assaulting the woman, but acquitted of the sexual acts, including sodomy, he was accused of. (Do keep in mind this was 1994, not 2016 when we’re taking more critical looks at sex-abuse allegations). More from the NYT:

Mr. Shakur and his co-defendant, Charles Fuller, have acknowledged that they had oral sex with the Brooklyn woman — the basis of sodomy charges against them — but insisted that it was consensual.

The mixed verdict, and comments made by members of the nine-woman, three-man State Supreme Court jury, seemed to suggest a compromise by the jurors. The defense did not dispute during the trial that the defendants grasped the woman's buttocks and had oral sex with her. In its verdict, the jury apparently found that one set of acts was a crime, but that the other was not.

"That is the common ground that we could all agree on," said Richard Devitt, a juror.

The jurors would not say if their verdict meant they believed that the woman, 19 years old at the time of the incident, consented to sex with Mr. Shakur and his friends.

Mr. Shakur and Mr. Fuller were convicted of three counts of sexual abuse, and acquitted of two counts of sodomy, one count of attempted sodomy and three counts of criminal weapons possession. The weapons charges dealt with guns found in the hotel room.

Shakur wasn’t in the courtroom for his sentencing, because he was still being treated for gunshot wounds suffered during a November 2004 robbery. (You know this now in 2016 as the one Shakur says Biggie set up. We’ll never know if that was true, obviously.) He’d later serve nine months in prison after being found guilty.

None of this explains why he was wearing a Wings jersey during one of his hearings, but at least we have the context. Shakur’s victim, Ayanna Jackson, would later discuss the incident in 2012 with The Source. Typically, the identities of most victims in sex-abuse cases are kept secret, but Jackson came forward after her name was revealed in court documents after the incident, and well after Shakur’s death.

“Everyone has their motive so I’m not going to say it was about helping the little black girl, but yes the DA wanted to prosecute him,” she reveals. “They wanted everything to be fresh and documented and they had their own reasons for wanting to prosecute him for however they felt about him. Unfortunately, this was the situation. They were able to use it for that. I didn’t notice this until I looked back as an adult.” Jackson doesn’t feel as if law enforcement cared about her as a victim. She believes, for them, it was more about getting him. “I’m sure if this was Joe Blow, he would have been prosecuted. But not to the extreme they went to, they wouldn’t have went this far.”

Reflecting on her experience as a 19-year old, Jackson, now 40, still questions her own responsibility in the matter, having been intimate with ‘Pac before the incident. “I thought about, ‘maybe I shouldn’t have hung out at that club, I shouldn’t have gotten involved,’ [I have] a lot of self blame.I had to keep rehashing over and over and over again for a long time I never had a chance to leave it alone….It never goes away.”

Now you know.

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