Fat Albert first appeared in l967 during one of Bill Cosby’s stand-up comedy routines. The character of Fat Albert was based on Cosby’s tales about the neighborhood where he grew up in North Phillie. He had a distinctive voice; you knew Fat Albert was around because of his distinctive baritone, “Hey Hey Hey.” All the high school kids I taught in West Phillie in the late Sixties greeted each other in the hallways with “Hey, Hey Hey”. You couldn’t go anywhere without hearing his voice.
In 1970, I gave birth to my daughter Heather at Misericordia Hospital in West Phillie. My husband was in law school at Penn at the time and Misericordia served the indigent in West Phillie. The woman in the bed next to mine happened to have grown up with Bill Cosby, or at least she said she did. She entertained those of us on the 6-bed ward with stories about the real Fat Albert and the other kids in the neighborhood. I developed a fondness for Bill Cosby’s ability to bring his neighborhood to life in the animated characters who later became Fat Albert and the Cosby Kids.
I followed Cosby’s career as a favorite son of Philadelphia who had gone to Temple, was interested in education, and had become a very successful celebrity. Decades later, when Heather was a teenager, we watched “The Cosby Show” every Thursday night. In many ways Cosby, as Cliff Huxtable, became a father figure for the nation. America’s dad.
So when he was charged, tried, and then convicted of sexually assaulting Andrea Constand, whose testimony at trial was corroborated by dozens of women who came forward with similar accounts of abuse by Mr. Cosby, at first I couldn’t believe it. How could Bill Cosby, who appeared on screen as a highly moral husband and father be the same monster giving women drugs and then raping them? It was a betrayal of trust not unlike the shock I experienced when the pedophilia scandal by Catholic priests was revealed in the early 1990s. I was devastated.
But I am even more dumbfounded and furious about what occurred last week when Cosby, 83, was released from a maximum-security prison in Pennsylvania after serving only 3 years out of a 3- to-10 year sentence. Apparently, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court, made up of 4 men and 3 women, released Cosby on procedural grounds deciding that Cosby should not have been criminally charged because of an agreement made with him by a previous district attorney. The judges ruled that the district attorney’s decision to not prosecute Cosby in 2005 forced Cosby to testify candidly in his deposition in a civil case. Then the deposition was ultimately used against him in the criminal trial for the rape of Constand. The judges stated that Cosby’s due process rights had been violated.
What about the due process rights of the five other women who had testified during Constand’s trial that they had been drugged and assaulted by Cosby as well? What message does that send to other victims and to other perpetrators? This decision is absolutely devastating for every woman in the world who has experienced sexual assault and who had thought they had witnessed justice served when Andrea Constand had the courage to stand up against this powerful man.
Andrea Constand had been a friend and mentee of Cosby’s through her work at Temple University when Cosby, then 66, gave her pills that immobilized her and raped her. “Bill Cosby took my beautiful, healthy young spirit and crushed it,” she said in her statement to the court. “He robbed me of my health and vitality, my open nature, and my trust in myself and others.”
After hearing of Cosby’s release, Heidi Thomas, who had corroborated Constand’s account and had testified that Mr. Cosby raped her in 1984, told a Denver news channel, “We know he’s guilty, but as far as I’m concerned, as of today, the justices that have made this decision have just enabled a criminal to go without a consequence.”
This miscarriage of justice is one more indication of the cultural misogyny all women experience and the fact that powerful men can get away with anything they want.
The previous district attorney that had given Cosby reassurances that he would not be prosecuted is the same attorney who represented former president Trump in his second impeachment trial. How can these men be repeatedly exonerated for their crimes against women?
Have they no shame?
Thank you for your piece. The only thing I would add or change is the last question, from have “they no shame”, to involve all of us, women and men alike, as having agency to change things. In my mind, it is not about shame, it is more about correcting a wrong. For that to happen, more voices have to be heard, more people have to ask for change, in the right direction, that of naming abuse of power , prosecuting and not cutting deals, protecting the victims and ensuring repair. Thank you.
Thank you for your wise comment. I agree with you.
I was horrified to hear that Cosby had gone free. As much grief as he has caused so many women, he should have stayed in jail in perpetuity. I was also horrified to hear the news reports of his release, with many women shouting in the background when he exited, “We love you, Bill!” As in so many other areas of our lives these days, there is a tremendous gulf in information and understanding about matters of the heart, mind, and body.
This is a very good explanation of a very puzeling decision by a the Pennsylvania Supreme Court. In my experience as a lawyer in numerous cases, judges would try very hard to make a decision that was fair and just, even if a strict, or technical, reading of the applicable law would point to a different result. They would find some way to interpret the law to justify the fair result, even though it might strain logic in the face of the abstract meaning of the law. That did not happen here. I don’t know if the Pennsylvania Supreme Court judges must stand for reelection every so often, as they do in California, but if so, one recourse to prevent these men in robes from doing future injustice to women victims of sexual crimes is to vote them out of office. You know this happened in California to the judge who imposed such a light sentence on the convicted Stanford student rapist. Outraged citizens initiated a recall election and voted him off the bench. It is past time that these men develop a sense of shame about the harm suffered by women from sexual attack.
Your discussion is passionate and on target. Sadly, the answer to your final question is no. Shame is a woman’s burden
Thank you for telling this story and giving voice to horror these women experienced, and the devastation that they feel at his release. I feel devastated too; it is an affront to all women. I am only slightly comforted by the fact that he can never shake the fact that he was convicted by a jury of his peers. Well done, Maureen, not staying silent, speaking out. Thank you.
Indeed indeed Min, it is so sad and depressing to follow this so-called ‘justice’ and also to realize in Cosby’s case it will have been significantly achieved by his wealth. Indeed your piece should, and I hope will be, widely circulated. This travesty should be shouted from the rooftops!
Thank you, Dear Maureen, for stating this so clearly. A vital and vibrant voice for so many of us who were sexually assaulted by men who were never held accountable for their crimes. I would like to see this timely piece in The NY Times!!
They have no shame at all – time and time again. Thanks for this excellent piece, calling them out is so important. Send this to the Huffington Post as well!
Dear Maureen, Well said. These men have no shame. Shame is focused and reserved for the women they abused. Shame for being with these monsters, shame for speaking up, shame for being female.