Bill Cosby’s release from prison following the overturning of his conviction came as a kick in the head to a lot of people.
The Pennsylvania Supreme Court’s decision was based on a failure of due process. The district attorney of Montgomery County, where Cosby was to face a civil suit for rape, promised the court that he would not charge Cosby criminally. The civil court took that promise to mean it could lift Cosby’s Fifth Amendment protection against self-incrimination. Facing jail for non-cooperation, Cosby confessed to the rape in a deposition.
But then the district attorney was replaced after an election, and the new district attorney didn’t feel bound by the promises of the outgoing district attorney. He filed criminal charges against Cosby and used Cosby’s civil-suit deposition as evidence in court.
The Supreme Court of Pennsylvania ruled that all this tainted Cosby’s conviction because he was incorrectly denied the use of the Fifth Amendment. The deposition could not be used in evidence in the criminal hearing.
The whole thing leaves the rest of us with a problem. We like to say, “You’re innocent until proven guilty.” But now, Cosby has been found innocent after proven guilty.
There is absolutely no doubt in my mind that he committed rape. The deposition was a clear confession. But the conviction was thrown out anyway. This is hard to take. Hence the expression, “a kick in the head.”
I have thought of alternatives to his immediate release. Couldn’t they have just forgotten where they put the key for another few months?
“I thought you had it.”
“Why would I have it?”
“C’mon, it’s got to be around here somewhere.”
“Has anybody looked under the refrigerator?”
That could have gone on until Christmas.
Bill Cosby was one name on a long list of heroes of mine. As many of you know, or should have guessed, I’ve never been acculturated in the normal ways. I didn’t grow up idolizing sports stars. I didn’t pay much attention to rock stars. I don’t know a single Led Zeppelin song, which I’ve been told is impossible for anyone my age. I never even bought rock albums, not even for the cover art. Instead, I had comedy albums. I followed the work of stand-up comedians in recordings, on TV and on the radio.
Before Cosby got into acting, in “I Spy” and on sitcoms, and selling Jell-O pudding, he was a pretty exceptional stand-up comedian. OK, a sit-down comedian. He always sat on a wooden chair he brought to the stage. My favorite bit he ever did featured the chair prominently. He described driving up James Street here in Seattle in a car with a manual transmission. He leaned back in the chair and put his left leg way up so the audience could see how steep James Street is. It was real.
It wasn’t as funny as George Carlin’s “Seven Words You Can’t Say on TV,” but it was memorable. Now, almost 50 years after Carlin got arrested for doing that bit in public, you can find “Seven Words” on YouTube, but I haven’t been able to find Cosby’s drive up James Street anywhere, online or on tape. I searched again for it today but only found hundreds of news videos of Cosby being led out of prison.
Thinking about the loss of Cosby’s legacy makes me wonder how I would be feeling now if something comparable had happened to, say, Bullwinkle Moose. What if Bullwinkle had betrayed his fans in the same sort of way? How could I, in that event, continue to relish my memories of Bullwinkle’s Poetry Corner, one of the main inspirations for this column? There would be no joy here in my personal Mudville of Life.
I really miss the young Cosby who made me laugh so much. The best thing that could happen for Cosby now is to fade from view.
For me, it’s a lot of mourning. I also can’t bring myself to watch Woody Allen’s movies anymore.
As for Cosby, he’s out of prison, but he’ll never escape the fact that we all know he’s guilty. He wasn’t freed for his sake but for the sake of an amendment to the constitution. At a cost of justice for his victims.
Dr. Wes Browning is a one time math professor who has experienced homelessness several times. He supplied the art for the first cover of Real Change in November of 1994 and has been involved with the organization ever since. This is his weekly column, Adventures in Irony, a dry verbal romp of the absurd. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Read more of the July 7-13, 2021 issue.