How “The People vs. O.J. Simpson” shows what still plagues us today
If you watch as much Netflix as I have the past 2 years, you’ve certainly seen “The People vs. O.J. Simpson An American Crime Story”. Now for full disclosure, I was born when this trial began (1995), so I don’t have memories of the trial, and certainly didn’t see it first hand. However, from moderate research, watching this single season series, and the shear fact that this has been dubbed, the “trial of the century”, I have a good idea of what happened.
This isn’t about the crime, so much as it is about the trial. Despite the prosecution making two to three gut-wrenching mistakes, the physical evidence was overwhelming and should have been enough to put most people away. O.J. Simpson of course, was not, and is not, most people. But that still isn’t the most important part. The reason O.J. was acquitted, was not because he was famous, not because of the prosecution’s mistakes, and not because the glove didn’t fit. Simpson got off because there was a race war between black people and white people. Now that sounds inflammatory, and perhaps not totally accurate seeing as not all people held hostile positions against people of different ethnicities. But make no mistake, the racism that took place through the LAPD (and numerous other law enforcement entities throughout the country) came to a head in 1992 when the LA riots took place. African-Americans had had enough. Rodney King was the last straw. And when O.J. Simpson, a black man who had found success, was being tried for a double murder by a prosecution whose founder of evidence was a discovered racist, the predominantly African-American jury was blinded of the raw evidence.
Now let me be clear, I am not blaming anyone in this case. If you have watched the series you understand that this is one of the wildest, most unpredicatable cases in recorded history. My point in all of this is that a man who at this point, in my opinion, undoubtedly murdered two people, walked out of that court room with a verdict of not guilty. And what was meant to be a murder trial, turned into a race trial, where the soul goal of the defense was to focus on racism, because it was the only thing that might get their client off. And it worked.
Why did it work? Because there was an epidemic of racism in America and even in the Los Angeles Police Department. Which, by the way, operates in one of the most progressive and diverse cities in the country. There was widespread racial profiling and unfair treatment, 130 years after slavery was abolished, and 30 years after segregation was ended. This is the reason that a likely murderer was found not guilty, and the parents of Nichol Brown and Ron Goldman were crushed 20 years ago.
Now yes O.J. was found guilty in a civil case thereafter, and yes some justice came when he was convicted for his crime in Las Vegas. But this isn’t the point. The point is, it seems we still haven’t learned from our historical mistakes dating back hundreds of years. When I was growing up in Southern California in the mid 2000’s, I only knew what racism was because I studied it in school. “Obviously that doesn’t happen anymore, because it’s just so silly” I thought. But now, I’m 21 years old, and having a better grasp on what’s going on throughout the country, I can see that we still have a long way to go. Maybe it’s technology, maybe it’s the President, or maybe, just maybe, it’s because some of us refuse to learn that hate and prejudice only bring terrible things to this world. And until we can figure that out, we’re doomed to see injustices from Ferguson, Missouri, to the O.J. Simpson trial.
I was asked what made me feel this way specifically. Below is some (not all) of my reasoning…
9 of the 12 jurors were black. The man who found the evidence (gloves specifically) was Mark Furman, a man who was recorded on tape saying horribly malicious things about black people and was nationally revealed as a racist, while the trial was still going on. The defense (Johnnie Cochran and company) focused solely on the racism issue within the LAPD and obviously Mark Furman to distract from the overwhelming physical evidence attaching OJ to the case (his blood being found at the scene with Nichol Brown’s and Ron Goldman’s, and multiple prior issues of domestic violence). Johnnie Cochran was constantly in the media inciting black people by being loud about how the trial was a “racial injustice”. Johnnie Cochran, Robert Shapiro and the rest of their team were all fairly certain that O.J. would lose the case (due to the evidence) unless they could “tell a better story” to convince the jurors that it was a racial issue. Also, at the end of the trial there were thousands of African-Americans outside celebrating O.J. being found not-guilty. What other murder trials have you seen thousands celebrating the defendant getting off? Additionally at the end of the trial when the jury was dismissed one of the black men on the jury held up a black power right fist to OJ as he walked away. That last part may have been dramatized, but I’m fairly sure it wasn’t. Finally, if you listen to the closing statements, Marcia Clark laid everything out as convincingly as possible, and easy to make a decision of guilty, and yet that was not the result.