The most unfair thing about Bill Cosby’s rape conviction being overturned is not that an admitted rapist is leaving prison.
It’s not that the basis for overturning his conviction included the fact that too many survivors’ voices were heard in court whose stories paralleled plaintiff Andrea Constand’s.
It would be odd to conclude, as Cosby’s lawyers did, that the legal system appears any more fair today than at any point in the long contest between Cosby’s Blackness and his wealth that has played out over decades of allegations by sixty different victims.
Many have believed that the man once considered “America’s dad” was himself the victim of a vast conspiracy because of this country’s vicious legal and extrajudicial pastimes of lynching Black men accused of sexual assault against white women.
On the contrary, Cosby’s exceptional resources allowed him to fend off numerous civil lawsuits. In that context in 2005, future Trump impeachment lawyer Bruce L. Castor promised Cosby immunity in exchange for a deposition that included unrepentant self-incrimination later used in his criminal conviction.
The most unfair thing about this and nearly every case of sexual assault brought to the criminal legal system is that a judge, a jury, or a bench rules over someone else’s consent. No one knows better than Andrea Constand whether they willingly participated in events they call sexual assault.
When Cosby was convicted and sent into America’s grotesque prison system, that system assumed ownership of a truth it could also choose to discard. Republican senators and everyday centrists cited his singular case as a standard against which to judge and disregard other survivors speaking up in the #MeToo moment.
That watershed obviously overran the boundaries of Hollywood. The strength survivors find in each other does not belong to anyone in a black or a white robe. Our bodies and our lives are our own, and it’s our solidarity and struggle that hold the possibility of ending rape.