The comments following my earlier post about Bill Cosby have been interesting. Some have argued that since he has not been convicted in a court of law of giving women drugs and then raping them, he should be given the presumption of innocence as is his right under our legal system.
They are right in that it would be wrong for Cosby to be locked up without going through a full trial just on the basis of the many allegations that have been made by many women. The presumption of innocence is a legal safeguard meant to prevent people from being deprived of their liberty by the state without due process.
But that does not mean that all people must refrain from forming their own judgments about his guilt. People can and do make judgments all the time about others without going through the full trial process. And if we judge them guilty in our minds, then we treat them accordingly.
For example, as far as the Cosby case is concerned, the fact that so many women over such a long time and in so many different contexts have been willing to come forward with such similar allegations despite not having any prior contact with each other, coupled with Cosby’s own non-response to the allegations, and the surprising absence of high-profile fellow celebrities to come to his defense, suggest to me that he is guilty of at least some of the charges and that this is one of those open secrets that suddenly burst into the wider public consciousness, like that of Jian Ghomeshi earlier.
I accept that I may well be wrong and that he is totally innocent. But my current belief that he is largely guilty of unspeakable behavior will undoubtedly color my attitude towards him. Of course, we do not move in the same circles but if we did, I would avoid him and would also warn any woman I knew not to go near him, never be alone with him, and definitely never to accept any medicines or drinks from him.
Am I doing him an injustice by my actions since he hasn’t been convicted in a court of law? I don’t think so. We form judgments about people on the basis of insufficient evidence, and treat them accordingly, all the time. We must do so if we are to be able to navigate life’s rocky terrain. If I suspect that someone in my workplace is a kleptomaniac or a petty thief, then I will avoid leaving valuables lying around although that person may not have been proven guilty. I think I would be remiss if I let unsuspecting women enter Cosby’s orbit and not share with them my concerns. I would never forgive myself if anything happened to them as a result of my silence because of the belief that he had the presumption of innocence since he had not been convicted in a court of law.
The stories about Cosby are now public. People will weigh them and act accordingly. As a result some will think him negatively of him while others will defend his reputation. We cannot definitively say that either is right or wrong until there is a trial. What we cannot expect is that they be erased from public consciousness and not influence people’s opinions of him.