Bill Cosby now faces trial on charges that he drugged and sexually assaulted Andrea Constand in 2004. He has been accused by 59 other women of drugging and/or sexually assaulting them. Meanwhile, his allies have been painting a picture of him as a victim of a conspiracy driven by racism. Cosby continues to deny all accusations and has even tried to burnish his reputation by associating himself with the civil rights movement. As one of Cosby’s accusers and a black immigrant Latina, I find this PR strategy reprehensible.
For many years I was afraid to go public. I knew that as a black woman accusing a beloved black celebrity of such heinous conduct, I would come under heavy scrutiny from the black community and expose myself to possible retaliation.
But on May 1, 2015, empowered by dozens of brave women who declared that they were victimized by Cosby, I finally found the courage to publicly accuse “America’s Dad” of drugging me, raping me, and threatening me to keep silent in the early 1990s, during the preparation for my guest-starring role on “The Cosby Show.” The day prior to going public, I filed a police report in Atlantic City, N.J., alleging that it was one of the locations where Cosby had attacked me. In an hours-long videotaped interview conducted by detectives, I told my story about the assault and other abuses I endured.
Later I was disappointed to find out that the prosecutor couldn’t even consider pressing charges, because the incident in Atlantic City occurred just a few months outside of the New Jersey statute of limitations.
There was no recourse for me to seek justice, either in a criminal or civil court. My only option was to offer my voice in advocacy for rape survivors, of all races.
The day after my first public disclosure, Cosby staged his last live performance. I attended a demonstration outside of the venue, carrying pink gladiolus flowers, which are a symbol of peaceful protest in my birth island of Cuba. During the press conference, I quoted Martin Luther King Jr., who once spoke of “carving a tunnel of hope through the dark mountain of disappointment.” Those words helped me survive this extremely difficult period in my life.
Two weeks later, Cosby claimed King’s mantle in a desperate attempt to change the narrative. He donated money to a Selma, Ala., charity and staged a march across the historic Edmund Pettus Bridge, where in 1965 John Lewis of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee and the Rev. Hosea Williams of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference demanded the right to vote. Marchers were met by armed policemen who suffocated them with tear gas and bloodied them with nightsticks. Later, King succeeded in leading thousands of marchers across the bridge to the state capitol in Montgomery, where he gave his famous “How Long, Not Long” speech.
As if it wasn’t bad enough for Cosby to connect himself to anti-racist American heroes, his allies have tried to use our country’s history of racism as a shield.
In a July 2015 CNN interview, when asked whether she had ever seen a case where dozens of people accusing one person “were all making it up,” Cosby’s attorney at the time, Monique Pressley, responded, “Yes, through the decades we have seen what we used to call lynch mobs…That happened often in the ’60s and ’70s in this country.” In a May 2017 Breakfast Club radio statement, Cosby’s daughter Ensa said, “My father has been publicly lynched in the media.” (She also noted that her father was “a civil rights activist.”) Shortly thereafter, in a Sirius XM radio interview, Michael Smerconish asked Cosby if he agreed with his daughter’s claim that he is being racially targeted. Cosby answered, “Could be, could be . . . there are so many tentacles, so many different — nefarious is a great word, and I just truly believe that some of it may very well be that.”
Of the 60 women who’ve accused Cosby of drugging and/or sexual assault, one-third of us are black. The suggestion that we and the media are some kind of lynch mob sullies the memory of real lynching victims, such as Laura Nelson, who in 1911 was raped and then hanged from a suspension bridge alongside her 14-year-old son. Or the pregnant Mary Turner, who in 1918 was also raped during her lynching, and whose 8-month-old fetus was gouged out of her belly and stomped to death by a mob.
How dare Cosby’s allies liken us to white supremacist thugs who targeted and murdered black women, children and men. That’s despicable, and it adds insult to the injury we attest he has already caused us.
No, Bill Cosby, your accusers, who have found the fortitude to go public, are not a lynch mob. We are not “nefarious.” The person I believe you are describing with that word is, in fact, yourself.
I remember the live audience applauding and roaring at the end of “The Cosby Show” episode in which I guest starred, in December of 1991. I remember you glared at me, and I heard you mutter under your breath, “Fooled them again.” Here’s what I took that to mean: That you had duped your adoring fans into believing that you were just like the fictitious character you portrayed on TV: Dr. Cliff Huxtable. That you were the embodiment of wholesomeness. The audience could not possibly have known that you were hiding behind a facade of pontificating morality. Stop telling black kids to pull up their pants, Bill Cosby, and pull up your own.
Lili Bernard is a visual artist and actor who lives in Los Angeles.