By Dr. Munyonzwe Hamalengwa
Bill Cosby will be made to pay for Harvey Weinstein’s crimes and O.J. Simpson’s acquittal, 22 years ago. Paying for someone else’s crimes is an American way. Lee Harvey Oswald paid the ultimate price for some else’s crime in the assassination of President John F. Kennedy. The recent disclosed documents couldn’t even answer a simple question directed to the Director of the CIA whether Oswald was an employee of the CIA. Was he a sacrificial lamb? Cosby will be a sacrificial lamb.
Bill Cosby’s second trial for sexual assault comes at a very wrong time for the former great Black American Comedian. The last time he went on trial resulted in a hung jury and therefore a mistrial. Will it be the same result this time around? Or worse?
This article is not a condonation of the commission of the allegations against Bill Cosby. It is about the state of criminal law as it exists, it’s fairness or unfairness against Blacks in America. Study after study in America, Canada and England have shown that criminal law treats Blacks in those countries differently than it treats White folks. It also treats the poor differently. Poor whites are treated better than poor Blacks.
Bill Cosby was not supposed to be charged at all because the charge stemmed from information that resulted from a civil deposition in which he was promised that he will never be prosecuted for being forthright. There is an ancient criminal law principle against self-incrimination. This principle is enshrined in many constitutions. It is also protected in many rules or codes of evidence. In that deposition, Cosby incriminated himself after being promised by the prosecutor that he would never be charged. In the last trial, that same prosecutor testified that he had indeed promised Cosby that he would not be charged on the state of the evidence as it then existed.
A new prosecutor decided to reopen the case when he was campaigning to be elected as a District Attorney. Politics clearly intervened in this as in other cases. The District Attorney was indeed elected and revived the case. This is repugnant practice even if Cosby committed the offence. If it was a White Criminal, he would not have been similarly prosecuted under those circumstances.
The news at the time of the first Cosby trial also touched on the then pending parole hearing of O.J. Simpson. Many commentators linked the possible outcome of the Cosby trial to the acquittal of O.J. Simpson, then 21 years previously. The White man had not yet recovered from the acquittal of an allegedly guilty Black celebrity. Cosby had to pay for O.J’s acquittal. A rich Black man should not be allowed to escape again, even when rich White men get off time after time as persuasively documented by the late right-wing journalist, Dominique Dunne in Vanity Fair. Cosby received a hung jury after all motions for abuse of power and process were dismissed, illegally in my analysis.
Then Harvey Weinstein strikes. This is another very wrong time for Cosby to go on trial in the wake of the Weinstein allegations. Those allegations are eerie similar to the Cosby allegations. Another celebrity who used his power to sexually harass and assault powerless women. What message will this send to women and the world if Cosby is acquitted under the circumstances? As the jury will deliberate, Harvey Weinstein will be on the wall. Cosby has to pay. For Harvey Weinstein’s alleged crimes. For O.J’s acquittal. For Cosby’s allegations. It is triple onslaught.
If the Weinstein allegations did not arise at this time, Cosby had a chance for reasonable doubt even if he committed the offence as charged. With Weinstein as an elephant in the room, reasonable doubt vanishes.
This is the context in which this Cosby criminal trial will take place. And criminal law is as political as law can get, in general and for Blacks in particular. This rich Black man has to pay for the crimes of both a rich White man and for an acquittal of a rich Black man, in circumstances in which a guilty rich White man would not be made to pay. Something’s gotta give.
Dr. Munyonzwe Hamalengwa teaches criminal law in Zambia and has written extensively on the politicization of criminal law and the criminalization of politics.