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OJ Revisited: 10 Years Later


OJ is making the rounds now with TV interviews dealing with his now infamous murder trial.  For years, a friend and I have gone back and forth about the trial, the murder and the acquittal.
Here is the way I see it.
Did OJ commit murder?  Probably.  Most likely in fact.  But in my eyes, OJ's guilt or innocence is almost besides the point, and actually will have very little to do with the majority of this post.
To me, that trail was less about murder and more about money, fame and race.  In that order.  OJ's actual guilt or innocence became secondary as a courtroom was turned into the best legal drama Hollywood has seen since the likes of Fatty Arbuckle or Klaus von Bulow.
The fact is, guilty or innocent, OJ beat the system.  And he beat it good.  He used his money to hire the best lawyers he could find, used his fame to charm the jury, and his race which initially was used against him, wound up working for him.
Many people say that it was Cochran that played the race card which garnered OJ the not guilty verdict.  However, that is extremely inaccurate.  The first time the race card was played was in the selection of Chris "Bitch" Darden as one of the prosecuting attorneys.  Some know that he was not originally assigned to the case.  He always had a reputation of being a marginal attorney, only good with "easy" or "clear cut" cases, and not very personable with juries.  Since the prosecutors in LA thought/figured the OJ case would be an easy one to win (and it probably should have been to be honest), Darden was thrown on the case to head off any charges of racism, especially since we were only 3 years out of the Rodney King trial.
Gil Gerard, a very capable DA, should have known better.  But he didn't.  It is my sincere belief that if Darden had not been put on the trail, the verdict might well have been different.
So did Cochran play the race card?  Sure he did.  And why shouldn't he have?  After all, everyone in this country is entitled to a zealous defense.  OJ got his money's worth and more.  Cochran and company did everything within their power to gain a positive verdict.  They should not be faulted for doing their job.  For doing what millions of other lawyers do in this country everyday.
Because let's face it, if OJ was poor, he would be in jail right now.  Regardless of his color.  Even if there was overwhelming evidence of his innocence, he might have still gotten convicted.  This country doesn't have the best track record when it comes to innocent people being convicted.
A lot of people seem amazed at the overwhelming support OJ got, especially from blacks.  I would venture to say, in their heart of hearts, the majority of blacks think OJ is a murderer.  But they'll never admit it in public.  One of the running jokes between me and a friend of mine is when I tell her -- "Yeah, maybe he did it, but I won't cop to it."
What that trail was for a lot of blacks was a vindication that the system can work in our favor.  One cannot discount the influence of the Rodney King travesty as a serious effect on mindset of blacks following the trail.  Blacks felt let down and betrayed after the first Rodney King trial.  It was another chink in the armor.  You can beat the shit out of a black man on videotape and get away with it. 
That videotape rang in the subconscious of a lot of blacks who supported OJ.  Add to that the memories of the atrocities committed during the Civil Rights Movement, facts and figures that show blacks are more likely to get harsher jail sentences than whites for equivalent crimes with identical criminal records, the beginning of efforts to end affirmative action and a host of other things.......basically, a lot of blacks were fed up.
So they supported OJ.  Not because they wanted him to get off, because they wanted equal play.  For many, many years, whites used their power and influence to get off from murdering blacks and other minorities.  For years, blacks felt that when it came to the justice system, they were truly second class citizens.  For them/us, a victory for OJ was a signal that the pendulum can swing both ways.  That blacks can get away with murder just like anyone else.
Also -- do we really think that if Nicole Simpson and Ron Goldman had been black, it would have gotten the attention and the constant play that it did?  If you say yes, I have to say you are sorely mistaken.
Nicole was painted as a saint by the media and her family.  This loving mother who did nothing but take care of her kids.  And while I have no doubt that she did love her kids, she was far from the angelic figure that was painted of her.  Her flaws were many, but those flaws could be excused because she was dead.  As we all know, in death, everyone seems to be perfect.
Nothing happens in a vacuum.  There are a lot of people who are angry that OJ got off because a murder has gone unsolved.  Unsolved murders in this country are a dime a dozen.  I don't mean to be callous about it, but it's a fact.
It boils down to this.  OJ got off because he was rich.  OJ got off because he was black.  He was one of the first high profile defendants who had lawyers smart enough to used OJ's blackness (which ONLY appeared during the trial and for 2 months after) to get him off.  Even though OJ turned his back on the black community a long time ago, that didn't really matter.  A black man who is the public eye with some seemingly suspicious evidence.
Whether or not OJ actually did it, is sadly, not the crux of the problem with the OJ trial.  The "real killer" will never be found.  Either because the real killer has already been found, or no one cares anymore (most likely, the former).
So should be people be angry that a possible murderer got off scott free?  Well, he didn't exactly get off scott free.  But should there be anger?  Yes.  But the anger should be directed at a system which created an environment where blacks still, 400 years after the founding of this country, still feel like second class citizens who can't get a fair shake in this country when it comes to the criminal justice system.  At a system where race and class and social status means more than facts and evidence.  At a system where no one is really tried by a jury of their peers.  That is where our anger should be directed.
So to repeat:  Do I think OJ did it?  Probably.  But as I said, that is not really the point anymore.

June 8, 2004

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