My children counted the helicopters hovering above us while we ate lunch at our local co-op:
“It’s five!,” the youngest called out.
“No, eleven,” said the eldest. “I mean twelve.”
“Yeah, it’s twelve,” her younger-by-six-minutes twin agreed.
Then, after three police cars turned up to block the street in front of us, they finally asked: “What in the world is going on?” (see above for their depictions of the scene).
I replied, “Um, well, a famous man who got arrested is going to court today in our neighborhood,” a response that elicited the barrage of “who, what, where, when, and why” questions I’ve come to expect from my children. They rarely settle for incomplete answers.
“Who is the famous man?” was a relatively easy follow-up question to address.*
It was Bill Cosby, whose arraignment on criminal charges happened last week at the courthouse in our neighborhood. He’s charged with three counts of aggravated indecent assault stemming from an alleged 2004 attack at a home around the corner from where I went to middle school. It may seem odd that he’s being charged now, twelve years after the alleged events, but that’s only because the former District Attorney refused to prosecute Cosby back in 2005. The victim in this case is one of several women who have accused Cosby of drugging them to have sex without their consent.
These are the first criminal charges to be brought against Cosby. He is presumed innocent until proven guilty in a criminal court, but his deposition in the civil case related to the alleged 2004 attack is damning:
Question (the victim’s lawyer): “When you got the Quaaludes, was it in your mind that you were going to use these Quaaludes for young women that you wanted to have sex with?”
Answer (Cosby): Yes.
It won’t be easy for Cosby’s defense to get around the fact that he’s admitted under oath that he gave women illegal sedatives in order to have sex with them. What the new District Attorney has to do is prove beyond a reasonable doubt that Cosby did the same to the victim of the alleged 2004 attack without her consent.
Of course, my children haven’t heard anything about Bill Cosby’s criminal case, and they aren’t familiar with him from The Cosby Show or Jell-O commercials. They know Bill Cosby’s name because he endorsed Nelson Mandela’s Favorite African Folktales, a beautifully illustrated collection of African stories.** My twins received it a few weeks ago as a birthday present from my sister. Having ordered the book online, she didn’t notice Cosby’s name on the cover until it arrived by mail.
The book was published in 2002, before any allegations against Cosby had been made publicly, and republished in 2007, after the initial allegations but before the media firestorm that began in 2014.** Even if we forgive the publisher for using the endorsement of a man who already had more than one terrible accusation against him, wasn’t Nelson Mandela’s endorsement of this collection of folktales enough?
Mandela worked to end apartheid in South Africa, received the Nobel Peace Prize, and became South Africa’s first black president. It’s sad that the publisher thought that putting an American entertainer’s name and banal quote on the front cover would make Nelson Mandela’s collection more palatable for American readers.
Considering Cosby’s current reputation, I wonder how well this version of the book will sell now. My sister almost sent it back when she noticed Cosby’s name on the cover.
UPDATE: On April 26, 2018, the jury convicted Cosby of all three counts of aggravated indecent assault. The trial last year resulted in a hung jury.
*The hardest question to answer is “why”: “Why is this famous man in trouble?” I did my best to explain it in a way my children would understand without scaring them, referencing “good” touch and “bad” touch. (For more on age appropriateness and references to sex and/or sexual violence, see (1) Is this Book Adorable or “Lewd” and “Unsuitable for Small Children”?; and (2) Julie of the Wolves: An E-Book My Children Won’t Read Until They’re Older).
**The book refers to Nelson Mandela in the present tense. He passed away in 2013.