Perhaps the most highly-publicized sexual assault trial of all time ended yesterday, as Bill Cosby was sentenced to 3 to 10 years in prison. Rightfully, coverage of the case has engulfed the news cycle for the last few days. As I watched the news from a nearby bar after work, my eyes remained fixated on the man on the screen.
He was a frail, elderly man, who seemed to have just had the last bit of wind knocked out of him. He wore chains and handcuffs, leaning on his guide due to his blindness. Though his eyes no longer allow him to see, they allowed us to see an indisputable truth: He was absolutely terrified.
For the first time since the case initially went public years ago, I allowed myself to mourn. This was Cliff Huxtable, who’d pushed culture forward by teaching us lessons in his wholesome, family-oriented sitcom. This was the creator of Fat Albert, who’d allowed black kids from the hood to see themselves on the screen. This was the man who’d authored the Little Bill series, and kicked down door after door for entertainers of color globally. Why did things have to end this way?
Then, I reminded myself: This same man had forced himself upon the unresponsive bodies, and sedated minds of women he’d viewed as his own sexual mannequins. He’d reduced them to flesh. I contemplated the scars left on many women — and a few men — in my family. My sympathy flatlined in about 30 seconds.
As much as the #MeToo era has been defined by the heroism of those willing to come forward and bravely out their attackers, it's also been shaped by the slew of allegations regarding the predatory, lascivious behavior of many powerful men in the entertainment industry, such as Harvey Weinstein — a white man. However, Cosby is notably the first of these celebrities to have been given a sentence that includes hard prison time, inevitably causing many to question how much racial bias was at play while considering his sentencing. But this is no case of heroes eventually dying or horoscopes often lying. This was the day of reckoning for a maniacal man who’d preyed upon women for decades. He earned all of this.
Another popular reason many people oppose this verdict is because the 2004 crime "happened so long ago.” But in July, the uncle of the prime suspect in Tupac Shakur’s murder — who was an eye-witness that fateful night — offered new insight into this crime after 22 years. Would we advocate ignoring this information? Sure, homicide and sexual assault aren’t equivalent. However, both heinous acts change the victim’s life forever.
Survivors of sexual assault relive these violent attacks for the rest of their natural lives. Since the overwhelming majority of their assaulters are friends or relatives, survivors often have to see them on a regular basis. They struggle to stomach the assaulter’s poised smile and platonic touches in public. Survivors often remain silent in fear of their relatives and friends shaming them, not believing them, or — perhaps worst of all — knowing and doing nothing about it.
We would not exert ourselves so hard in the name of black lives lost to police brutality if timing were the most important aspect. We fight for justice. These brave women deserve the same.
Many of the social media users who have made this argument are brothas. Even though I would certainly debate someone down over this in person, I do not fully condemn this opinion. Why? Because I know where it stems from. Successful black men are almost always vilified and torn down by the media (and consequently, white America) as well as law enforcement — especially if they assert their blackness.
Tupac is an appropriate example. The late rapper’s highly-contested sexual assault conviction is often cited as the textbook case of a how an influential black entertainer can be sabotaged at the peak of his power. Michael Jackson’s child molestation accusations — which were not so coincidentally levied against him while he was focusing on domestic social issues as opposed to international — provide further evidence. The bloody 1955 lynching of teenager Emmett Till in Mississippi is ingrained in our minds.
There are reasons to be skeptical, but let’s keep it 100 with ourselves: Cosby is no Emmett Till. Dozens of women have come forward. We can watch almost any clip of Cosby interacting with an attractive young woman, and see how uncomfortable she is. We all have at least one creepy ass relative, who we know to keep an extra eye on during the cookouts. This cannot be reduced to “holding the black man down.”
At first glance, the demise of its biggest living icon may seem detrimental to the black community. But this outcome sets two precedents that can potentially benefit us all: Making work environments safer, and establishing that assaulters cannot hide behind their status.
Thanks to action from members of the influential #MeToo movement, film producer Harvey Weinstein’s career is virtually over. The NBA is currently contemplating the best disciplinary action for Dallas Mavericks owner and Shark Tank judge Mark Cuban, who turned a blind eye to rampant sexual abuse in his organization for decades. These two white men — to differing extents — deserve to serve time as well. Provided the media doesn’t use this as another opportunity to portray black men as hyper sexual and hyper violent, the pressure is on.
Still, it’s easy to see how this outcome can be partially troubling for black women. R. Kelly — whose alleged victims are black — is still a free man. We are left to wonder how things would have unfolded if Cosby had abused only women of color.
Brothas, in the aftermath of this verdict we need to step up for black women. Their lives and safety matter just as much as anyone else’s. Now is not the time to mourn for Cliff Huxtable; Bill Cosby is the man serving time.