October 3, , marks the 20th anniversary of one of the most-controversial jury decisions in American legal history. Former pro-football gridiron player O. Simpson was found not guilty of murdering his ex-wife Nicole Brown Simpson and her friend Ronald Goldman. The trial received unprecedented media coverage, the major courtroom personalities achieved instant celebrity status, and opinions on the case were starkly divided along racial lines.
Although prosecutors appeared to have a significant amount of physical evidence linking Simpson to the double murder—convincing many on both sides of the racial divide of his guilt—over the course of the eight-month trial, the defense painted a picture of police misconduct and incompetence.
Ultimately, many were left with the impression that the Los Angeles Police Department had unsuccessfully tried to frame a guilty man, and the verdict was celebrated by some as a rebuke to a corrupt law enforcement regime. The answer, I was sure, would open a new era of black excellence. The support of Simpson was a step backward. It struck me as unintelligent, politically immature, and ill-advised. Two things, it seemed to me, could be true at once: Simpson was a serial abuser who killed his ex-wife, and the Los Angeles Police Department was a brutal army of occupation.
So why was it that the latter seemed to be all that mattered, and what did it have to do with Simpson, who lived a life far beyond the embattled ghettos of L. I vented in the school newspaper. Expending political capital on O. Simpson struck me as exactly the opposite of the correct strategy. Looking back, I realize what eluded me.
I had lived among black people all my life, but somehow I had come to see them as abstractions, not as humans. I had not yet read Ragtime , the E. Doctorow novel that Simpson claimed to love. After his retirement in , he began doing some acting and dreamed of playing Coalhouse Walker in the film adaptation of the book.
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Simpson felt the role of Walker, a black ragtime piano player turned revolutionary, matched his life. The parallels are strained—and in any case Simpson lost the role to Howard Rollins. But Simpson does resemble another character in the book, one whose feats explain the strange bond between Simpson and the black community. Doctorow offers a fictionalized Harry Houdini, whose escapes from straitjackets, bank vaults, piano cases, and mailbags thrill the poor people of the nation.
He is jailed in Boston, imprisoned on an English ship, tossed into the Seine in manacles.
WATCH: OJ Simpson Verdict Read During Trial & Reactions | tysaxibuqu.tk
Each time, he escapes. The poor are enthralled by Houdini not because he organizes on their behalf, but because his exploits resonate with them: They know that their lives are trapdoored and trip-wired, that they too have been jailed, imprisoned, chained, and tossed into the sea. A Houdini performance was their life in miniature, with one heroic difference—he escaped.
L ong before he led the police on a chase through L. His rare athletic talent freed him from an impoverished childhood, and brought him to USC on a football scholarship in They are dazzling to behold.
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In one frame he leaps past a defender, lands seemingly off balance, and then cuts across the field at full velocity. At several junctures, you expect him to fall, and the one time he does, the defender falls with him—but then Simpson, in a matter of milliseconds, glides to his feet and races off. He would angle himself against the earth, his hips flying one way, his head another.
He seemed to run too high, with his chest exposed, presenting what should have been an inviting target for the defense. And yet he escaped. Simpson was a running back, a position dominated by African Americans for the past half century—a fact that has often been invoked to boost racist thinking about the innate athleticism of blacks. More pertinent, the job of the running back—to escape—is the most basic of vocations, one that a kid from the projects can begin practicing in that first game of tag.
Running also holds a special significance to a people denied violent resistance as a viable option, if only because it has always been the most potent tool available. The runaway slave is a fixture in the American imagination. They left.
Simpson was a celebrity. He was handsome, articulate, and charming. He was identifiably black, but measured against the brashness of Muhammad Ali and the coiled rage of Jim Brown, his distinction was to radiate reassurance and respectability. But the seduction was mutual, and he used his football fame to gain access to white patrons eager to expose him to the finer things in life.
