Why America Cares More About Race Than Sexual Assault

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By Shannon Lee for The Lily 

On June 5, Bill Cosby’s criminal trial began in Norristown, Pennsylvania.

Dubbed “America’s Favorite Dad” after starring in the popular ‘80s sitcom, “The Cosby Show,” Cosby is now facing time in prison for an alleged sexual assault in 2004.

Americans are having a hard time accepting the idea that a pop culture icon could also be a longtime sexual predator.

In this volatile racial climate, many black Americans are more concerned with Cosby’s right to receive a fair trial, than his victim’s right to receive justice.

Within the black community, conspiracy theorists claim Cosby was targeted after his second bid to purchase NBC, despite its owners confirming the TV network was not for sale. This theory alleges Cosby’s accusers are part of an elaborate plan to destroy his image and career, effectively ending his quest for power in the media.

Though he was charged with sexual assault in the past, and admitted to drugging women using Quaaludes with the intention of having sex with them during a civil case he settled in 2005, Cosby’s supporters maintain his current public scandal is the result of racism.

Cosby’s daughter described his impending trial as a “public lynching,” likening his downfall to a time in American history when black males were stalked and killed by lynch mobs at the slightest hint of sexual impropriety toward a white woman.

In 1955, 14-year-old Emmett Till was viciously murdered for whistling at a white woman while visiting relatives in Money, Mississippi. After his mother demanded an open-casket funeral, photos of Till’s disfigured corpse were published in Jet magazine. Decades later, his accuser revealed her story was fabricated. 

His murderers acquittal by an all-white, all-male jury stirred racial discord that still reverberates across America today. Till’s death brought attention to the history of racial violence that characterized life in the South and underscored the problem of racism in this country.

It is true that America has a disturbing legacy of murdering innocent black men and black boys falsely accused of sexual assault.

While there is a well-earned distrust of the criminal justice system when it comes to fairly prosecuting black males, Cosby’s case bears no resemblance to what happened to Emmett Till. To compare his sexual assault trial to a lynching is irresponsible.

Cosby is a 79-year-old celebrity with a documented history of infidelity and sexual deviance. One-third of his accusers are black. The majority are unable to press charges after exceeding their state’s statute of limitations. Cosby is not facing an all-white jury and, despite his criminal charges, is still being heralded as a comedic legend.

Rape convictions are so rare, there is no reason to waste energy debating how the ethnicity of a rapist could impact their criminal proceeding and whether they will receive a heavier sentence than their white counterparts. The real issue — the fact that no one should be raping anyone, and if they do they deserve to go to jail— is getting lost in the process.

Survivors deserve to have our voices heard, our stories believed, and our pain recognized — without being traumatized by the attitudes of rape apologists. Every time you emphasize the plight of an alleged rapist, you minimize their victims experience of trauma.

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