An unapologetic Bill Cosby and a supportive D.C. Police Chief Charles H. Ramsey joined yesterday to revisit one of their favorite -- and most controversial -- shared causes: urging more personal responsibility among blacks.
Cosby chatted by phone with Ramsey and WTOP radio's announcers for about 40 minutes yesterday during the station's monthly "Ask the Chief" program. Cosby, who sparked controversy in mid-May with comments made during an appearance at Constitution Hall, said it was hearing Ramsey's plea for more parental involvement on a radio program earlier that day that in part inspired his criticism.
"I was already on that wavelength, but what clicked was that there was another voice of authority -- and that is the chief of police -- who was saying, 'Our job is to arrest people, and your children should not be out at a certain hour,' " Cosby said.
Cosby took Ramsey's sentiments much further when the entertainer spoke that night during a 50th anniversary gala celebrating the Supreme Court's Brown v. Board of Education school desegregation ruling. Cosby said "lower-economic people" were not fulfilling the opportunities made possible by the ruling and that black people should stop blaming others for problems. The comments triggered criticism from some black leaders who said Cosby in effect absolved whites of any responsibility for the ills of poor blacks, and some said he went too far in criticizing the culture, speech and music of young blacks.
Cosby was unrepentant yesterday.
"As Gloria Steinem said about a friend of hers: 'The truth will set you free. But first it will [anger you],' " Cosby said.
Ramsey, who said Cosby called him one day this summer after the gala to chat for about an hour, declared himself squarely in Cosby's corner.
"I'm with you 100 percent," Ramsey said. "Behavior has to change. Responsibility for your own behavior has to change. We have people who just let TV and video games and music raise their kids and instill the values that they ought to be instilling in their children. And then we wonder why we have a problem."
Cosby contended that some of the controversy after his appearance was caused by those who misinterpreted his comments about lower-income blacks. He said history has proved that lower economic groups tend to rise up and "beat down those things that might be self-inflicted," but he suggested that isn't happening in many places today.
"The mistake that was made by me was to say, 'I'm afraid the lower-economic people are not holding up their end,' " Cosby said. "And, of course, not to clear up the thing [I said] about how you name your children, when in fact what I meant was that if you name your kid Mohammed, there's something behind that. And you raise your child according to the definitions of that name."
Cosby called in to the hour-long radio show about 20 minutes after it started, and no other calls were taken. After illustrating his points with numerous personal anecdotes, he interrupted himself at one point to ask, "Is this still Chief Ramsey's show?"
It was, although the two speakers echoed many of the same sentiments. Ramsey said that through July, D.C. police have investigated more calls of child abuse and neglect than were reported all of last year. He said juvenile crime is up 20 percent this year. Though he applauded Cosby for encouraging public discussion about problems that he attributes to poor parenting and a lack of personal responsibility, Ramsey said he was not optimistic that discussions like yesterday's would prompt immediate results without a widespread effort by those who live with the problems daily.
"The parents that are going to be involved in the lives of children are already involved in the lives of children," he said. "Those that aren't, aren't. And I don't know how much that's going to change, quite frankly."