I’ve had the same morning ritual for my entire life. I get up, grab some sort of caffeine, and sit down to read the entire newspaper. I do realize that a person can read the newspaper online or watch the morning’s headline news on TV, but I love to hold the paper in my hands and read it-cover to cover.
Yesterday morning, New Year’s Eve 2015, I held my cup of coffee in my hands and opened up the paper. I mentally prepared myself to read the usual daily headlines. I anticipated seeing stories about mass shootings, bombings, terrorism, kidnappings and war. Sadly, I expect to see those articles as much as I expect to read about politics, the weather, and local obituaries.
But on December 31, 2015, I saw a headline that made me gasp. The headline: Bill Cosby had been arrested. The charge: sexual assault. It was one among many, many accusations out there, but it is the first case being brought to criminal court.
I couldn’t avert my eyes from the photograph that accompanied the article. There he was: wearing one of his signature “Cliff Huxtable” sweaters. There was Bill Cosby, the defendant, being escorted into a court of law.
The story itself was nothing new for Bill: an accusation that he had drugged and raped a woman. A woman who wanted nothing more than to just meet our beloved icon, Mr. Bill Cosby.
And yet, as a 15-year veteran working as a defense attorney in the criminal justice system, I gasped at this story for a completely different reason. I gasped because this one is going to stick. This is the case that had enough evidence that a prosecutor, knowing very well his legal and ethical responsibilities, brought into criminal court. This is the case that could potentially prove, beyond a reasonable doubt to a jury of his peers, that Billy Cosby is a rapist.
Seeing that headline and reading that story, a little part of me had suddenly died inside. Because if he’s convicted, that’s the end. It’s all over… for me.
I was born in 1972. I grew up in the ‘70s and ‘80s, in a time-period that I remember as being just about perfect. The free- range parenting, the communal-neighborhood feel, the safety that we all felt and the innocence of that time still lives on in a corner of my brain. Every time I read another horrible story in that morning’s newspaper, I go back to the 1980s in my mind. I desperately need to remember that time, so that I can remind myself that the world wasn’t always this way.
When I feel overwhelmed by our post-911 world of fear or saddened by the technology that has replaced childhood play, I take a deep breath and close my eyes. When I am confused by a world of competition and locked neighborhood doors, I simply go back in time.
I picture kids crowded around a single boom box, listening to music together, instead of kids with headphones plugged into their own isolated worlds. I think of the front porches and basements where we used to gather, instead of virtual gatherings that no one ever need leave their homes to attend. And I think of the television shows that played on the only one television set in our home. I think of the TV shows that the whole family could enjoy together, that broke new ground and created discussions in our homes and in our communities that we had never had before.
TV shows like “The Cosby Show:” where a black family could be successful and complicated and happy. Where the family’s patriarch could be a physician, father, husband and friend, and do all of it with honest emotion and humor. A show created by and starring Bill Cosby. Mr. Cosby, who to me, represented everything good about the 1980s: hope, change, tolerance, acceptance and safety.
But what if he was none of those things? What if a court of law finds him guilty of being just as scary, manipulative and dangerous as the world that we live in today? What if none of it was real? What does that mean about the place that I hold so dear in my brain? What if it never existed? Then what?
How can I assure myself (and my children) that this world will one day go back to being as safe as it once was? How can we believe in the kindness of strangers, when the friends that we trusted were never actually who we always thought they were?
I’m heartbroken about Dr. Huxtable. I’m horrified for the women whose lives he destroyed. And I’m devastated by the thought that even if we stop all of the horrors of our world today, that those of us who grew up in my generation will never feel truly safe ever again.