Column: At long last, Bill Cosby has been brought to justice
For Bill Cosby, the reckoning was a long time coming. Four years ago, a stand-up comedian joked that America’s favorite dad was a rapist. Women took notice, and began to step out of the shadows. They risked the abuse and scorn that comes with reporting ancient sexual assaults.
But at some point between Cosby’s first assault trial, which ended with a hung jury, and his second, which came after the #MeToo movement caught fire, the culture changed.
Justice finally arrived for Cosby, who inflicted an untold amount of horror on dozens of women over many decades.
On Thursday, the disgraced — and disgraceful — comedian was convicted by a Pennsylvania jury of three felony counts of aggravated indecent assault. Now 80, Cosby could receive 30 years in prison for his crimes.
I hope he goes straight to jail; it’s the only place he is fit to be.
After years of qualification and hesitation, we can say that in 2004, Cosby drugged and sexually assaulted Andrea Constand, who worked for the women’s basketball team at Temple University in Philadelphia, where he was a trustee and major booster.
We can say he used his lofty perch as America’s most beloved father figure to abuse women.
We can say that Cosby, who has denied assaulting anyone, is a liar and a convicted sex criminal.
At long last, Bill Cosby is getting what he deserves.
Cosby’s conviction does not represent a victory just for Constand and the five other women who testified against him during this second criminal trial.
Nor does it represent a triumph just for the 62 women who have publicly accused him of drugging and assaulting them on the pretext of helping their careers.
It is, perhaps most important, an undeniable victory for the whole #MeToo movement and a message to powerful men who harass and abuse women: Your time is up.
“I feel like my faith in humanity is restored,” said Lili Bernard, a Cosby accuser who was in the courtroom but did not testify.
After the verdict was read, TV cameras caught Bernard as she burst out of the room. She bent over, weeping almost convulsively, comforted by women at her side. Bernard said she was drugged and assaulted by Cosby in the early 1990s when she was hired as a guest star on the final season of “The Cosby Show.”
Moments later, she stood before reporters on the courthouse steps. She alluded to a famous quote often attributed to Martin Luther King Jr.: “The arc of history is long, but it bends toward justice.”
“I thank that jury so much for positioning themselves on the right side of history,” Bernard said.
So should we all.
We also need to thank Constand and the other courageous women who testified against Cosby: the model Janice Dickinson, Janice Baker-Kinney, Heidi Thomas, Chelan Lasha and Lise-Lotte Lublin, all of whom said that Cosby either gave them alcohol that was spiked or pills before assaulting them.
But there is another, unlikely hero in this story, Hannibal Buress, the African American comedian who, however unwittingly, was instrumental in breathing life back into old rumors about Cosby’s behavior.
In October 2014 — three years before the exposés about Hollywood predator Harvey Weinstein ignited the #MeToo movement — Buress riffed about the way Cosby patronizes other African Americans.
“Bill Cosby has the ... smuggest old black man persona that I hate,” Buress said. “He gets on TV: ‘Pull your pants up, black people, I was on TV in the ’80s! I can talk down to you because I had a successful sitcom!’ Yeah, but you rape women, Bill Cosby, so turn the crazy down a couple notches.”
It’s not even clear why Buress’ “joke” prompted outrage, but it did. Suddenly, women of all ages from all over the country were stepping forward to allege grotesque crimes committed by Cosby, who for so many years had been able to hide behind his well-crafted image as a wisecracking paterfamilias and Jell-O Pudding Pops pitchman.
By summer 2015, 35 women who had accused Cosby of sexual assault appeared on the cover of New York magazine. They were, the magazine said, “an unwelcome sisterhood.”
It was a social milestone and an important breach in the immunity conferred by fame on powerful men like Cosby. Later, so many more would get caught up in the #MeToo movement: Weinstein, Roger Ailes, Bill O’Reilly, Charlie Rose, Matt Lauer, Mark Halperin, Kevin Spacey, James Toback, Brett Ratner, Russell Simmons, plus assorted politicians, tech and media executives and others.
“When all is said and done,” said Gloria Allred, who has represented 33 of Cosby’s accusers, “women were finally believed. I am the happiest I have been about any court decision in 42 years.”
So how did Cosby react?
He was arrogant to the end.
In court, he didn’t change expression much when the verdict was read, according to reporters who were present. But when the prosecutor, Kevin Steele, asked the judge to revoke Cosby’s bail, saying he owned a plane and was therefore a flight risk, Cosby exploded.
“He doesn’t have a plane, you asshole!” Cosby said in a booming voice.
The comedian did not address reporters as he left the court. Instead, his defense attorney, Thomas Mesereau, gave a brief statement.
“We are very disappointed by the verdict,” Mesereau said. “We don’t think Mr. Cosby is guilty of anything, and the fight is not over.”
In defending his client, Mesereau dredged up the worst sorts of stereotypes about women who accuse famous men of assault. He called them names. He impugned their motives.
Constand was “a con artist,” Mesereau said. “We’ll prove it.” He said she was after “money, money and lots more money.”
The jury didn’t buy it.
As Steele had already told them during his opening argument, Cosby had paid Constand nearly $3.4 million to settle a civil lawsuit against him.
Why would Cosby pay that kind of money to someone who was lying?
“This toxic chain of silence has been broken,” said Baker-Kinney, as she stood with other Cosby victims in front of the courthouse.
And justice, so elusive for those abused by powerful men, has prevailed.
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