Editor’s Note: Issac Bailey has been a journalist in South Carolina for two decades and was most recently the primary columnist for The Sun News in Myrtle Beach. He was a 2014 Harvard University Nieman fellow. Follow him on Twitter: @ijbailey. The views expressed are his own.
Issac Bailey: Cosby case mistrial is fitting
He says it shows criminal justice system's failure to deal with sexual assault, highlights Cosby's murky legacy
It’s fitting that the Bill Cosby trial ended in a hung jury, for it illustrates the criminal justice system’s inability to adequately deal with the issue of sexual assault and underscores the murky place Cosby’s legacy will forever find itself.
Cosby will go down in history among other giants of American history who did great and awful things, and there’s no real way to reconcile the light he produced and the evil he is accused of committing.
This isn’t like O.J. Simpson beating a double murder conviction because of a once-in-a-lifetime interplay of race, wealth, law enforcement incompetence and justice system grievances. Black people won’t cheer this decision en masse. Neither will they line up in Cosby’s defense – the way they did for Simpson – when prosecutors retry the case, as they have said they will. That’s ironic, given that Cosby spent much of his adult life truly dedicated to black uplift while Simpson spent most of his trying not to be black.
Cosby made college a possibility for countless students who otherwise couldn’t afford a higher education, a gift that will continue trickling through society in ways that can’t ever be measured. He donated $20 million to Spellman College, $1.3 million to Fisk University and $3 million to the Morehouse School of Medicine. The U.S. National Slavery Museum has benefited from his generosity and largesse, as has St. Frances Academy in Baltimore, and High Point University.
While he has been rightly criticized for his past verbal attacks on poor black people, Cosby did maybe more than anyone in the late 20th century to challenge and change the commonplace negative portrayals of black Americans on TV. He broke barriers, and many others are still benefiting from this as they further their careers. Martin Luther King Jr. changed hearts, spearheaded historic legislation. Cosby challenged minds, reshaped perceptions.
O.J. Simpson wanted nothing to do with the difficult fights to advance racial equality. But Cosby’s career represented a string of advancements. That can’t – and shouldn’t – be forgotten.
But he’s also been accused of raping or otherwise sexually assaulting dozens of women over four decades, and almost none of those women will even get a chance to face-off against him in criminal court. He was facing only one woman in a single trial instead of 50 in 50 trials largely because the architects of the justice system determined long ago that rape victims must pursue justice within a set time frame — that is, a statute of limitations-- something that, depending on the jurisdiction, often doesn’t apply to other serious crimes like murder, treason and kidnapping.
Injustice built upon injustice prevents fair redress – particularly with the kinds of crime alleged in the Cosby case. If he did what he is accused of, drugging women before assaulting them, those very actions make it nearly impossible for the victim to recall events clearly.
Even when alleged sexual assault victims are not drugged, the trauma alone can undermine memory recall for weeks, months or years at a time, if not forever. That’s why many victims don’t come forward immediately; that, along with the shame society showers upon them for not wearing the “right” kind of skirt or not saying no in the “right” way or not being perceptive enough to avoid being alone with someone they had no reason to believe would attack them.
If there ever was a crime that needed to give its victims more time and space to sort themselves out, sexual assault is it. And yet, the system is set up to benefit rapists who drug their victims or cause so much psychic trauma that time limits work against the pursuit of justice.
Everything about this case is awful, including that the few women who came forward about Cosby’s alleged behavior years ago were largely ignored by the public because Cosby was the fatherly pudding pops man and couldn’t have possibly been a sexual predator.
But this is America, where the public outrage generated by horrific crime is often predicated more on who committed the criminal act rather than upon what they did. Let us not fool ourselves, race is a factor. An awful thing done by a man wearing dark skin is often seen as more egregious. This is a country where numerous Americans are crying foul because monuments built to honor white men who raped, robbed and murdered in the brutal system we call slavery might be removed.
The Jefferson Memorial in Washington, D.C. honors a man who had his black slaves brutally beaten and routinely raped a slave girl named Sally Hemings.
How will the country decide to honor Cosby? How should we?