And Justice for One

Two things are going to happen now, and neither is good for our country.

I’ve ridden passed Bill Cosby’s house hundreds of times — his Montgomery County mansion is off a main road in our suburb, and was, for years, a huge point of pride. But even as a kid, I remember hearing stories that he had attacked a Temple student, and most likely paid to have it kept quiet.

When the stories started pouring out in full, that mansion was a lot less Buckingham Palace and a whole lot more Castle Dracula. And as of this afternoon, the Count has returned.

Cosby’s Hollywood Boulevard Star. Original photo from Adobe Stock.

Writing for the Associated Press, Maryclaire Dale reports:

The court called Cosby’s subsequent arrest “an affront to fundamental fairness, particularly when it results in a criminal prosecution that was forgone for more than a decade.” It said justice and “fair play and decency” require that the district attorney’s office stand by the decision of the previous DA.

The justices said that overturning the conviction and barring any further prosecution “is the only remedy that comports with society’s reasonable expectations of its elected prosecutors and our criminal justice system.”

On a legal level, pure and simple, this is probably the correct verdict.

I’ve seen a variety of lawyers online quickly pointing to the technicalities and asserting that judicially speaking, this was correct.

But to call this an “affront to fundamental fairness,” while making no acknowledgment of an profound unfairness of an admitted rapist walking free, a rapist who has at least 60 accusers who will see no justice whatsoever, is damaging the very system they claim to want to keep fair.

What’s coming next is two things, both of which are “affront(s) to fundamental fairness:”

1) Victims are going to continue to not come forward.

2) Many more men are going to wrongly lose their livelihoods over perceived infractions.

There’s going to be a ton of social media feuding over the next few days.

MeToo critics will celebrate their supposed victory. MeToo supporters will express their frustration. Critics of feminism will rush to pull out their charts and demonstrate how all the things women complain about are, in fact, not scientifically accurate. Lawyers will dissect and defend the law. And the typical players will say the left are bunch of sobbing snowflakes.

Then the news cycle will shift, and we’ll all start fighting about the newest outrage.

But the effects of this are going to linger profoundly among victims and supporters.

What’s being missed in these discussions of law and social science is the profound frustration and devastation of millions of people who have victims of sexual assault and gotten no recourse from the institutions that are meant to properly handle and address those issues. But there is one place victims have gotten incredible, lighting-fast responses: the internet.

Call it Cancel Culture, Mob Rule, Social Justice Wars, or a terrifying slide into some sort of mass authoritarianism, but social media has been brutally effective in taking lives down to studs, often in real time. The justice system, even when it’s at its best, is excruciatingly slow, and after mountains of paperwork, pre-hearings and live hearings and depositions and appeals and cross-examinations, justice still may not prevail.

Get an individual trending, however, and within hours companies, friends, even family may publicly turn on you.

It makes sense why this path has become a popular one. It also makes sense that the rise of “oversensitivity” is really boiling over frustration. Maybe you won’t ever be able to prove that a guy at a party pinned you down in a corner and violated you with one hand while half-suffocating you with his other, but you sure as hell can get a creepy co-worker fired for sliding his hand to your lower back at the holiday Christmas party. They’ll never catch the guy who felt you up on the subway, but you can call out your ex for drunkenly sending you nudes. The gender pay gap will close a lot faster when you out your boss for looking at your chest.

For the record: I don’t want this. Internet justice is terrifying. Even when someone has said and done something truly horrible, I hate imagining what they’re going through when seemingly the whole world turns on you.

If this is correct legal decision, and they had to execute it, they should. We shouldn’t hold people in jail because Twitter calls for it. But judges often pontificate during rulings: some will all out lecture those they’re sentencing. Why couldn’t they have extended some outrage toward having to release him, and acknowledging the damage this will do to people’s trust? If this is a system that relies on “fair play and decency” to defendants, should not at least some of that extend to victims?

I want our justice system to work, and to work well enough that the internet can get on with viral videos of cats playing piano and Justin Trudeau running a hand through his hair.

And for that to happen, judges and lawyers alike need to stop pretending this is a truly impartial, unemotional, purely l logical system.

It’s run by people, for people, and unless we yield it entirely to sociopaths, those people have feelings. And those feelings carry out over into the rest of their lives, and impact society at large.

Showing the tiniest acknowledgment of the unfairness to the victims, or acknowledging that this was a technical misstep and should not be considered a victory, would have done worlds to tell the public that the system is hearing their stories and taking them seriously, even if they can’t grant the outcome they want. And if people feel heard, they’re far more likely to use the official channels to get the results they want, rather than seek out more radical solutions.

Court is no longer King. The Count may be in his Castle, surrounded by sycophants, but our collective memory will keep him in the margins. I hope, for all our sake, that the justice system doesn’t one day end up there too.

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