Content Warning: The following article contains information that may be disturbing and triggering to survivors of sexual assault.
Tuesday was a lot. It was actually way more than that, but I’m honestly too exhausted by everything that transpired to formulate an intellectual or emotional assessment of the day’s events—so let’s recap:
On Tuesday, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court overturned Bill Cosby’s sexual assault conviction—not based on any presumed innocence, to be clear, but on a prosecutorial technicality. That technicality eerily involved Bruce Castor—an impeachment trial attorney for former president Donald Trump, another person accused of sexual misconduct multiple times. As a result, the 83-year-old actor-comedian was subsequently released from prison after serving two years of a three to ten-year sentence at State Correctional Institution Phoenix in Montgomery County, Pennsylvania.
Castor had said he had a deal with Cosby saying Cosby wouldn’t be charged criminally for the sexual assault claimed by Andrea Constand. Castor said he did so to prevent Cosby from pleading the Fifth Amendment in ongoing civil litigation. The Pennsylvania Supreme Court ruled that charging Cosby for that crime, for which he was later convicted, violated his due-process rights.
In other words: You can’t offer someone protection from criminal prosecution so they’ll testify fully in civil court and then use their testimony to charge them criminally.
Of course, the technicalities didn’t stop Cosby from declaring this a personal victory, parading around the follow-up press conference.
Shortly after his release, Cosby released a personal statement via his official Twitter account, noting, “I have never changed my stance nor my story. I have always maintained my innocence.
Thank you to all my fans, supporters and friends who stood by me through this ordeal. Special thanks to the Pennsylvania Supreme Court for upholding the rule of law.”
To add gross gasoline to an already-gross fire, Cosby’s spokesman Andrew Wyatt said, “It’s a beautiful day, not just for Bill Cosby because this is about all Americans, making sure that they get justice.”
“And you know, this was a fight for justice,” Wyatt continued. “And that’s what I fight for every day—justice and vindication for people done wrong by the judicial system.”
As expected (yet no less exhausting), the decision caused an uproar on social media, with varied and strong opinions on all sides.
At the center of much of it was Cosby’s former TV wife Phylicia Rashad, recently named Dean of Howard University’s College of Fine Arts. Amid the backlash of an initial tweet praising Cosby’s overturned conviction and prison release, and following Rashad’s backtracking statement claiming support for sexual assault survivors, Howard University released a highly anticipated statement, as well:
“Survivors of sexual assault will always be our priority. While Dean Rashad has acknowledged in her follow-up tweet that victims must be heard and believed, her initial tweet lacked sensitivity towards survivors of sexual assault,” the statement read, per Variety. “Personal positions of University leadership do not reflect Howard University’s policies. We will continue to advocate for survivors fully and support their right to be heard. Howard will stand with survivors and challenge systems that would deny them justice. We have full confidence that our faculty and school leadership will live up to this sacred commitment.”
Fellow Black TV/film matriarch Janet Hubert spoke more plainly—and directly against Rashad’s comments, which was much appreciated by many, since she is a peer.
“Phylicia what are you thinking!!! I don’t know you but to say this was terribly wrong. EVERYONE knew what he was doing back then,” Hubert tweeted. “How could you NOT! Get your umbrella sista here comes the shit shower. I am outraged that he has been released. Yes he is an old ass guilty man!”
“I would have said he’s old he’s out and I’m happy for him, but he still…guilty,” Hubert added. “I know 5 women who have not come forward. Enough [y’all] we know better. Powerful men do wrong things, black or white…”
Rashad wasn’t the only person in the entertainment industry who posted grossly insensitive statements on social media, much to the anger and disappointment of fans. Timbaland came under fire for a now-deleted Instagram post seemingly celebrating Cosby’s release and making light of the situation with a “Pudding Pop” joke, referencing Cosby’s previous popular advertising connection with the Jello snack brand. This reignited previous critiques around the music industry’s shitty job at protecting Black women, particularly due to Timbaland’s involvement in Verzuz, which has spotlighted a few alleged abusers. Of course, it must be noted Timbaland has his own reckoning to bear, given his previous comments about Aaliyah. Ice T also received backlash for joking about the matter as well, tweeting that Cosby’s release denoted a “Hot Boy Summer.”
Again…all of this is exhausting (and triggering) as hell.
“Legalities aside, there is a psycho-social-and emotional impact to all of this is often under discussed,” licensed therapist Thea Monyeé said in a statement sent to The Root. “Moments like this shake our collective psyche—and we as communities, families, and individuals are thrown into the complex and tender conversation of the intersection of class, race, gender, sexual violence and accountability. These are issues we run away from. These are topics that elicit deep deep pain.”
Anita Hill, Chair of The Hollywood Commission, released the following statement in a press release sent to The Root:
“The Cosby ruling demonstrates how failures in our criminal justice systems make accountability for sexual assault impossible. Questionable non-prosecution agreements are only one problem. Also troubling is the Pennsylvania Supreme Court’s ruling left open the question of whether evidence provided by five women to show a pattern of abuse was admissible. For decades, victims and survivors have called for reform in the way sexual assault cases are handled by police and prosecutors. But the dire need for improvement to our systems isn’t limited to criminal prosecutions. Sexual assault, harassment and extortion happens in workplaces every day. Systems that ensure accountability for powerful abusers, protect workers and prevent agreements that shield abusers are urgently needed in entertainment and other industries.”
Hill, who became a notable pioneer in sexual assault advocacy when she accused then-U.S. Supreme Court nominee Clarence Thomas of sexual harassment, launched an app in December identifying serial abusers in entertainment.
Me Too, the organization in connection with the movement against sexual abuse and sexual harassment, also released the following statement to The Root:
“Today’s decision is not only triggering for those who have experienced sexual violence and its emotional and physical consequences; it is a miscarriage of what little accountability survivors are afforded by our legal system. While many will use this moment to focus on single, bad actors, this decision to overturn Bill Cosby’s conviction reminds us that we are forced to contend with a flawed criminal-legal system that was created in support of patriarchal standards, with the goal to maintain dominance, power and control.”
“Almost four years ago, the hashtag #MeToo went viral and ignited a global movement that gave rise to a new wave of stories of sexual violence, powered by solidarity, empathy and seeking healing for generations of survivors. We created me too. International to undergird the work of this global movement and interrupt and ultimately end sexual violence. It is within that work that we prioritize the disruption of dominant narratives that will frame the abuser as the victim, and the abused as the villain.
“Our focus has been and will remain on survivors. We stand strong in solidarity with them, center the need for healing for all who are impacted by this news, and reject the damaging and diminishing stories that will emerge from this decision about who the survivors are and what they deserve.”
“The people that suffered the most harm will get the least attention and help,” Monyeé concluded.