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Cosby citing systemic racism as he fights assault conviction

PHILADELPHIA (AP) — In a nearly empty Philadelphia courtroom in June 2015, a lawyer for Bill Cosby implored a federal judge to keep the comedian’s testimony in an old sexual battery lawsuit under wraps. It was sensitive. Embarrassing. Private.

U.S. District Judge Eduardo Robreno had another word for it.

The conduct Cosby detailed in his deposition was “perhaps criminal,” Robreno wrote five years ago Monday, in a momentous decision that released the case files to The Associated Press, reopened the police investigation, and helped give rise to the #MeToo movement.

Cosby, the Hollywood paragon of Black family values, was convicted of sexual assault in 2018 as the movement exploded and women across the globe shared personal histories of sexual harassment and abuse. He is serving up to 10 years in prison.

And now in the midst of another historic reckoning — this time addressing the treatment of African Americans and other people of color by police and the criminal justice system — the 82-year-old Cosby has won the right to an appeal.

He hopes to use the moment to his advantage.

“The false conviction of Bill Cosby is so much bigger than him — it’s about the destruction of ALL Black people and people of color in America,” Cosby spokesman Andrew Wyatt said when the court accepted the appeal late last month.

Cosby, who grew up in public housing in Philadelphia, has a complicated relationship with the Black community. He earned acclaim for his groundbreaking (and intentionally race-blind) performances on television in the 1950s; mingled, but rarely marched, with civil rights leaders and the Black elite in the 1960s; and solidified his wealth and power with his star turn as “America’s Dad,” on “The Cosby Show” in the 1980s.

All the while, he promoted education and gave millions to historically Black universities.

But his increasingly jarring comments on poverty, parenthood and personal responsibility offended younger Blacks in his later years, most famously in his 2004 “Pound Cake” speech — which he gave just months after the sexual encounter that would prove his downfall.

As he toured the country, Cosby argued that “the antidote to racism is not rallies, protests, or pleas, but strong families and communities,” as the essayist Ta-Nehisi Coates noted.

“Cosby’s gospel of discipline, moral reform, and self-reliance offers a way out — a promise that one need not cure America of its original sin in order to succeed,” Coates wrote in his 2008 piece in The Atlantic, “‘This Is How We Lost to the White Man’: The audacity of Bill Cosby’s Black conservatism.”

The appeal issues the court accepted don’t directly include racial bias, which Cosby’s legal team raised more often on the courthouse steps in Montgomery County than inside the courtroom. His defenders, however, say race permeates the case.

Cosby’s celebrity “does not change his status as a Black man,” said appellate lawyer Jennifer Bonjean, the latest of more than a dozen criminal lawyers on the case.

“It would be naive to assume that his prosecution was not tainted by the same racial bias that pervades the criminal justice process in both explicit and insidious ways,” she said last week.

Cosby’s wife of 56 years has been more blunt.

In an interview last month with ABC-TV, Camille Cosby said the #MeToo movement ignores “the history of particular white women” who have “accused Black males of sexual assault without any proof.”

“We know how women can lie,” said Camille Cosby, who made only brief appearances at her husband’s trials, for defense closing arguments, and has not visited him in prison. She declined to speak to the AP last week.

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