TW: sexual harassment, rape, violence
“A world without harm isn’t possible and isn’t what an abolitionist vision purports to achieve. Rather, abolitionist politics and practice contend that disposing of people by locking them away in jails and prisons does nothing significant to prevent, reduce, or transform harm in the aggregate.”Mariame Kaba | We Do This Til We Free Us
Being labeled a ‘monster’ is an easy thing. Animals, sexual deviants, witches, enslaved folk, misbehaving children, a mysterious pile of clothes under our beds – all have been labeled monsters. After we destroy them, or turn on the light, did we stop the monsters? Did we prevent other monsters from appearing?
I Spy (1965-1968) and The Cosby Show (1984-1992) made Bill Cosby a household name and cemented his legacy as a ‘family friendly’ comedian. After the show was canceled and he retired his aspirations in film roles, in 2005 his coworker Andrea Constand said she had been drugged and molested by him a year earlier. An additional 62 women also came forward, accusing Cosby of sexual assault or rape. Due to the statute of limitations, only Andrea Constand could take the case to criminal court. He was sentenced to 3-10 years and was declared guilty on 3 counts of sexual assault. Two years into this sentence the court found that Cosby had been denied due process because he made an agreement with a previous prosecutor that in exchange for admitting to his crimes against women, he would not be charged.
We are enraged that Bill Cosby and other abusers frequently do not face appropriate repercussions for their crimes against women and gender expansive folks. Also, keeping him locked away does not repair the damage he’s done to the women who came forward as survivors of his violence, nor heal the damage done to the wider community in which he caused harm. Monsters, after being shut in the closet, don’t just disappear forever. The trauma they caused still needs healing.
“This is the ideological work that the prison performs—it relieves us of the responsibility of seriously engaging with the problems of our society, especially those produced by racism and, increasingly, global capitalism.” – Angela Davis
As abolitionists, we believe the future we deserve and the one that is sustainable and necessary does not include prisons or punitive measures. The future we need does not put ‘monsters’ or people society has deemed ‘inhuman’ in cages and use them for slave labor, brutalizing them and making it more difficult for them to re-enter society. At one time, being a person of color was all it took to be labeled a monster, someone who should be isolated in bondage. We know the “justice“ system was not created to protect all people equally, not women, not femmes, not Black, Brown, or Indigenous people – the odds are stacked against us.
So what do we want? We do want Cosby excluded from spaces where he preys upon vulnerable people due to his wealth and notoriety – we must have a boundary to protect ourselves so that he cannot continue to commit harm. We do want him to be held accountable for his actions. But who is he ultimately accountable to? What does this accountability look like? These are the messy and difficult questions we continue to find ourselves grappling with when harm and violence occur- and recognize answering these questions as essential to building the world we are worthy of. We want to center his survivor’s needs around restoration – and also ask ourselves how does this help to end future abusive dynamics?
We know that justice will never come at the hands of the criminal punishment system- and that our duty is to create a world where women, femmes, non-binary youth, and girls are free to live without gender-based violence and harm. We fight for and dream up a world where true justice will occur rooted in transformation, care, and community and not absolved by celebrity (as it won’t exist). We do not want this legal precedent to allow prosecutors to not follow the law because he is a Black man, and this does have further repercussions in our communities.
We are an organization that has a duty to protect marginalized youth, specifically femmes. How many of us have family members who have also been harmed by sexual abusers? What about those of us who have family that are abusers and have caused harm in our communities? Or those who’ve done similar crimes but don’t have to answer to the law? Bill Cosby’s abuse exists in our communities – he is our fathers, uncles, brothers, cousins, nephews, and son – none of these people are monsters. None of them are disposable. The legal system was not built to protect any of us – we want a better future and fair treatment for everyone.
We can hold all of these contradictions, that Cosby (and the way he has caused harm) is a direct danger to the community we are responsible to, that he was freed from incarceration on a technicality so legal accountability is nonexistent, that the system that allowed him to be freed and perpetuate these harms is part of a greater pattern, and that we do not have a clear path to undo and correct these harms. We have to try everything, and demonizing Cosby or others like him, we know, already does not work. Liberation and freedom for all is a marathon, not a sprint. It is not easy to repair ruptured relationships in society at the pace our community deserves. Right now, we are remaining committed to this process.
S.O.U.L. Sisters Leadership Collective works to empower systems involved Black, Brown, and Indigenous femme youth, and facilitate better pathways to safer, stable, healthy environments for our communities without punitive and carceral methods. As abolitionists, we look to the harm, how to end its cycle and create sustainable healing for all of those involved. We get there by actively engaging with women, girls, gender non-conforming youth, and femmes. Our quest for long-term justice means more safety and healing for all.