Letter from a member of the Revolution Tour

Thoughts on the Controversy Over Bill Cosby's Release

| revcom.us


After serving three years of a 3–10 year sentence, Bill Cosby was released from prison after the Pennsylvania Supreme Court ruled that he had been denied a fair trial and overturned his 2018 conviction for aggravated indecent assault against Andrea Constand. They held that the prosecution violated Bill Cosby’s 5th Amendment right against self-incrimination by using statements that he made in a 2005 civil trial. These statements included testimony about how in the 1970s he had obtained quaaludes (sedative drugs) in order to give them to women who he wanted to have sex with, and actually gave the drug to at least one woman. Cosby had given these statements based on the promise from the DA at the time that he would not be criminally prosecuted. In fact, removing the possibility of criminal prosecution made it impossible for Cosby to invoke the 5th Amendment in the civil case and forced him to testify. The PA Supreme Court described the use of this testimony in the 2018 criminal trial as a “coercive bait and switch” by the prosecution. The court also ruled that, because of the DA’s original promise, Cosby cannot be criminally prosecuted again.

Whether or not the prosecutor should’ve made this promise to Bill Cosby in the civil case, the court was reaffirming a basic and longstanding standard of due process. The Court did not rule on whether Cosby is guilty of the accusations made by Constand, or any of the other women who’ve accused him of sexual assault.

This ruling, and Cosby’s release from prison, has provoked widespread controversy. A New York Times op-ed by law professor Barbara McQuade upholds the Court decision, arguing that “Due process matters, even for monstrous crimes,” and that, “In our criminal justice system, even righteous ends cannot justify unconstitutional means.” Others have argued that in order to deal with the epidemic of sexual assault, due process should essentially be thrown out. One commenter wrote: “Fifty women accuse a man of rape and our biggest concern is that he gets due process. We have a couple hundred thousand rapes a year in the United States, only a vanishingly small fraction of them result in prosecution and only a fraction of those in conviction. I don’t think men not getting due process in these cases is our problem.” All over social media people are debating Cosby’s guilt or innocence, but all-too-often this takes the form of knee-jerk and subjective reactions, picking and choosing “facts” (or just making shit up) that conform to what people suspect, or want to be true—rather than starting with a presumption of innocence, and doing a rigorous scientific analysis of the full scope of the evidence and whether it’s sufficient to prove guilt beyond a reasonable doubt.

This case, and the controversy around it, concentrate so much about what’s really required to end the oppression of women and other outrages of this oppressive system, and what kind of standards and process are needed to get to the truth and have a just society. These are critical questions that Bob Avakian has written on extensively and profoundly, and I encourage everyone to read his new article: “I’m So Sick of this Whole ‘Identity Politics’and ‘Woke’ Thing, REVOLUTION AND EMANCIPATION—NOT PETTY REFORM AND REVENGE: On Movements, Principles, Methods, Means and Ends.”

Here are some of the key issues involved in the Cosby case and controversy:

  • What is the importance of due process? Bob Avakian writes:

    It has to be said—and cannot be overstated—that, in the world today, there can be no just society without the rule of law; there can be no rule of law without due process of law; and there can be no due process of law without the presumption of innocence (and that presumption of innocence must be real—and not a farce, as it is in this society). That is why so much emphasis is given to these principles in the new communism, including specifically the Constitution for the New Socialist Republic in North America, which I have authored.

  • Some people insist that the fact that so many women have made similar accusations against Bill Cosby means he must be guilty. Bob Avakian writes:

    as an important article at revcom.us has emphasized:

    It is a very real phenomenon, and an egregious outrage, that many women who are raped and sexually assaulted are then intimidated, or otherwise prevented, from coming forward or from pursuing this. And this needs to be resolutely opposed and fought against.

    But again,

    as outrageous as this is, as much as it is an additional assault on these women and on women overall, that is not the same thing as saying, and should not lead to an approach that says, that every accusation of rape or sexual assault is automatically (or almost certainly) true—nor even that if there are many people making similar accusations, then those accusations are therefore true (there have been more than a few instances where multiple accusations against a person have proven to be false). What is true has to be determined by a scientific approach, relying on evidence and the correct analysis and synthesis of what the evidence as a whole indicates. Accusations are a kind of evidence—as are denials of those accusations—but in and of themselves they do not constitute a sufficient basis to draw definite conclusions.

