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?