The sexual assault case brought on Wednesday against comedian Bill Cosby rekindled a long-running debate on social media about race and the U.S. justice system.
While sentiment on social media weighed heavily against Cosby, many of the hottest threads featured fierce debates over the often-diverging outcomes of U.S. criminal investigations depending on whether alleged perpetrators are white or black. Cosby is black.
On the heavily trending #BlackLivesMatter hashtag on Twitter, for example, many users contrasted the willingness of the Pennsylvania district attorney to charge Cosby without a grand jury indictment while a number of other U.S. prosecutors have not pursued a similar path when white police officers stood accused killing black men and youths. Just this week, a grand jury in Ohio declined to bring charges against two Cleveland police officers involved in the 2014 shooting of 12-year-old Tamir Rice.
Twitter user Tony McKnight (@williecaine) said: “So no grand jury for ‘the Coz.’ If only he’d been nicknamed ‘the Cop.'”
Another Twitter user Barbara E. Allen (@BA1245) wrote: “Why is it that Bill Cosby can be charged but the cop who murdered Tamir Rice’s can’t? #TamirRice #BlackLivesMatter”
Cosby was arraigned in Pennsylvania on charges related to an alleged sexual assault against a woman at his home outside Philadelphia in 2004, and a judge set bail at $1 million.
More than two thirds of the total mentions of Cosby on Twitter, Facebook and Google ranked as negative, according to social media analytics firm Zoomph, with just 10 percent rated as positive. Another 20 percent were scored as neutral.
Threads discussing Cosby’s legacy as a fixture on U.S. television for decades and the large number of women who have accused him of assaulting them were also active.
One Twitter user, Jas Waters with the handle @JasFly, said: “It’ll be interesting to see if Cosby stands trial … and if he takes the stand. What a crazy end to his legacy.”
Yasmin Khan, using the Twitter handle @ykhan100, tweeted: “Bill Cosby is charged with sexual assault offences – over 50 victims may finally get justice after decades of denial.”
(Reporting by Angela Moon; Editing by Dan Burns and Tom Brown)