If you’ve been paying attention, you know that due to a legal technicality, Bill Cosby will be released from prison today. I could speak about the way the technicalities work and the fact that basically the wealthy get one kind of justice and the poor do not, though not as eloquently as others. There have been plenty of poor people who were convicted that did not have the access to premier legal counsel that would look for technical mistakes in the same way. Poor people almost never have the means or ability to get out of rushed sentencing. Due to their poverty, they’re forced to take bad plea deals or compelled to admit to crimes they might not have committed. Bill Cosby wasn’t one of those people.
Discussing rape and sexual abuse in America is beyond difficult. Rape victims are encouraged to submit to a rape kit, but the backlog on processing them is immense—delaying justice, sometimes to the point of making the effort worthless. We also have a tendency to idolize our celebrities as though they are not human beings who can do terrible things. Bill Cosby used the system to free himself. I spent last night reminding myself of how an image can betray reality, and what that says about sexual abuse.
I have spoken here, frequently and often, about my early work with RAINN, the Rape, Abuse, and Incest National Network. There was something I found truly compelling about the organization’s work. Part of it came from a religious retreat I attended as a high school senior where a young woman disclosed to me what happened to her during the prior school year, how she had not yet recovered from it, and that she was ashamed of what had happened. The boy in question was a school hero, she thought: How could she ever say anything or do anything? Even her own parents had asked her if she had encouraged it, or brought it upon herself.
That moment blew me away. It still does. Driving to my college campus, I listened to Tori Amos’ album Little Earthquakes, and “Me And A Gun” began to play:
So I’ll just change direction
‘Cause they’ll soon know where I live
And I want to live
Got a full tank and some chips
It was me and a gun
And a man on my back
And I sang, “Holy holy”
As he buttoned down his pants
You can laugh, it’s kind of funny
The things you think at times like these
Like I haven’t seen Barbados
So I must get out of thisYes, I wore a slinky red thing
Does that mean I should spread
For you, your friends
Father, Mister Ed?
I grew up in a household where my parents were not huge comedy fans. We were big book readers, and Star Trek fans. We watched miniseries. But The Cosby Show was still a Thursday night ritual and Bill Cosby: Himself was a set my dad could quote line by line.
Cosby’s earlier works, from his Go Carts bit to his “Chicken Heart” song, and so many others, were things I grew up with, just like watching Fat Albert on Saturday mornings. It was my childhood. I could laugh out loud at a good joke.
As I watched Cosby’s release from prison, however, I didn’t find myself thinking about the humor of “Chicken Heart,” or what the Cos might do next. So many wealthy criminals have found themselves gaining redemption after such events. Well, they sought forgiveness, so we should just give it to them! I can’t.
I can understand the Pennsylvania court ruling and the terrible deal struck that put the judges in that position. I can still rant at the fact that a rapist is on the street.
He chose his own outcome. He must live with the responsibilities. There will be no redemption, no joy, no jokes. There is no love from the fans to welcome him back. He chose to lead his life as a rapist rather than a role model.
The victims of his crimes should know that even if he isn’t in prison, he isn’t welcomed back. Future victims of future rapists need our support in helping to build up a better system that supports them. People charged with crimes they are actually not guilty of? They are the ones who need the defense that Bill Cosby had available.
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