POOL New / Reuters
Bill Cosby leaving the Montgomery County Courthouse in May 2016.

As Bill Cosby nears a potentially messy, public trial regarding his alleged sexual assault, his legal team is trying a controversial new tactic.

Cosby’s lawyers have claimed that racism is the reason their client has been the target of numerous rape and sexual assault allegations.

On Tuesday, at a Philadelphia court hearing regarding a 2004 incident in which Cosby allegedly assaulted former Temple University employee Andrea Constand, the presiding judge announced plans to begin a jury trial by June 2017.

After the hearing, Cosby’s legal team spoke out about apparent “racial bias and prejudice” against their client outside of the courthouse.

“Mr. Cosby is no stranger to discrimination and racial hatred, and throughout his career Mr. Cosby has always used his voice and his celebrity to highlight the commonalities and has portrayed the differences that are not negative, no matter the race, gender and religion of a person,” lawyer Brian McMonagle said in a statement to reporters.

McMonagle said that Cosby’s civil rights have been trampled on, and specifically targeted high-profile lawyer Gloria Allred, who represents nearly half the women who will potentially testify against Cosby.

“[Allred] calls herself a civil rights attorney, but her campaign against Mr. Cosby builds on racial bias and prejudice that can pollute the court of public opinion,” McMonagle said.

He also called out the media for its coverage of Allred and her clients’ accusations of Cosby, saying that reporting on the allegations simply perpetuates the racial bias.

“And when the media repeats her accusations — with no evidence, no trial and no jury — we are moved backwards as a country and away from the America that our civil rights leaders sacrificed so much to create,” he said.

Though some black celebrities who support Cosby like Eddie Griffin have dismissed the rape allegations against him as a racist conspiracy to tarnish his legacy, this is the first time that Cosby’s legal team have explicitly brought race into the discussion regarding the accusations against him.

In the past, Cosby has dismissed racism as a reason for the disadvantages some black people face.

Though he has served as an icon of the black community thanks to his comedy work and his groundbreaking career on TV via “I Spy” and “The Cosby Show,” he’s also been accused of engaging in the worst of respectability politics. He’s suggested that black people should stop blaming injustices and disadvantages on racism, and has especially targeted poor black people.

In an infamous NAACP speech in 2004 known as the “Pound Cake Speech” he said:

“These are people going around stealing Coca-Cola. People getting shot in the back of the head over a piece of pound cake. Then we all run out and are outraged: ‘The cops shouldn’t have shot him.’ What the hell was he doing with the pound cake in his hand?”

In a statement obtained by ABC, Gloria Allred described Brian McMonagle’s comments on his client as “desperate.”

“He complains about racial bias but what about the African American women whom I represent who accuse him of sexual assault or rape and who refuse to remain silent about what they say they have suffered?” Allred said.

At Tuesday’s hearing, prosecutors petitioned to have 13 women who have made previous accusations against Cosby testify in his upcoming trial. Of those 13 women, 12 are white, may have been a factor in a new racial argument from Cosby’s defense.

“I think they deserve a voice and I am proud to represent them,” Allred added in her statement. “This is not an issue of racial bias. Instead, it is an issue of whether or not Mr. Cosby has committed acts of gender sexual violence.”

It remains to be seen whether the claims of racial bias will be used in Cosby’s actual courtroom defense, but the introduction of race into the discussion by his own legal team marks a significant shift in the conversation about his pending trial.

There’s no denying that white men in Hollywood like Woody Allen and Roman Polanski have faced far less public scrutiny and have kept their legacies largely intact in the wake of horrific sexual assault claims. The question is: does that make the accusations against Cosby, a black man, any less valid?

In the court of public opinion, Cosby is pretty much guilty in the eyes of many of those who’ve followed this story. It remains to be seen whether race will have any impact on the outcome of the trial.

Source: Huff Post Crime