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Commentary: Let Ali Family Decide Whether to Remove Cosby Mural

by Borderstan Contributor — October 19, 2015 at 10:30 am 4 Comments

Cosby mural at Ben's

Borderstan periodically publishes opinion pieces from the people in our community. Have something you want to share with your neighbors? Email us at [email protected].

by Kevin Rooney from U Street Buzz

After everything we have heard, it is virtually certain that Bill Cosby is the monster his accusers say he is, or at least that is the judgement of the court of public opinion. And I concur. Given this, it strikes many as incomprehensible that his likeness is still on the Ben’s Chili Bowl mural by renowned D.C. artist Aniekan Udofia (the mural also features President Obama, Chuck Brown and Donnie Simpson).

This bewilderment, or even anger, is certainly understandable, but the decision on whether and when to remove Cosby should be made solely by Ben’s Chili Bowl proprietors Virginia Ali and her family.

Devin Boyle, the author of this opinion piece in the Washington Post, shows no awareness of why Cosby was honored there in the first place, nor any empathy for the exceedingly difficult position that the Ali family are now in.

It is not defending Cosby, minimizing his crimes, nor insensitive to his victims to point out that while we now know he was a serial sexual predator, he also helped Ben and Virginia Ali a great deal during during some very difficult years for Ben’s Chili Bowl on U Street. He contributed his time and the power of his considerable celebrity and, to my knowledge, never asked for anything in return.

That doesn’t make Cosby a saint, obviously, and it doesn’t come close to making up for the unimaginable pain he has caused his many victims. A special place in Hell has a “reserved” sign with his name on it.

I recount the backstory only to provide some context on the tough spot in which the 81-year-old Virginia Ali and her children now find themselves. At what point do you turn your back on a friend who was there for you and your family during difficult times, but who has since turned out to have been a truly awful human being to others? I don’t know the answer, but I do believe that Virginia Ali (and Ben too, if he were still alive) and the family have earned the right to make that decision themselves by virtue of their many, many contributions to this neighborhood and city.

I think that Cosby’s likeness will be removed from the mural someday, and probably someday soon, but the timing won’t and shouldn’t be decided by Devin Boyle or any other self-righteous activist.

And I doubt they’ll need her help painting it over.

Kevin Rooney runs neighborhood news hub U Street Buzz. Follow him on Twitter or Facebook.

Comments (4)

  1. I’d be happy to have a conversation with you Kevin if you want to chat. (This is Devin by the way.) Always happy to have productive conversations with those with differing opinions to myself.

  2. Hi Devin, I’m always happy to talk with neighbors on this matter or any other. By the way, I do recognize that I am very likely in the minority on this, given Cosby’s level of infamy now. I still think, however, that whatever Mrs. Ali’s position on this is it must be respected.

  3. I agree Kevin on the point you make about Mrs. Ali. And it’s a good one. That said, my argument lies in what this means for victims of sexual assault–something that hits very close to home for me.

    I in no way want to harm the family or make them feel bad. Nor do I want to hurt their business. (I actually think it might help their business if they’re ready to make the leap to change the mural to a celebratory piece of art.)

    But, for me, and a lot of women, this needed to be said. I will say, I do not like the way the mural was defaced this weekend. I’d prefer to work with the family to mutually agree on what a mural celebrating women could look like for them.

    Thank you for your thoughtful and respectful feedback.

    D

  4. Hey again Kevin.

    I know this is not where you stand but I did want to let you & your readers know We have launched a Kickstarter and MoveOn.org petition to support and pay for the mural to be repainted by an artist. Here are the details:

    https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/152227783/why-its-time-for-this-cosby-mural-to-come-down
    http://petitions.moveon.org/sign/take-down-the-bill-cosby?source=c.em&r_by=14434193

    Also, WaPo is publishing a response from me today to the defacing. (I’ll send it over.) And, again, despite our differing opinions I appreciate you writing about this.

    D

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