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OPINION

Black America deserves justice. Bill Cosby’s release from prison isn’t it.

A powerful man escaping accountability doesn’t help Black people ensnared in an unjust legal system — or encourage sexual assault survivors to speak out.

Bill Cosby outside his home in Elkins Park, Pa., on Wednesday, after he was released from prison. Pennsylvania's highest court overturned his sex assault conviction because it said an agreement with a previous prosecutor prevented Cosby from being charged in the case.
Bill Cosby outside his home in Elkins Park, Pa., on Wednesday, after he was released from prison. Pennsylvania's highest court overturned his sex assault conviction because it said an agreement with a previous prosecutor prevented Cosby from being charged in the case.Matt Slocum/Associated Press

Bill Cosby is not a victim. By his own admission, he purchased drugs to give to young women with whom he wanted to have sex. He is not a martyr crucified by a racist system.

Cosby’s release from prison is not “justice for Black America.”

That’s what Andrew Wyatt, Cosby’s spokesman, called it when the comedian walked free Wednesday after serving less than three years of a three-to-10-year sentence for sexual assault. His conviction was vacated after the Pennsylvania Supreme Court ruled prosecutors violated his right to due process during his 2018 trial.

“This is what we’ve been fighting for,” Wyatt said in a statement. “This is justice, and justice for Black America.” Wyatt ignored the fact that the ruling did not exonerate Cosby for sexually assaulting Andrea Constand in 2004.

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Both Wyatt and Cosby disregard the multiple Black women among the more than 60 women who’ve accused Cosby of drugging and raping them. Tarana Burke, founder of the Me Too movement, tweeted the names of the Black women and added, “Try to keep them in mind when you’re screaming #BlackLivesMatter.”

When Cosby was convicted in 2018, his publicist compared him to Emmett Till, a 14-year-old Chicago boy lynched in 1955 by two white men after he was falsely accused of whistling at a white woman in Mississippi.

Adding thoughtless insult to grievous injury, Cosby shows his disdain not only for sexual assault survivors but for the same Black America he spent years criticizing in speeches promoting respectability politics as he willfully ignored systemic racism as a blight on generations of Black people.

Of course, these facts can’t compete with celebrity adulation or an insidious tendency to disbelieve sexual assault survivors, especially women. Even before Cosby returned to his Pennsylvania estate, his supporters were applauding his release, which came weeks after he was denied parole partly for his refusal to attend and complete a treatment program for sex offenders and violence prevention.

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“FINALLY!!!! A terrible wrong is being righted — a miscarriage of justice is corrected!” tweeted Phylicia Rashad, who co-starred on “The Cosby Show.” Disgusting, yes. But hardly surprising coming from Rashad, who once said, “Forget these women.” Instead, she fretted over damage to Cosby’s legacy when accusers began to speak out after Hannibal Buress, a comedian, talked about the Cosby allegations during a 2014 performance.

Hours of backlash ensued. Rashad tried to backtrack, perhaps recognizing that for the incoming dean of Howard University’s fine arts college, cheering an admitted sexual predator’s release from prison is a bad look. “I fully support survivors of sexual assault coming forward,” she tweeted. “My post was in no way intended to be insensitive to their truth.”

Rashad never rescinded her support for Cosby.

In a since-deleted tweet, Ice-T, the rapper and actor, wrote, “Oh [expletive] Bill Cosby might be touching back down on the bricks. . . . Hot Boy Summer!” On Instagram, Timbaland, the music producer, posted a photo from a Jello Pudding Pops ad featuring Cosby. He added the caption, “Who wants a jello pudding pop I’m home now,” adorned with several smile and raised hands emojis.

In a statement, Constand called the court’s ruling “not only disappointing but of concern because it may discourage those who seek justice for sexual assault in the criminal justice system from reporting or participating in the prosecution of the assailant.”

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That’s of little concern to Team Cosby, which is probably planning the comedian’s return. I doubt Cosby will be viewed as radioactive, and I wouldn’t be surprised if negotiations are already underway for his first big interview, a stand-up tour, or another TV deal for the man once known as “America’s dad.” Network executives recognize that hate-watching is great for ratings.

For a road map on how such a comeback works, look no further than Mike Tyson.

Today, the former boxer is probably best known for his role as a former boxer who warbled the Phil Collins classic “In the Air Tonight,” punched out Zach Galifianakis, and played his menacing persona for laughs in the 2009 comedy “The Hangover.” He’s also been a pitchman for Mike’s Hard Lemonade Seltzer and had a one-man Broadway show, “Mike Tyson: Undisputed Truth,” which later became an HBO documentary directed by Spike Lee.

Yet all I see is an unrepentant rapist. And that’s what Bill Cosby is.

What Cosby’s spokesman called “vindication” equals justice only for rape culture apologists and those blinded by the glare of celebrity. This ruling will disincentivize sexual assault survivors to speak out and won’t move the needle for Black people ensnared in a racially unjust legal system.

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Call this travesty what it is — another wealthy, powerful man escaping full accountability at women’s expense.


Renée Graham can be reached at renee.graham@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @reneeygraham.