The O.J. Simpson trial. A football star turned actor, accused of double murder. A bloody glove. A Kardashian. A Nazi-loving LAPD detective. A "Dream Team" of defense lawyers.
Back in a simpler time we know as the 1990s, Americans from coast to coast were glued to their television sets, newspapers, and radios, tuning into the event dubbed the "trial of the century" before it began.
The trial ended on October 3, 1995. The jury found Simpson not guilty of murdering his wife, Nicole Brown Simpson, and her friend, Ron Goldman. The verdict was unbelievable to most people, particularly white Americans. All of the evidence pointed to O.J.'s guilt. He even acted guilty, leading police on a slow-speed car chase on an L.A. freeway.
I was curious as to why FX decided to revisit the trial in American Crime Story: The People vs. O.J. Simpson. Perhaps this Nineties retro thing was getting a little out of hand. After all, Fuller House made its Netflix debut around the same time.
But I was hooked from the opening scene. The series turned out to be well directed, brilliantly cast (compare the actors to their real-life counterparts), and highly relevant to our world in 2016.
The opening scene establishes the context for the trial. Los Angeles, 1992. We see the actual camcorder footage of the brutal beating of Rodney King, an unarmed black man, by four white Los Angeles Police Department officers. When these cops were all found not guilty --ￂﾠby a white jury in a white community outside of L.A. -- the city's black neighborhoods erupted into riots. People were madder than hell at a system in which white cops were free to brutalize African Americans without any consequences.
Two years later, the L.A. District Attorney's office believe they have an airtight case against Simpson. The amount of physical evidence, including DNA samples, is overwhelming. Simpson has a history of violently abusing his wife, and recordings of 911 calls from her prove it.
So how did the prosecution fail to get a conviction? How did O.J. manage to go free? While many believe the prosecution simply blew it, the reasons go back to the police and race relations.
The defense team, led by noted African American attorney, Johnnie Cochran, completely discredited the work of the LAPD. They argued much of the evidence could have been planted by white cops looking to frame Simpson. The biggest blow to the prosecution? Mark Fuhrman, lead detective at the crime scene, was revealed to be an extreme racist.
Police brutality, captured on video. No punishment for the officers involved. Tension between the police and minority communities. Sound familiar?
Look at some of the major headlines from the past two years. In Ferguson, Missouri, protests erupted over the shooting of unarmed black teenager, Michael Brown, by a white police officer. In New York City, Eric Garner, another unarmed black man, died after being put in a chokehold by a white police officer. In a video recording, you can clearly hear Garner say, "I can't breathe, I can't breathe." while face down on the pavement. Again, a grand jury decided not to indict the police officer.
The deaths of Brown and Garner aren't two isolated incidents that happened to receive a lot of media attention. These tragedies continue on a regular basis. A recent Guardian report revealed that black people are three times as likely to be killed by police than whites and other races. Black people are also twice as likely to be unarmed when killed by police, compared to whites.
Outrage over deaths like these recently led to the formation of the Black Lives Matter organization. In cities across the U.S., Black Lives Matter has organized large-scale protests against police brutality, racial profiling, and injustice. #BlackLivesMatter has become one of the world's most well-known hashtags. Now, the group is trying to be heard during the 2016 presidential campaign. They've disrupted rallies and confronted both Democratic and Republican candidates.
Twenty-four years ago, the city of Los Angeles burned during the Rodney King riots. Three years later, a mostly black jury acquitted O.J. Simpson for two murders he probably committed. The motivation in both instances? The deep mistrust and sense of outrage African Americans felt towards a police force that continuously brutalized them.
Today, in Rodney King's place, we have Eric Garner, Michael Brown, Tamir Rice, and countless others. It may be 2016, but in many ways, we're still stuck in the 1990s.