“Stay woke” were two words that dominated the recently concluded Black Press Week in D.C., where the Black Press celebrated its 191st anniversary by honoring individuals such as former DNC Chair Donna Brazile, Sen. Kamala Harris and Rep. Barbara Lee.
“Stay woke” has been a cry among African Americans which serves to remind the country’s Black community that now isn’t the time to fall asleep as the nation seemingly has reverted to the oppressive ways of the Jim Crow era and Blacks continue to be murdered by police officers.
African Americans have also witnessed the retardation of previous progress because of racist public policies. And anyone who cries “Black Lives Matter” is routinely mocked.
And since President Donald Trump ascended to the White House, the rallying cry that is “Stay Woke” has rightly intensified.
However, African Americans appear to be asleep at the wheel in what’s arguably become the most important criminal trial in decades — at least since O.J. Simpson.
In Norristown, Pennsylvania, where Blacks make up about 36 percent of the population in that city — but Republican Whites in the county account for more than 90 percent of the residents — iconic Black comedian Bill Cosby will stand trial this week for a second time for allegedly drugging and sexually assaulting a woman 14 years ago.
It’s well-documented that African Americans — actors, entrepreneurs and civil rights leaders all included — have deserted Cosby, who broke barriers and opened doors for many. They never took kindly to his message that Blacks could do better — men should pull up their pants and women should stop having babies with guys who are dealing drugs and otherwise will end up in prison, or worse.
“He was airing our dirty laundry and Black people didn’t like that,” said an attorney connected to Cosby.
To better understand the dynamic, another Cosby supporter asked, “How could someone air something that’s already public?”
But, this trial isn’t about Bill Cosby, per se, just as the celebration of Simpson’s not-guilty verdict had little to do with the disgraced former football player.
Simpson had long ago turned in his ” Black card,” but during that tumultuous 1994-1995 period in which Simpson’s ex-wife and friend were brutally murdered and Simpson acquitted, African Americans were being sent to prison at record rates — many guilty, but far too many innocent.
A videotape of the savage beating Los Angeles police had given Rodney King infuriated African Americans. The officers’ subsequent acquittal brought temperatures to a boil.
So when Simpson’s jury said, “Not guilty,” it was reason to celebrate, not the fallen athlete, but the fact that America’s historically unjust justice system had finally been dealt a defeat by a Black man.
In Cosby’s case, the system has again shown itself unjust.
“Stay Woke” comes to mind when, if you’ve sat in the courtroom from jury selection to deadlock last year, you realize just how little a chance a Black man has of successfully defending himself.
Cosby is said to be worth at least $500 million. He can afford the best attorneys to combat the millions of dollars prosecutors are spending to try and send him to prison at 80 years old. However, how many African Americans can afford to defend themselves against what they believe are false charges? Not many.
And it should be noted that Cosby’s deep pockets are offset by the prosecuting county’s $410 million budget, which included a 7 percent increase for the district attorney’s office in 2017.
The Cosby case also has advanced conspiracy theorists. The judge, Steven O’Neill, once ran for district attorney against former Montgomery County D.A. Bruce Castor, who handily defeated O’Neill.
Castor was the original district attorney who investigated criminal charges against Cosby. This is what he said: “[Accuser] Andrea Constand isn’t credible and there’s isn’t enough evidence.”
Castor was repulsed by Cosby’s actions, however, and encouraged Constand to bring a civil suit against the comedian. He advised that Cosby would then be forced to give a deposition.
He also made an agreement with Cosby that if he gave the deposition Cosby would never be prosecuted.
When current D.A. Kevin Steele ran for the office against Castor, Steele campaigned on the promise of prosecuting Cosby. Steele won and just two days before the 12-year statute of limitations expired, he announced charges against Cosby.
The comedian argued that he had an agreement with Castor, who then had to sit before O’Neill and testify to that fact.
O’Neill, still smarting from Castor’s victory over him more than a decade earlier, essentially called Castor a liar and dismissed him.
Constand sued Castor and Castor sued Constand — unprecedented in the annals of American justice. And every single significant ruling by O’Neill has gone against Cosby, who amazingly didn’t put on a defense in his first trial but still some jurors believed in his innocence.
This week, Cosby has asked that O’Neill recuse himself from the case, citing his rulings and a conflict of interest as the judge’s wife has launched protests against Cosby.
During jury selection last year, prosecutors eliminated just about every Black and brown member of the pool. One Black female juror, a former Pittsburgh detective, was rejected by prosecutors after they supposedly discovered that she falsified a time card.
However, prosecutors didn’t relent when it was then revealed that the woman successfully sued the police department after proving she was innocent of falsifying records. Prosecutors still rejected her.
Juror nullification has always been a civil rights issue and even Jesse Jackson expressed concern when reached by the Black Press in 2017.
“The jury may determine the outcome even before coming to court,” Jackson said. “Our history includes the killers of Emmett Till and Medgar Evers, a jury set those killers free. There’s a court bias and African Americans don’t have access to the jury pool [like Whites].”
Further, when Cosby asked for testimony from a key witness, the judge denied the request, calling it hearsay. That witness traveled with Constand before she made her claims against Cosby.
Constand, according to the witness, detailed how she could “set up Bill Cosby” and get money to open a business. After she settled with Cosby in 2006 for $3.5 million, Constand opened a business.
Yes, Cosby isn’t in the good graces of African Americans. But this isn’t about Cosby.
In the #MeToo movement sweeping the nation, White men like Harvey Weinstein still haven’t been arrested. Neither has Bill O’Reilly, Matt Lauer or Ryan Seacrest.
Woody Allen continues to direct movies despite his own son’s criminal sex abuse allegations and despite Allen marrying his onetime stepdaughter.
Filmmaker Roman Polanski violently raped a 13-year-old girl, fled the country and won an Oscar and for decades have maintained the support of the Hollywood community while America elected a president who not only has been accused of sexual assault and harassment, but boasted that his fame allows him to walk up to women and “grab them by their [vagina].”
Cosby cheated on his wife and the penalty from that should come from Camille Cosby and their family, not the U.S. justice system.
It should be noted that Cosby has meant just as much to the civil rights movement as many other who are still alive to remember the struggle.
To skeptics who claim he’s like other Blacks who only deal with the Black Press when he’s in trouble, they need to examine that. In the early 1990s, for instance, Cosby participated in community forums with Washington Informer founder Calvin Rolark and Jesse Jackson.
While on tour before the scandal, he reached out to the Black Press and granted interviews.
He’s given more than $100 million to historically Black colleges and universities and has provided jobs and opportunities for countless African-Americans.
When the Black Press reached Cosby shortly after the scandal broke in 2014, he didn’t ask for special favors.
“I only ask that the Black Press is fair,” Cosby said.
Though his philanthropic and community efforts aren’t enough to curry favor, especially if he really is drugging and violating women, it should stand to reason Cosby deserves the presumption of innocence.
Those allegations have never been proven and if Cosby received a fair trial from this broken system, no jury would convict him, certainly not based on Constand’s claims.
For African-American men around the country who regularly face false accusations, this trial has been a realization that they are in further jeopardy if they’re sleeping through this.
They had better wake up — and stay woke.