Simpson mingled with wealthy entrepreneurs at golf clubs where he was one of the few black members, or the first and only black member. He gave them the thrill of convening with a real sports hero at his mansion, Rockingham, nestled in the wealthy white suburb of Brentwood. He was the CEO of O. Simpson Enterprises, which owned stakes in hotels and restaurants, and he sat on four different corporate boards. His pursuit of white women was profligate. White women.
Fine white women. Two years later, he left Marguerite to pursue a relationship with Nicole. But the affairs continued: Bond girls, Playboy playmates, models, actresses, most of them white. For Simpson, the women on his arm were not women but bodies, ornaments, evidence of conquests—an outlook he had seen taken to its most violent conclusions in the form of neighborhood pimps.
Nicole Brown was proof to the world that Simpson, among the millions of black men caught in the maze of American racism, had risen above it. What sort of abuse—verbal and physical—was going on behind the mansion gates, almost no one, black or white, guessed.
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Or much cared. The goings-on in the ghettos of L. He eschewed involvement in any sort of politics that might tarnish his brand, and thus his pursuit of wealth. If it was easy for Simpson to forget the world he came from, that was partly because the world he now belonged to was invested in forgetting.
A montage of violent events flashes across the screen—Martin Luther King Jr. There was nothing else going on. B ut Edelman does not allow us to forget, because the Simpson story turned out to be intimately enmeshed with the story of black Los Angeles and its relationship with the police. This was the community the Simpson jury was drawn from, and ultimately the one that held his life in the balance. For years, much of the country has wondered how Simpson could possibly have been found innocent. An unspoken assumption underlies this conjecture—that the jury understood the legal system to be credible.
What the film makes clear in piecing together a parade of victims beaten, killed, and harassed by the LAPD is that the predominantly black jury—quite rightfully—understood no such thing.
The officers were brutal because my own politics, and my own experiences with the police, suggested they would be so. The terror emanated directly from the top. By the time Simpson came to trial, most of the black community in Los Angeles had ample reason to view law enforcement as lacking not just credibility but basic legitimacy. Victimization fed a loss of respect for law enforcement, and that loss of respect in turn transformed victims into victimizers. The footage of the protracted beating of a white man, Reginald Denny, who was pulled from his truck during the Los Angeles riots, is chilling.
But when law enforcement becomes capricious, citizens are apt to resort to their own law, rooted in ancient impulses, tribal loyalties, and vengeance. The beating of Reginald Denny was vengeance for the beating of Rodney King.
Simpson, the police force had gotten its man. But juries are not merely lay observers, and the defense needed to neither wholly exonerate Simpson nor completely contradict all the evidence. His lawyers simply needed to instill reasonable doubt. The LAPD had spent decades seeding that doubt in the minds of people like those on the jury, the majority of whom were black women. These days Johnnie Cochran is remembered almost in caricature, mocked on Seinfeld and derided as a race hustler. Back then, even my view of Cochran was shaped in part by the satirization of him on Saturday Night Live.
His daughter and son were in the backseat.
When Cochran stepped out, the officers had their guns drawn. Cochran received a personal apology from the chief of police. Whether I saw Simpson as black or not, racism pervaded his case.
WATCH: OJ Simpson Verdict Read During Trial
The role it played went beyond the evidence on display. How many black men had the LAPD arrested and convicted under a similarly lax application of standards? The claim was prophetic. Resentment continues to fester that Simpson was afforded the best defense money could buy, in the form of Cochran. It offended me, too. Simpson should have been the last person in the world to reap a reward from the struggle waged against the LAPD. Months after he was acquitted, I watched him give a speech at a black church in D.
He was presented with traditional African garb. I have not, in my life, ever felt much shame in being black.
teiphopuro.tk That was a moment when I felt it deeply. More important, I did not understand the ties that united Simpson and the black community. When O. Simpson ran from justice, returned to it, was tried for murder, and eluded justice again, it was the most shocking statement of pure equality since the civil-rights movement.