Camille Cosby broke her silence today following her husband’s conviction when she wrote a scathing attack on the justice system comparing Bill Cosby’s, conviction to a “lynching”, “mob justice” or to Emmett Till. Cosby who was tried and convicted on three counts of sexual assaults on Andrea Constand, after a first jury failed to reach a verdict. Mrs. Cosby’s misunderstanding of the words “lynching” and “mob justice” deserves a teaching moment for her and perhaps many others who might be confused.
The National Memorial for Peace and Justice opened on April 26, 2018 in downtown Montgomery, Alabama and is dedicated to the legacy of enslaved Blacks who lost their lives through lynching. It depicted the over 4000 known lynchings that were held in this country of mostly African Americans from post slavery to 1950. And when it opened, some questioned why a memorial on lynching was necessary. Comments like Camille Cosby’s show there is a need for the public to be aware of the atrocities of lynching.
First, Mr. Cosby got not only one trial but two fair trials. The first jury deliberated over 56 hours before a mistrial was declared. Those who were lynched in this country were neither given a trial, jury or judge to determine their fate. Instead an angry mob of white individuals hung them up to die on a tree, usually first torturing them. Throngs of white persons, including law enforcement and children watched as the lynchings took place. Persons were lynched for any perceived slight to a white man or woman.
The Equal Justice Initiative researched many of the lynchings that occurred post slavery in 1877 until the 1950’s. Some of those lynchings were as a result of multiple single incident lynchings—where lynching one Black person was not enough. Counties in Louisiana, Mississippi and North Carolina had the highest single but mass incidents of lynchings. Some lynchings were observed by mob crowds over 2,0000 persons attending such as ones held on the eastern shore of Maryland in 1933. There were never any convictions or arrests.
As far as Camille Cosby’s comparison to her husband’s conviction to lynching, she and others should be mindful that many lynchings occurred on the court house lawn. I see no resemblance there to Cosby’s trial. While Cosby was convicted of sexual transgressions over a white woman before a jury of both Blacks and whites, victims of lynchings never received a trial. Persons like General Lee in 1904 was lynched for merely knocking on the door of a white woman. In 1889, Keith Bowen was lynched by an entire white neighborhood for trying to enter a room with three white women. In 1916, Jeff Brown was lynched in Mississippi for accidently bumping into a white woman as he ran to catch a bus.
If Bill Cosby were Emmett Till, at the first mention of a sexual assault on a white woman, he would have been lynched. Till, 12 years old, was lynched for either looking, whistling or doing nothing at all to a white woman. If Cosby had been comparable to Till, at the first instance of an account by a white victim, he would have been lynched.
I hate to hear when persons compare themselves or their situation to a lynching. Clarence Thomas did it at his Senate confirmation hearings when he referred to himself as being involved in a “high tech lynching”. To make a modern day court room trial comparison or Senate confirmation hearing akin to a lynching does enormous dishonor to those persons who lost their lives as a result of real mob justice and real lynchings. .
The reason for the Peace and Justice memorial on lynching is to honor those whose lives were taken away in brutal lynchings. And it is also to bring awareness to what lynching and mob justice did to Black Americans. For those who cannot travel to Alabama to see the memorial, a trip to the website of the Equal Justice Initiative for its report on lynching in America will also bring awareness to our country’s ugly past. Perhaps when Camille Cosby gets some free time on her hands away from her husband, she might want to travel or read to see what a real lynching looked like.
Washington, DC based Debbie Hines is an attorney and legal/political commentator.