In the moments after the Bill Cosby verdict, Colorlines asked six Black feminists to tell us how they felt about it. Here’s what Tarana Burke, Aishah Shahidah Simmons, Jamilah Lemieux, Salamishah Tillet, Ayana Byrd and Monifa Bandele shared.
This afternoon (April 26) a Pennsylvania jury convicted comedian Bill Cosby of three counts of aggravated indecent assault against Andrea Constand, a former Temple University employee. Each charge for Cosby’s drugging and molesting of Constand in 2004 carries a sentence of up to 10 years in prison. The first Constand trial ended in a mistrial a year ago, after 50 hours of jury deliberation. In this month’s 14-day retrial, five additional accusers were allowed to testify against the star. In recent years, about 60 accusers have come forward with allegations against the ”Cosby Show” star. Some date back to the 1960s and many detail Cosby drugging them via a contaminated drink or pills and then raping or molesting them as they went in and out of consciousness. Others accuse the now-80-year-old of trying to drug them or groping them. The statute of limitations has expired for most of the alleged incidents. Cosby is the first major Hollywood figure to face criminal conviction for sexual assault since the #MeToo movement hit critical mass last year. While the hot takes stack up across the media landscape, we asked a range of Black feminist writers and activists to tell us how they feel about the verdict. Here’s what they shared:
Tarana Burke, #MeToo Movement founder:
“This feels like a victory for survivors to some degree. It feels like we might be entering a new reality where folks can come forward and be seen and heard and believed and actually see some recourse. Seeing these women running out of the courtroom overcome with emotion was heartwrenching. I hope they sleep well tonight knowing that their voices and stories and bodies matter.”
“As an incest and adult rape survivor, I’m elated that Bill Cosby was found guilty of sexual assault. I also know that prison sentencing will not eradicate rape culture, nor does it equate accountability and transformative justice. In an ideal world, Cosby should be required to be in daily counseling with a Black feminist licensed clinical psychologist who specializes in sexual trauma. I also believe he should be required to listen to the testimonies of not only Andrea Constand, but his other victims/survivors. I am unwavering that Cosby should donate a significant amount of his remaining resources to organizations that have a demonstrated track record of working to end sexual violence in holistic ways that emphasize community accountability, restorative justice and transformative justice. Finally, there isn’t any doubt in my mind that Bill Cosby sexually assaulted multiple women over a span of decades. Similar to all of the individuals and institutions that looked the other way for decades while [USA gymnastics doctor] Larry Nassar committed sexual harm against children, I also believe there are at least a few, if not many, individuals and institutions who knew about the violence Cosby committed against women. We have to move beyond solely focusing on the person who commits the sexual harm because they often do not operate in a vacuum. It’s important to hold Cosby (and Nassar) accountable. But we must also hold individual and institutional silent bystanders accountable. If we do not, sexual violence will continue to permeate our society.”
Jamilah Lemieux, writer, cultural critic and vice president of programming for CASSIUSlife.com:
“I’ll admit that I was caught off guard by today’s ruling, due in part to the fact that I haven’t been watching this trial closely and also because I don’t typically expect that justice will be served to the victims of powerful predators. As people continue to struggle with the vast difference between Bill Cosby and his carefully constructed public image, I hope that they come to recognize the importance of holding abusers accountable in a way that can shift culture. There are plenty of talented Black men who are not predators, we needn’t cling to those who are in order to have ‘representation.’ As far as Mr. Cosby himself, he can rot in prison and then hell, in that order.”
Dr. Salamishah Tillet, A Long Walk Home co-founder:
“I’ve followed the Bill Cosby case since it originally surfaced in 2005 with interest, concern and compassion for Andrea Constand. Back then, it was unforeseeable that Cosby would ever be held accountable for his actions in either the court of law or public opinion. How times have changed! In this era of #MeToo, I hope this marks a turning point for survivors of sexual violence, most of whom have learned to suffer in silence with little hope for redress or redemption. I also hope this signals a shift in public consciousness in our understanding of rape, its lifelong toll on its victims, and our will to end this epidemic by any and all means.”
Ayana Byrd, author and editor:
“When I first heard the stories about Bill Cosby, I believed them. It is always my inclination to believe women who come forward about being sexually assaulted. Sexual crimes have been committed against me and against other women that I know and we have never come forward, because it is terrifying. So when I see that a woman will speak up, will name her accuser and will detail the crimes, I know she is working against her silencing terror. While I believed the women who came forward against Bill Cosby, I did not think that he would be convicted in a courtroom. I thought too many people could imagine that only a monster would be capable of doing this to the vast number of women he is accused of attacking, not a rich man who had been making us laugh for over half a century. But the #MeToo Movement has forced more people to accept that someone like Cosby does not have to be a monster to commit these crimes. He has to be a sexual predator. I worry that the face of the imprisoned post-#MeToo male celebrity will be a Black one as Harvey Weinstein walks free. But that worry is secondary for me. I am mainly relieved—a shocked kind of relieved—that after all of these years, all of these women can know someone believed that he could do what he did. I am hopeful that it can help another woman to push through her fear to tell her story.”
Monifa Bandele, MomsRising senior vice president and The Movement for Black Lives activist:
“May our daughters grow up in a new era where sexual assault isn’t a mainstay and privileged abusers are held accountable. We must create that world and we start now.”
From Colorlines: News for Action.