Tuesday, July 7, 2015

12 Angry Men, Bill Cosby, and the Civilian Jury System

Today two things happened: I watched the 1957 drama 12 Angry Men with Henry Fonda and I read about the civil court case of Bill Cosby. In the movie and in real life, I saw the same thing: ignoring the totality of evidence in favor of emotions and hurried conclusions.

In 12 Angry Men, the jury is deciding the fate of a young man who is being prosecuted for stabbing his father to death. The case is pretty much a slam dunk. There are two eyewitnesses to the murder, the father has been stabbed with the exact kind of knife the son bought a day before, they had just had a fight, and the young man claimed that after the fight he went to see a double feature at the theater, neither movie which he could remember and no one saw him there. He claimed the knife fell through a hole in his pocket on the way to the theater. According to one of the jurors, the case was not fought well by the young man's attorney and so he took it upon himself to change the mind of the other eleven jurors that voted for guilt.

The entirety of the movie is spent with Fonda acting more like Jose Baez than a fellow juror manipulating the others to think more about the case, offering alternative theories to what might have happened like the woman who saw the boy stab his father may not have had her glasses on (but it was not determined if she really needed glasses or what her vision without them would have been), the man who heard the young man say "I'll kill you!" might have been making it up as a train going by at that time might have drowned out anything anyone said ("might" because they never had proof that depending on the walls of the building and how sound carried, he might have been able to hear voices just fine). The boy might have forgotten the films in the trauma of finding out about his father's murder.....and so on. While these are certainly interesting points to bring up and explore, what happened in the movie was each juror changed his verdict just because one piece of evidence was made a bit murky. Emotions ran wild during the discussion and the quick turnarounds showed how little the totality of the evidence was being considered. Just a few hours after entering the jury room to deliberate, eleven men changed their minds and voted "not guilty" along with Fonda, likely letting a killer back out into society.

Now, we have the Bill Cosby brouhaha. Today there is information that he admitted during a civil case to giving quaaludes in the 70s to women he might like to have sex with. Many have gone nuts with this claiming this proves that Cosby is a rapist just like those women said he was. But, they ignore that in the actual civil case, he does not admit to giving women quaaludes without their knowledge and the woman it is said the case is about admits to accepting the drugs willingly.

To date, there is NO proof that Bill Cosby raped anyone. There is pretty good proof he is not so moral and a sleaze as are a number of men in Hollywood - I know because I had been offered candy dishes with a variety of drugs in them and I refused to swallow any. I also refused to sleep with producers or actors to get work, but I know quite a number of women (and men) who did. I saw them take drugs and I saw them cuddle up to men they thought could give them a break in the acting world and I saw them go with them into the back room.

I am not saying that Cosby didn't rape any women and I am not saying these women are lying and I am not saying no woman has ever been given drugs without her knowledge and woken up to find a man raping her. I am simply saying, that if we are going to decide if someone is guilty or innocent, we ought to base our determinations on evidence, not emotions.

This is why the jury system fails. Untrained people often do not understand the evidence or even what evidence is, they often do not understand what the totality of evidence means (and it means that when you put all the evidence together there is not reasonable doubt that the person is guilty; it does not mean that you pick out one piece of evidence, find one very improbable but possible theory to explain it differently and ignore all the other evidence), and they often allow emotions and subjectivity to color their conclusions.


Paula said...

I'm heartbroken by this Crosby thing. As a little girl growing up in Oklahoma in the early '60s, he was the first black person I loved. His was my first album and I still know parts of it by heart. So I'm not rushing to judgment. I was also in the entertainment industry in the 70s and beyond and know exactly what went on with qualudes, etc. The most compelling thing I've heard to sway me to believe he really is guilty is Beverly Johnson's account of narrowly escaping. She says he drugged her cappucino, which he insisted she drink, she immediately knew she's been drugged, and started calling him an MF until he drug her downstairs and called her a taxi. So yes, some probably knew what they were taking, but that's not permission to have sex. And for them to pass out, first they'd have to have already been drunk or something. I never passed out on them, though they are very incapacitating. But if he was sneaking it into drinks, that is a whole new ballgame. And I can't imagine anyone agreeing to a bunch of benadryl for no reason. Qualudes, yes. But I'm afraid at least part of the time, he was doping their drinks.

My drink has been doped at least twice. It's fairly common, unfortunately.

Pat Brown said...

And, I repeat, Paula, there is no proof. Beverly Johnson's account is just that. And, as I said, I am not saying what Cosby did and didn't do; what I am saying is that we cannot draw an absolute conclusion when there is no absolute evidence.

As for permission to have sex, being drunk or high does not eliminate the responsibility one has as far as sex is concerned. It is NOT rape if a drunk person has sex with another drunk person. It is NOT rape if the guy is stone sober and the girl has a bunch of shots and goes to bed with him. It is ONLY rape IF and only IF the woman said "NO!" or the woman was unconscious at the time. Having too much to drink or doing Ecstasy or whatever and having that influence one's feelings and actions is still one's responsibility.

If a guy can't claim he is innocent of rape because he was drunk and didn't know what he was doing, then a women can't say she was drunk and didn't know what she was doing. Only if the guy was slipped a drug or the woman was slipped a drug can they say they had no responsibility for what happened from then on.

BTW, doping drinks is actually fairly uncommon. I don't know where you hang out, but most of the time guys don't have to dope drinks because women drink way too much alcohol all on their own.

Pat Brown said...

Oh, Paula, I, too, loved the Cosby Show and his comedy. I still love the Cosby Show and his comedy. I am mostly sad that he was such a great voice for positive black parenting and his behavior has tarnished all he has said in the eyes of the public.

As for the man himself, my time in Hollywood showed me that there are a good many sleazy men in the business. Girls and women who go out to Hollywood pretty much turn into sluts just to get ahead in the business. There are those who do not, those who stand firm and those who have talent, but, from what I experienced, most girls were sleeping with anyone who could give them a part. I said no to the casting couch and I didn't do very well in Hollywood (I wasn't all that talented either; just another pretty blonde and if I was up against a pretty blonde who would have sex with the casting guy, well, then, I was not going to get the job). Nasty business and I can see Cosby was probably enjoying himself in it. Nobody every put anything in my drinks, but when I refused drugs or alcohol, a number of men did get very annoyed with me and showed me the door quite quickly.