Take down the Cosby mu­ral

The Washington Post Sunday - - LOCAL OPINIONS -

Ev­ery time I walk by Ben’s Chili Bowl, I’ m re­minded of the gap be­tween our coun­try’s ideals and our coun­try’s role mod­els, thanks to the larger-thanlife mu­ral of Bill Cosby. It’s about time the restau­rant takes down its U Street mu­ral of a man many of us spent our child­hoods rever­ing.

The restau­rant is a D.C. icon, open since 1958. But it now has an­other mean­ing; a dark one.

Since al­le­ga­tions be­gan to flow on the al­leged crimes by Cosby, many peo­ple­have walked by Ben’ s Chili Bowl and glossed over an im­age star­ing them di­rectly in the face. It’s an im­age that may evoke feel­ings they’ d like to ig­nore. Feel­ings of dis­gust for the crimes of a fig­ure­head or shame be­cause at one time we gen­uinely liked the man and “The Cosby Show.”

Herein lies a se­ri­ous prob­lem: Com­pla­cency tied to sex­ual as­sault should not and can­not ex­ist if we want to change the way so­ci­ety treats women. What ex­am­ple are we set­ting if we al­low a piece of “pub­lic art” of his smil­ing face to re­main for the world to see?

I ad­mit I spent a week­end grap­pling with do­ing some­thing il­le­gal: pub­licly de­fac­ing the mu­ral as bars started clos­ing across the city. I talked to me­dia con­tacts, friends and fam­ily. I filled my Ama­zon cart with all the ma­te­ri­als it would take. But, in the end, I re­al­ized what many be­fore me have landed upon: Some­times peace­ful protests are bet­ter than di­rect ac­tion — par­tic­u­larly in the age of vi­ral videos and pub­lic stunts act­ing as en­ter­tain­ment.

Look at the sin­gle sit­u­a­tion first. Though a crime al­leged to have been com­mit­ted by one man does not have the same weight as all of the wrongs in­flicted on women, it does af­fect so­ci­ety’s broader re­sponse to th­ese crimes. Sadly, sex­ual as­sault hap­pens ev­ery day.

But, the wider mes­sage in leav­ing the mu­ral­ist hat sin­gle in­ci­dents are mean­ing less. Its ends a mes­sage to the pub­lic about what is con­sid­ered okay to over­look and what should cause so­ci­etal up­roar.

It’s time we took own­er­ship for what we’re call­ing pub­lic art in the form of a mu­ral of an al­leged rapist on a restau­rant fre­quented by hun­dreds of drunk col­lege stu­dents, his­to­ri­ans and chili afi­ciona­dos.

The task at hand is to move on from this mo­ment and paint over our com­pla­cency and the pain it has caused. Let’s start over. Let’s spend our week­end draw­ing a new mu­ral that cel­e­brates women. I’m sure we could find an artist or two will­ing to take on the cause. And a few hands across the city to pitch in to cover the cost of sup­plies in my Ama­zon cart.

BILL O'LEARY/THE WASH­ING­TON POST

The Bill Cosby mu­ral on the side of Ben's Chili Bowl in Wash­ing­ton.

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