Look, I want to give Bill Cosby his props. He’s been speaking up courageously for years on the problems within the black community, and he’s gotten a lot of flak for it. It can’t have been easy for him.

Here are some excerpts from the address Cosby gave to the NAACP in 2004 on the 50th anniversary of the landmark Supreme Court case Brown v. Board of Education. You may have heard of Cosby’s speech because it got a lot of press, and evoked a lot of backlash. But have you ever read it? The guy did not pull his punches:

Now, look, I’m telling you. It’s not what they’re doing to us. It’s what we’re not doing. 50 percent drop out. Look, we’re raising our own ingrown immigrants. These people are fighting hard to be ignorant. There’s no English being spoken, and they’re walking and they’re angry. Oh God, they’re angry and they have pistols and they shoot and they do stupid things. And after they kill somebody, they don’t have a plan. Just murder somebody. Boom. Over what? A pizza?…

Five or six different children — same woman, eight, ten different husbands or whatever. Pretty soon you’re going to have to have DNA cards so you can tell who you’re making love to. You don’t who this is. It might be your grandmother. I’m telling you, they’re young enough. Hey, you have a baby when you’re twelve. Your baby turns thirteen and has a baby, how old are you? Huh? Grandmother…

I’m telling you Christians, what’s wrong with you? Why can’t you hit the streets? Why can’t you clean it out yourselves? It’s our time now, ladies and gentlemen. It is our time. And I’ve got good news for you. It’s not about money. It’s about you doing something ordinarily that we do — get in somebody else’s business. It’s time for you to not accept the language that these people are speaking, which will take them nowhere. What the hell good is Brown v. Board of Education if nobody wants it?

It’s worth reading the whole thing, but that’s the basic idea.

So one might think that Cosby would have something insightful to say about the Zimmerman/Martin case. And in a sense he does. In this interview, he downplayed the possible role of racism in the killing, which is a valuable message. He also said not to trust the media reports on these things because they tend to distort them. True enough. In addition, he said the prosecution failed to prove its case; can’t argue with that assessment, either. But Cosby had the following curious things to say on the self-defense and firearm possession aspects of the case [emphasis mine]:

I know that if you have a gun, it changes your whole feeling about what you can tell people, about how people better do what you say. Your mind can turn in such a way that you have a sense of control and power. I see a thing and so forth and so on [unintelligible] OK just stay where you are and don’t, but I got a gun.

Let’s not go into a racial discussion unless we really have something there. But we do know that he [Zimmerman] had a gun. And we do know that the Florida state law says you have a right to defend yourself, that means both people. So you have a gun and you come up to me and I don’t have a gun, but then you show me your gun and I become frightened and according to the State of Florida, I have a right to defend myself. According to the State of Florida, the person with the gun has the right to defend him or herself. I mean this is getting out of line.

What on earth does the fact situation Cosby describes have to do with the Zimmerman/Martin case, except in Cosby’s imagination? Does Cosby think that Zimmerman walked up to Martin and flashed a gun, and Martin “became frightened”? If so, why did Zimmerman then wait all that time while his head was being bashed on the pavement, screaming at the top of his lungs for help, before using that gun on Martin?

What’s more, as little as Cosby seems to know about the evidence in the Zimmerman case of how the confrontation went down, he unfortunately seems to know even less about the responsibilities and attitudes of most legal concealed carriers in general. For that, ask attorney Andrew Branca, who is not directly addressing Cosby’s statements in the following, but might as well be:

AB: I’d say the biggest misconception is that if you’re carrying a gun you get to take shit from fewer people. The reality is exactly opposite. When you’re carrying a gun you have to take shit from everybody. Except, of course, the guy actually trying to kill you. You can shoot him. That’s the tradeoff. The gun gives you the practical means to end the life of anybody in your immediate vicinity. In exchange for that power it is your moral and legal responsibility to conduct yourself in such a way as to make that outcome as unlikely as possible. The last thing you want to do if you’re carrying is to be the one who even inadvertently escalates a non-deadly encounter to a deadly one. Confronting the drunk loudmouth who’s making a scene at the table next to you in a restaurant, for example, may be seen as a potentially very bad idea if you think a few steps down the line. Best to just let it go, and just go, leave. One of my primary tactical rules of self-defense is to vacate the area at the first sign of a red flag. Let the bad stuff go down while you’re safely somewhere else.

There’s every indication that Zimmerman tried to do just that and did not “confront” Martin, but that “the bad stuff” came to get him anyway. And yet Cosby’s point of view and his state of ignorance on the case is mild compared to that of so many people who continue to opine about it. You know the drill: Zimmerman the racist; Zimmerman followed Martin; Zimmerman confronted Martin.

It might have been understandable for many people to believe these things for the first few weeks after the killing. But in the meantime there’s been a trial here. With evidence, yet. And anyone who paid attention to the trial, anyone who listened to the recording of Zimmerman’s non-emergency call, anyone who looked at the evidence, should know better.

But this case has something for everyone, and it’s the gift that keeps on giving. Want to rail against the racism of white people? Want to take on Stand Your Ground? Want to campaign for more gun control? Then talk about this case.

Cosby’s message is about gun control, an issue about which he feels strongly. From the start of the Zimmerman case, long before the trial, he saw it as an issue about guns and made it clear he didn’t think Zimmerman should have been carrying one. Cosby has a reason to feel so strongly about guns (he’s not against possessing one in the home, by the way): his only son was shot and killed in 1997 while changing a tire, by a man who was attempting to rob him.

The man who killed Ennis Cosby was a criminal, a Ukrainian immigrant 18 years of age named Mikhail Markhasev who had come here with his mother at the age of nine. Although I’ve been unable to ascertain whether he had a concealed carry permit for the gun he used to kill Ennis Cosby, it is nearly impossible to believe that he did. Not only his age but his background (he was a gang member and had spent six months in a correctional facility after having attacked two African-American men at a gas station with a knife) argues against it. So what gun law would have stopped him, and what concealed carry ban would have changed anything? The concealed carry laws in California, where the crime took place, are among the strictest in the nation, by the way.

It’s not at all difficult to understand why Bill Cosby might have a special reason to want to keep guns away from violent criminals. We all would like to do that, but we have yet to figure out a way to accomplish it. George Zimmerman was not a criminal, however, and the fact situation of the Martin killing bears no resemblance to that of the Ennis Cosby murder. It’s not beyond the realm of possibility that, if Zimmerman had not had a gun with him that night, it would have been Zimmerman who would have ended up either gravely injured (brain damage) or even dead.

[Neo-neocon is a writer with degrees in law and family therapy, who blogs at neo-neocon.]


Donations tax deductible
to the full extent allowed by law.