By BARRINGTON M. SALMON
To the surprise of many, comedian, entertainer and actor Bill Cosby walked out of a Pennsylvania prison June 30 after spending three years behind bars for sexual assault, after a jury found him guilty of drugging and sexually assaulting former basketball player Andrea Constand.
Cosby is free because the Pennsylvania Supreme Court overturned his 2018 sexual assault conviction and ordered him released from prison immediately. The judges’ actions revolve around a deal a prosecutor cut in 2005 promising not to charge Cosby based on testimony that he gave in a civil suit brought by Constand. Other district attorneys chose to ignore that agreement and brought criminal charges against Cosby based on that testimonial evidence. Doing that violated Cosby’s due process, the justices said.
The decision triggered a firestorm of anger, disgust, derision, sadness and frustration from Cosby’s victims, members and supporters of the #MeToo movement, women’s rights and other advocates.
Fabienne Sylvia Josaphat-Merritt said news of Cosby’s release produced a muddle of emotions.
“I’ve been thinking about and observing the fallout, and I stand by my original position: disappointment,” said Josaphat-Merritt, a Miami-based writer and poet. “People are using other words. He admitted what he did. It must be horrific that this person is back among them. He abused his power, adulation and fame … I’m extremely frustrated that he walks away on a technicality. He still gets to keep his fortune, his life. I would like to have a conversation with those people who enabled him to do this.”
One woman, who said she was sexually molested by a relative when she was a child, said she feels triggered and conflicted.
“He was our TV dad who always visited Howard University,” she recalled. “I would see him when I was a young student at Howard, and he would shake my hand a certain way and I pulled away because it triggered me. He likes a certain ‘type.’ I knew I was that type, but I knew well enough to leave it alone. I adored him because he told our story. He was inspiration and aspirational. I hoped maybe one day, I would create a show like his and be great at it.”
The woman, who spoke on condition of anonymity and who works in the entertainment industry, said she harbors no doubts about his guilt.
“I really don’t care what other people think and say. I enjoyed his work. But like R. Kelly, whose music I don’t listen to, I haven’t watched anything with Cosby in it in 20 years. That’s sad.”
Journalist and author Stacy Brown, who covered both Cosby trials, applauded the ruling because in his mind, “They broke all the rules.”
“When prosecutors and judges do it, it’s very dangerous, especially for Black men,” said Brown, who has been a working journalist for 25 years. “By any stretch of the imagination, this wasn’t a fair trial. They made the right decision. Going forward, they will hold prosecutors and judges to account.”
Brown said he spoke briefly to Cosby after his release and said the 83-year-old continues to strenuously assert his innocence.
“He still maintains 100% that he didn’t do this, that he’s innocent,” said Brown, a national correspondent for Black Press USA and senior writer for The Washington Informer and the Baltimore Times. “He was pushing that the truth needs to be told, that he was doing a lot of mentoring with Man UP, helping those without the means, money or reputation getting the type of representation they deserve. He plans to go back onstage.”
Brown said once comedian Hannibal Buress joked about the irony of Cosby being “America’s Dad,’ sternly lecture people how to live but being accused of rape and sexual misconduct, that opened the floodgates.
“You had a new district attorney in 2014-15 and there were three or four women who said, ‘he did this to me in the ‘60’s and ‘70’s and (attorney) Gloria Allred invited all the women with any accusations,” he said. “With a $100 million pot, everyone came out. It turns out some of them never had contact with him. I’m not friends with the man or buddy-buddy, but I don’t know if there are incidents involving 60 women.”
Veteran media personality Madelyne Woods said she didn’t expect justice to act in Cosby’s favor, but said she’s satisfied with the outcome.
“This was an act of justice. The prosecutor was overzealous. In fact, it seemed like a personally driven prosecution,” said Woods, who anchored BET Newsbriefs and hosted Video LP. “In my opinion, it was a dirty trial. To take a popular Black person, defame him and to flout procedure isn’t justice served.”
Woods said she is not questioning the women or their integrity and opted not to say if she thought Cosby is guilty of the crimes he’s accused of.
As she has watched the furor, the anger, recriminations and the furious back-and-forth between supporters, Woods said she’s been thinking a good deal about the way men should carry themselves when they are intimate or trying to get intimate with a woman.
“There is a simple lesson here for any man who wants to and has an opportunity to have sex with a woman, especially the clods who try to rationalize criminal behavior by saying ‘She was asking for it’ or ‘she came on to me’ or ‘did you see what she had on?’” Woods said, reflecting her Facebook post. “The lesson is that it’s really easy to avoid a whole lot of legal trouble and personal anguish if you remember that it’s up to YOU to help a woman be what you define as a so called ‘lady,’ even when she doesn’t act like one.
“You can just say no … to yourself. That’s called self-regulation. That’s called integrity. That’s called living right. Learn to self-regulate. And just say no to yourself.”