Point of View Columns

Bill Cosby is not Emmett Till

The end of 2015 presented the sad and pathetic spectacle of Bill Cosby doing the Montgomery County, Pennsylvania version of the “perp walk” as the first criminal charges for sexual misconduct were formally filed against him. This comes after half a hundred women have publicly alleged all manner of sexual transgressions have been committed by this formerly iconic public figure. And now the real controversy begins.

Given the legal reality that Mr. Cosby is innocent until proven guilty – beyond a reasonable doubt – there is certainly no direct path to prison being paved especially for him. And given the very real and deep psychological factors at work in female and male victims of sexual assault, it should be understood that the timelines for such victims to come forward to confront their attackers can be fundamentally different from that of a victim of say, robbery or assault.

Of course this is the United States of America, a country founded on the institution of race-based slavery. We live in a country that is still shackled to its racist past and there is no post-racist present. And, because Bill Cosby is an American of African descent, there is no way that racial factors will not be a part of the narrative that is now being played out in real time.

And as this narrative plays out questions are being asked and assertions are being made in various precincts in the national black community to the effect that Mr. Cosby is being treated unfairly because he is black. Here are a few of these/questions assertions with some suggested responses/observations:

1. Bill Cosby is a victim – he is only being prosecuted because the “system” is choosing to bring down yet another prominent black man. While the American system of justice is undoubtedly unfair to black Americans far too often –witness the crime within a crime of mass incarceration and racially disproportionate sentencing – that is not the problem here. Before the issue of race, the issue of class should be examined. Bill Cosby is a very wealthy and very prominent man. These kinds of charges are rarely brought against members of this class. But a brief survey of America’s prisons will reveal more than a few members of this class charged with all manner of criminal conduct, most of them white, who are wearing orange jumpsuits for long periods of time.

2. If he were white these charges never would have been brought. As noted, there are white millionaires in prison who would strenuously disagree. Since Bill Cosby is black there is a reflex response in the national black community that something unfair must be going on – but the virtual blizzard of accusations certainly warrant examination by the criminal justice system – then very subjective discretion comes into play – as it does in all criminal cases.

3. The charges against Bill Cosby are so old they are calcified, therefore it is unfair to prosecute him. There are entire libraries full of books and articles describing the various responses of victims of sexual crimes. There are no standards in the world of these victims. Their allegations may never be proven – but to diminish them because of time factors is simply ignorant.

What is important about this l’affaire Cosby is that because it is viewed through the lens of the reality of race and law in America, defenders of Bill Cosby may be erroneously putting him in the category of the many thousands of black Americans who are unjustly accused, overcharged and over sentenced virtually every day of every year.

Simply put, unlike Emmett Till or Eric Garner or Tamir Rice or Geronimo Pratt, Bill Cosby should not be the symbol of racial injustice. To do so tarnishes the painful legacies of Till, Garner, Rice, Pratt and so many others – so many others who deserve better than Bill Cosby as their avatar.


8 thoughts on “Bill Cosby is not Emmett Till

  1. Azana says:

    To exclude Mr. Cosby because of his social status and wealth from other maligned Africans is just as bad .. White supremacy does not exclude Wealthy Africans .., it’s important that we don’t fall into the trap of being biased against each other based on some arbitrary criteria, such as wealth ..

  2. Not all of Cosby’s accusers are victims. Most of them knew exactly what they were doing: trading sexual favors for a break in show biz. Those who were not drugged – I exclude those who drugged themselves – took a calculated risk that in most cases did not pay off. Now they want to cry foul. Cosby himself is a dirtbag whom I have detested for 40+ years, but the opportunists who are making these accusations harm those who were the REAL victims.

  3. Thank you so much for this post. I’ve been saddened to hear that many in the African-American community excuse Cosby for the reasons you’ve outlined above. But doing so really does tarnish the legacies of those who have truly suffered from racial injustice.

    Why are we so quick to dismiss the allegations of so many women (or even a few women)? Why is accepting a drink from someone you trust mean you “asked for it”? And even if some women took a few pills willingly (not actually knowing what the effect would be), is it ever ok to have sex with someone when they’re unconscious? It dismays me that anyone would regard that act with anything other than revulsion.

    I found the article in New York magazine that interviewed Cosby’s accusers to be very revealing – if you’d still label them all as opportunists after reading it I’m at a loss. http://nymag.com/thecut/2015/07/bill-cosbys-accusers-speak-out.html#

  4. Eugene Pursoo says:

    Wallace, thanks again for your courage to take on these controversial issues – they are important to us as a community. Naturally, we cannot ignore the history of racial injustice and the current race-based atrocities that continue to affect our lives. In this particular case, I find it striking that the pattern of sex exploitation described by so many of the alleged victims across the length and breath of the country coincides so accurately. Indeed, the allegations warrant legal investigation. At the same time, we ought to be vigilant to take a stand against any outcome of the proceedings that may be race-based.

