There has been divided opinion on social media in response to the Pennsylvania Supreme Court’s Wednesday decision to overturn Bill Cosby’s sexual assault conviction.
The disgraced comedian and actor was sentenced in September 2018 to three to 10 years in prison on three counts of aggravated assault for drugging and sexually assaulting former basketball player, Andrea Constand, in his home in 2004.
Cosby’s case was the first high-profile celebrity conviction of the #MeToo era which was initiated to raise awareness of sexual harassment and sexual abuse in the workplace. The 83-year-old also had several other women coming out to accuse him of sexual misconduct going back to almost 30 years.
However, he was only tried criminally for the incident against Constand.
Cosby had served more than two years of his sentence when the seven-member Pennsylvania Supreme Court ruled on Wednesday that he had been denied a fair trial in 2018. The judges said there was a “process violation” because Cosby’s lawyers had made an agreement with a previous state prosecutor that he would not be charged in the case. However, in 2015, a prosecutor filed charges after testimony from a civil lawsuit brought by Constand against the actor was disclosed, BBC reported.
And though the news of the Supreme Court’s decision to overturn Cosby’s conviction got social media talking as expected, one reaction that particularly struck a nerve among a section of people was Phylicia Rashad’s tweet praising his release. Rashad, 73, is fondly remembered for playing Clair Huxtable – the wife of Cliff Huxtable (Bill Cosby) – in the comedian’s highly popular eponymous sitcom between 1984 and 1992.
Responding to Cosby’s release on Wednesday, Rashad, who is also the incoming dean of Howard University’s fine arts college, shared a photo of the comedian on Twitter with the caption, “FINALLY!!!! A terrible wrong is being righted- a miscarriage of justice is corrected!”
Her tweet, however, received swift backlash with people calling her out for supporting someone who has been accused of sexually abusing several women. “It’s almost as if you’re trying to say Bill Cosby is innocent. He’s not. He’d merely had a judge pre-agree that he wouldn’t go to jail for his crimes, including drugging, raping and sex offending dozens of women,” a user responded in an attempt to clarify why Cosby’s conviction was overturned.
Another user also questioned if that is how she’s going to react as dean if a student informs her “they were assaulted by another student” if the accused student “happens to be someone” she likes and admires.
“Because what you’re telling Howard women rn is that you don’t care if they’re raped,” the user added.
As the backlash to Rashad’s response intensified, the actress appeared to clarify her initial comments in a follow-up tweet, explaining that she was in no way discrediting Cosby’s accusers and victims of sexual abuse.
“I fully support survivors of sexual assault coming forward,” she shared. “My post was in no way intended to be insensitive to their truth. Personally, I know from friends and family that such abuse has lifelong residual effects. My heartfelt wish is for healing.”
Rashad’s employer, Howard University, also released a statement in response to her initial comments, saying it “lacked sensitivity” towards sexual assault survivors. “Survivors of sexual assault will always be our priority,” the statement said. “While Dean Rashad has acknowledged in her follow-up tweet that victims must be heard and believed, her initial tweet lacked sensitivity towards survivors of sexual assault.”
The university also clarified that “personal positions of University leadership do not reflect” the institution’s policies. “We will continue to advocate for survivors fully and support their right to be heard,” the university added. “Howard will stand with survivors and challenge systems that would deny them justice. We have full confidence that our faculty and school leadership will live up to this sacred commitment.”
Take a look at some other reactions to Rashad’s comments below:
Meanwhile, Constand and her legal team released a statement in response to Cosby’s release saying they “remain grateful to those who came forward to tell their stories.” The statement also stressed that they “urge all victims to have their voices heard” irrespective of “the ultimate outcome which resulted from a procedural technicality.”
“Today’s majority decision regarding Bill Cosby is not only disapproved but of concern in that it may discourage those who sex justice for sexual assault in the criminal justice system from reporting or participating in the prosecution of the assailant or may force a victim to choose between filing either a criminal or civil action,” the statement added.