  • Over 50 women have accused Bill Cosby of sexual assault. But only one, Andrea Constand, went to trial. In some cases this was because prosecutors decided there wasn’t enough evidence to bring criminal charges. In many other cases it was because the statute of limitations (the deadline on when people can file a criminal complaint) had already expired. Some have argued that, since it is often very hard for victims of sexual assault to come forward seeking justice, that there should not be a statute of limitations on this. Bob Avakian has argued for the need to:

    create the kind of atmosphere in society overall and in different institutions and parts of society, that make it much more difficult for rape and sexual assault to be carried out, and that encourage and support women in resisting this and in coming forward to raise this and seek justice when it does happen...

  • At the same time, the article “Bob Avakian on the Law, Justice, and Ending Oppression and Exploitation” includes this provocative statement about the importance of the statute of limitations:

    The point of the statute of limitations is not to set a time limit after which people can “get away with having committed a crime.” Rather, it is that, after a certain period of time, it becomes increasingly difficult, if not practically impossible, to have a fair trial, since evidence (including but not limited to the memory of possible witnesses), becomes irreparably tainted and/or much more difficult, if not impossible, to refute. And, since the more serious the crime, the greater the punishment, greater concern and care should be taken not to have a trial in which the accused could face conviction, and a greater punishment, on the basis of a process (a trial) vitiated by the passage of time. Hence, all crimes should have a statute of limitations—and the more serious the crime, the shorter, not the longer, should be the statute of limitations.

  • It’s striking how many people on Twitter repeat things like “Cosby admitted to drugging and raping women.” No, actually he didn’t. He admitted having drugs to give to women he wanted to have sex with. But he didn’t admit to giving them drugs without their consent. And he never admitted to any sexual assault. Here’s what Bob Avakian has written about this culture of “trial by social media,” where allegations are treated as “proof,” “presumption of guilt” prevails, and people jump to conclusions based on their own subjective inclinations:

    [T]here can be no justice, and great harm will be done, where “trial in the media and social media” is treated as equivalent to, or a substitute for, due process—and this is especially so when what is involved are accusations not against representatives of state power, like the police, but against “ordinary people,” even wealthy and/or prominent ones.

  • The fact that there is a horrific epidemic of rape, that this is backed by powerful forces in society, that women are often DISbelieved and slandered when they come forward, that there will not be justice for most victims of this crime under this system, is not a reason to throw out due process, but a reason to wage mass struggle against this system and work for revolution to overthrow this system—not so we can get revenge on individuals, but so we can get beyond all this! Bob Avakian writes:

    The completely legitimate frustration and anger that results from the recognition (or the sense) that there is not, and there cannot be, any fully just resolution to all this under this system—this should be turned into a profound determination to abolish this system, and bring something much better into being. As emphasized in Hope For Humanity On A Scientific Basis: “The trauma that results from directly suffering horrific forms of oppression and degradation is very real, and no one should deny or underestimate that.” But this needs to become something greater than personal angst, or a desire for revenge—it needs to be “transformed into anger and determination to be part of a collective struggle to put an end to all the atrocities, everywhere, whose fundamental source and cause is this system of capitalism-imperialism.

    This means and requires building movements that are actual movements of masses of people mobilizing to fight the oppression and injustice constantly perpetrated by this system—mass movements that in word and deed reject the poisonous notion that “the ends justify the means,” and instead employ means that are consistent with, and an expression of, the goal of ending the injustices and outrages to which masses of people are continually subjected under this system.

    Fundamentally—and as a matter of urgent importance—it means actively, systematically working now to build up the organized forces for, to bring into being more favorable conditions for, and then to carry out a revolution with the aim of bringing about the elimination and uprooting of all injustice and oppression, all exploitation and degradation, through overthrowing this system of capitalism-imperialism, which is the ultimate source and root cause of all this, and bringing into being a radically different, emancipating society and world, on an entirely new foundation.

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