  5. Hello All, I appreciate all of your comments, opinions, insights and perspectives. Professor, I find this article quite interesting given it is titled “Cosby is not Emmett Till,” definitely some irony involved in this sarcasm, maybe.

    Personally, I feel that Cosby is guilty of something. Maybe not all, maybe not most… He’s obviously guilty of something, some of the things most of the women (famous, non-famous, accomplished, and those still or former playboy girls) are saying they personally experienced with him. Is the media crucifying the man, even going overboard? Yes… and No. You mention a few great points, some I didn’t even consider.

    1) Public iconic figure
    2) Victims confronting their attacker and Issue of statute of limitations on such crimes ,
    3) Socioeconomic status
    4) The race card

    I must say, that I am a stern believer in “to whom much is given much is expected.” I do agree with your premise in regards to the statute of limitation. These events occurred so long ago, they are one hundred percent calcified. However, sexual crimes are psychologically rooted in your brain, to the point that no one knows how long it takes to heal, overcome, even forgive…(unless you were a child around within the age group of 1 – 6, according Susan Clancy, author of the Trauma Myth). The effects of such crimes can last literally a lifetime.

    Unfortunately, Cosby is, (excuse me) “was” a mogul… the media is literally beating him down for his mistakes, wrongdoing, even, flaws. I mean, personally, it seems the man had and has a problem. Was he above the law then? If so… what about now? Would he admit his wrongdoing… I think every time I’ve heard him speak in response to the allegations against him, were “I did not do…” Realistically, if he does admit to the said things… I’m curious what the penalties would be… some sort of class action law suit or something… I doubt he’d do jail time. It appears to me that the victims want some sort of apology. If Hollywood or the inner – outter workings of entertainment knew this man had such problems, why disgrace him after all these years, when he could’ve been ‘outed’ a long time back. Some say it has to do with his alleged takeover of NBC.

    Majority of African Americans in my age group that I speak to, think he’s innocent. And, “the white man” is once again targeting a good black man. They say things like “white people don’t want black people to have anything, good role models, even a network.” I think some of those claims are a bit much, even ludicrous. it’s as if, being black is supposed to mean, “ride or die with your famous or most accomplished black fellow even if they are wrong, look past it… because his success is my success. It’s sorta like a ‘group think’ complex. Should your race, trump rape or sexual misconduct?
    The legal reality of “guilty until proven” in America is a reality for most middle-upper class white Americans, and of course prominent Americans, excluding Cosby. Cosby has guilty written all over him according to the media… of what exactly… drugging women who were supposed to take a pill willingly and act impromptu as a drunk loose woman… or I guess slipping women date rape drugs to take advantage of them not knowingly. I’m not saying this was okay by the way… im just saying this is what I think he is being crucified for.

    The truth is America’s Dad has fallen from grace. And, a part of me can understand why, all of these women are popping up out of the wood work. Think about, who the hell would believe you, if you said “Bill Cosby did XYZ to you” at the time it occurred?” I think many people then who listened, didn’t want to…the found it hard to believe. However, if this NBC takeover is or was true… I could see how all of these women would come forward now. If he built his career being a narcissist, above the law, drugging as many women possible… while indulging in the perks of his success, why should his legacy be created with half of the truth available to America. Why not tell all, especially now, especially if there is no better time or place to shame him.

    Sometimes in life…. people rally behind you. They support you because of how great you are, how successful you are, how wealthy you are, how much potential you have.. Basically because they figure that you can do something for them… and in this particular scenario… Some folks knew this was coming… Hell, if Cosby was not ignorant, he would’ve knew this would one day come to the surface… He couldn’t possibly expect all of this to be swept under the rug because he was Bill or Dr. Hugstable. I mean he is no Bill Clinton, right? Who was guilty of I guess infidelity… Although, according to him, “he did not have sexual relations with that woman.” I must say Ms. Cosby is one heck of a strong woman to stand by that man at this point, better or worst, in sickness and good health.

    Do I think Cosby is a victim of race-based or motivated interests, of course. This does not mean he’s innocent… Nor should it be a platform for him to claim whether or not he did not do what he is being accused of. Apologize already, publicly at that… I’m sure he wishes he could hide beneath a rock somewhere and disappear… after all these years, it’s a

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