Dr Letshwiti B Tutwane
Just a few days back, ‘America’s Dad as CNN’s Don Lemon summed it up was convicted of charges of sexual assault and locked up for a minimum of 3 years. Billy Cosby spent his first night in jail on Wednesday September 25.
This is a man who was the quintessence of family and a sense of black pride in a nation where race defines almost everything. As one of America’s greatest lawyers, himself an African-American Johnnie L. Cochrane Jr once put it, as a Black person growing in America of the 1940s, he needed God to survive. “….and everyone you knew was either Black or Baptist’ (Cochrane, 1996, p.7). His sanctuary was the Little Union Baptist Church in Shreveport (Louisiana) where his father was a Deacon and his mother sang in the choir. Throughout his life the lawyer famed for the phrase, ‘If it doesn’t fit you must acquit’ in the OJ Simpson case argued many cases of racism and brutality against black people across America. It was thus not surprising when Cosby’s publicist tried to put a racial spin to the case. He even compared his client to Jesus, claiming that he was being persecuted. I am not sure about this. What I know is that at least 60 women came forward alleging that he had sexually abused them after he drugged them. However the case of only one woman Andrea Constand was heard in court and earned him this conviction. And indeed he was convicted of drugging Ms Constand and helping himself to her in her dazed state. He was also ordered to pay $25 000 and prosecution costs. Judge Stephen O’Neil of the Montgomery County Court (Pennsylvania) also ruled that the 81 year should be classified as ‘a sexually violent predator’ which would entail him being put on a lifetime register and a mandatory lifelong sex offender counselling with a treatment provider. The community will also be notified to be aware of ‘a sexually violent predator’ in their neighbourhood. How ironic, for a visibly weak old man who had to be helped to get into the prison van.
An employee of Temple University where Cosby was a trustee, Constand said the TV star drugged her and destroyed her life in 2004:
"Bill Cosby took my beautiful, healthy young spirit and crushed it. He robbed me of my health and vitality, my open nature and my trust in myself and others," she wrote in the impact statement which was read in court. Cosby chose not to testify at trail but he had deposed to a statement in 2005 when he and Constand had the matter settled in the civil court. At that time prosecutors are said to have been reluctant to prosecute the case.
However, with new prosecutors and more women coming forward many with very similar experiences the net closed around the former comedian. Most of the women were however closed out by the stature of limitations to press charges against him. Most of the cases related to about 35 years ago. His lawyers are appealing the case though.
For me the most stinging words uttered in the case were from the prosecutor who said:
“For decades, the defendant has been able to hide his true self and hide his crimes using his fame and fortune. He’s hidden behind a character, Dr. Cliff Huxtable (of "The Cosby Show"). It was a seminal character on TV and so was the family, but it was fiction," Steele said. "Now, finally, Bill Cosby has been unmasked, and we have seen the real man as he is headed off to prison."
I reflected on this. This man was a household name. He was a global icon. He dined and wined with the almighty of the earth. He was the role model of all. He had a good reputation but a bad character that he managed to mask for decades. But like I wrote here recently, character is more important than reputation. Cosby started well. But he is not ending well. At his age he should be enjoying his life and singing psalms and hymns as he prepares to meet his maker. He should also be enjoying the laughter and whining of his grandchildren. Not to be shown handcuffed in court and destined to a horrible end.
This reminded me of another story that I read many years ago about Joseph Kabila Sr written in a book by Ernesto Che Guevera. He had travelled all the way from Latin America to help the then Congolese revolutionary to wrestle power from colonialists in the early 1960s. But Kabila was busy enjoying the company of ladies of the night in Kigoma (north western Tanzania) instead of taking up arms against the enemy. Comrade Che had to abandon the mission. A few decades later I read a story about Kabila being whisked away by aides from a press conference in South Africa because he was too drunk to speak. Character! It takes time to build and difficult to change. Old habits die hard.
I remember what Senior Prophet TB Joshua once told me in his office in Lagos 18 years ago. ‘What you do in private matters more than what you do in public. People see me do things in public but do not know what goes into this in private’. In his case he was referring to the sacrifice and discipline of the life of prayer and fasting that has made him what he is today. Our character is our reality. It is like pregnancy. You can only hide it for a little time. Ultimately it will show up. That is why the bible tells us that a good name is more important than an expensive ointment. The good name can only come from a good character. A mask will one day peel off. That is why we must seek help when we are struggling with issues. Nobody is perfect but a wise man is one who seeks counsel. People never succeed alone but they fail alone. How you end is more important than how you began.