It’s about time the restaurant takes down its U Street mural of a man many of us spent our childhoods revering.
The restaurant is a D.C. icon, open since 1958. But it now has another meaning; a dark one.
Since allegations began to flow on the alleged crimes by Cosby, many people have walked by Ben’s Chili Bowl and glossed over an image staring them directly in the face. It’s an image that may evoke feelings they’d like to ignore. Feelings of disgust for the crimes of a figurehead or shame because at one time we genuinely liked the man and “The Cosby Show.”
Herein lies a serious problem: Complacency tied to sexual assault should not and cannot exist if we want to change the way society treats women. What example are we setting if we allow a piece of “public art” of his smiling face to remain for the world to see?
I admit I spent a weekend grappling with doing something illegal: publicly defacing the mural as bars started closing across the city. I talked to media contacts, friends and family. I filled my Amazon cart with all the materials it would take. But, in the end, I realized what many before me have landed upon: Sometimes peaceful protests are better than direct action — particularly in the age of viral videos and public stunts acting as entertainment.
Look at the single situation first. Though a crime alleged to have been committed by one man does not have the same weight as all of the wrongs inflicted on women, it does affect society’s broader response to these crimes. Sadly, sexual assault happens every day.
But, the wider message in leaving the mural is that single incidents are meaningless. It sends a message to the public about what is considered okay to overlook and what should cause societal uproar.
It’s time we took ownership for what we’re calling public art in the form of a mural of an alleged rapist on a restaurant frequented by hundreds of drunk college students, historians and chili aficionados.
The task at hand is to move on from this moment and paint over our complacency and the pain it has caused. Let’s start over. Let’s spend our weekend drawing a new mural that celebrates women. I’m sure we could find an artist or two willing to take on the cause. And a few hands across the city to pitch in to cover the cost of supplies in my Amazon cart.
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