“Really?” responded the WBRC Fox 6 News anchor in Birmingham.
There was a hint of skepticism in the anchor’s voice, which ballooned into full incredulousness from women’s groups and victims’ advocates Thursday when news of Cosby’s plans began to spread.
“It would be more useful if Mr. Cosby would spend time talking with people about how not to commit sexual assault in the first place,” Jodi Omear, vice president of communications for the Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network (RAINN) told Newsweek.
As Wyatt explained it, these town halls will educate young people and married men on the law and the dangers they face from accusations of sexual assault.
“This is bigger than Bill Cosby,” Wyatt told the anchor. “This issue can affect any young person, especially young athletes of today, and they need to know what they’re facing when they’re hanging out and partying, when they’re doing certain things they shouldn’t be doing.”
“And it also affects married men,” he added.
Wyatt was joined on the morning show by Ebonee Benson, who works at his publicity firm, Purpose PR, and spoke for Cosby’s wife during the trial. When the TV host pushed back on the agenda for the town halls, asking whether it was a “ ‘do as I say, not as I do’ situation,” Benson put the issue in legal terms.
“Laws are changing,” she said. “The statute of limitations for victims of sexual assault are being extended, so this is why people need to be educated on a brush against a shoulder, anything at this point can be considered sexual assault. It’s a good thing to be educated about the laws.”
The element of time was a major factor in Cosby’s trial, which ended with the jury deadlocked on sexual assault charges against Cosby. The former comedian, 79, has been accused by some 60 women of sexual misconduct. The allegations stretch back decades and have sullied Cosby’s reputation as “America’s Dad.”
Though his accusers abound, only one was able to bring her case into a criminal court. Andrea Constand, a former women’s basketball staffer at Temple University, testified that Cosby drugged and sexually assaulted her in 2004 at his suburban Philadelphia estate. Cosby sat on Temple’s board of trustees at the time, a position from which he resigned following the allegations.
But the Constand case was more than a decade old, and Cosby’s defense attorneys capitalized on inconsistencies in her recollection to raise doubt in the minds of jurors.
The jury of seven men and five women heard six days of testimony before retiring for deliberations. After 30 hours, the jury wrote the judge a one-line note saying they could not reach a “unanimous consensus,” as reported by The Washington Post. The judge told them to keep trying, but on Saturday morning he asked the jurors one by one if they were “hopelessly deadlocked.”
Each one said “yes.”
After the mistrial, Montgomery County District Attorney Kevin Steele announced he planned to retry Cosby. Constand agreed to testify at a new trial, which the judge said will be scheduled within the next 12 months.
Wyatt did not immediately respond to a request for comment Thursday night on the planned town hall meetings. CNN reported that Cosby’s team is planning a minimum five-city tour with stops in Chicago, Detroit and Philadelphia, although there is no official schedule yet. Wyatt said during the TV interview Wednesday that one town hall will take place in Alabama in July.
In an email to the New York Times, Wyatt said that Cosby had received “hundreds of calls from civic organizations and churches requesting for Mr. Cosby to speak to young men and women about the judicial system.”
“Speeches will be free,” Wyatt told the Times, and the program will be critical of prosecutors’ decision to charge Cosby at all.
Reached by Rolling Stone, Wyatt said he and Benson:
… Received hundreds of calls from civic organizations and churches requesting for Mr. Cosby to speak to young men and women about the judicial system. They feel that the young men and women need to be aware that Mr. Cosby was given a deal to never be criminally charged by Former DA Bruce Castor and 12 years later DA Kevin Steele runs a Willie Horton style campaign ad saying, ‘If you elect me I will bring Bill Cosby to justice. These groups would like for Mr. Cosby to share that people in the judicial system can use their powers to annul deals for personal agenda and political ambitions.… It’s important to educate people that you could be at a baseball game and it could be crowded and a young man could try to squeeze through and accidentally touch a young lady’s butt or breast by mistake and that could be considered sexual assault.
Among those critical of Cosby’s planned town halls were organizers of the Women’s March, who wrote on Twitter on Thursday that “rape culture is Bill Cosby planning town halls on how married men and male athletes can avoid sexual assault charges.”
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