As Bill Cosby faces criminal charges for a decade-old incident in a Philly suburb, some are defending Cosby and arguing that as a black man, he is being unfairly railroaded.
Cosby attracted international headlines after local prosecutors arraigned him last week on charges of aggravated indecent assault for a 2004 incident with a former Temple University employee, which could carry up to 10 years in prison.
But if you search the #BillCosby hashtag on social media, many users have defended Cosby while comparing his treatment in the courts and media to those of white celebrities accused of sexual abuse. Many have said Cosby is being treated unfairly because he is a black man.
"Both the prosecution and the media coverage are racially tinged," said Walter Hudson, a South Jersey-based activist and chairman of the National Awareness Alliance. "He's being treated differently. He's not being treated the same."
The Montgomery County D.A.'s office did not respond to requests for comment on Hudson's criticism.
Hudson mentioned as examples Charlie Sheen, who acknowledged having sex with women while HIV-positive; actor Stephen Collins from 7th Heaven, who acknowledged sexual acts with underage girls; Roman Polanski, who fled the country to avoid charges for having sex with a child; and Woody Allen, who has been accused of child molestation.
"It's just an assasination of his character. Other people have done such things. Their lives have gone on, and they're getting new movie deals -- but they're tearing his [Cosby's] life down," Hudson said. "I don't think he's getting a fair shake. It's just a shakedown. They're trying to take shots at a known billionaire."
Gina Scaramella, executive director of the Boston Area Rape Crisis Center, agreed people of color are often described and treated more harshly by media and the justice system.
"The words attributed to white offenders (for any type of crime) tend to be more forgiving and attuned to the complexity of that person’s life," Scaramella wrote via email. "When the offender is a person of color, dehumanizing words tend to be used such as 'monster' or 'animal' and there is little acknowledgement of their individual lives."
Hudson's complaints echo those made by comic Eddie Griffin in a recent interview with VladTV.com, who called the charges part of a "systematic effort to destroy every black male entertainer’s image."
Cosby's attorney Monique Pressley has called the prosecution of Cosby "political" because newly elected Montgomery County D.A. Kevin Steele brought up the Cosby case during his campaign.
In an interview with Huffington Post host Marc Lamont Hill, Pressley scoffed at the suggestion that victims were afraid to come forward.
"I find it incredulous to believe that none of the majority white females who are saying that something was done to them that was inappropriate by an African American male in the late 60s and 70s, that none of them would have been believed," Pressley said.
However, Scaramella said Cosby's fame is what likely protected him from accusations of sexual misconduct being leveled earlier.
"Why did it take so many women for people to believe that Cosby’s behavior should be taken seriously, investigated, and (if warranted) prosecuted?" she asked. "He was given a big pass due to his power, wealth, and influence which is why it can take so many people (especially if they are women or children) to be believed and for action toward justice to even begin."
Nonetheless, Hudson is skeptical of the victims' stories.
"I just find it hard to believe that these women did not know what was going on," he said. "Why wait 30, 40, 10, however many years to report it? Why not do it at that time?"
According to Scaramella, most victims of sexual violence do not report the incident immediately.
"Many people tell no one, and many others wait until they are at a point in their life where they can handle what will come up. It is different to be called a 'gold digger' when you are 20 than when you are 50 and have a relationship, children, a job," she said. "People don’t rape people because they cannot get sexual gratification or partners -- most men who rape are married. ... They (the victim), as a person are not a factor to the offender, just an object to be used in the way the offender sees fit and then justifies."
As far as Cosby's various defenders, Scaramella said they may be trying to protect the old Bill Cosby and what he symbolized.
"Most of these ideas come out of a lack of knowledge of the research and a desire to protect the positiveidea/image of the person who has offended," she wrote. "For the African American community, there are so few positive icons like Cosby, it is especially painful to deal with someone who is so beloved doing something so awful."
Cosby returns to court for a preliminary hearing on Jan. 14.