It has been 20 years since the famous/infamous trial of OJ. Simpson captivated much of the nation. Millions of people can remember sitting glued to their television sets viewing the riveting Ford Bronco racing down the highway as police cars trailed slowly behind with passerby's yelling "Go O.J.GO!". It seems that every major cable network -- ABC, CBS, NBC, etc.-- covered the event. Even C-Span pre-empted their traditional coverage of congress to televise the drama. Fox News and MSNBC did not come along until 1996.
For those of you who are too young (like the majority of my college students and those of you under 30) to fully remember the trial, let me provide you with some details. The trial was a television spectacle with all the makings of a potential Hollywood movie. Sex and violence, interracial relationships and marriage, infidelity, alcoholism, sexual deviancy and a whole host of tantalizing, lurid details that titillated and fascinated the public. Stories covering the trial became daily tidbits as all venues of major media from weekly tabloids, to highbrow publications intensely covered the trial. If these facts were not enough, you also had a cast of real life characters that would have been a fiction writer's dream.
The strong, handsome, sex symbol former black hall of fame Heisman trophy winner. The former beauty queen, blonde haired blued eyed murdered wife. Her tall, dark and handsome, murdered body builder friend. The blond-haired hedonistic beach boy. The Latin housekeeper. The Asian judge. The white/Jewish female prosecutor. The black male prosecutor. The black male defense attorney. The legendary WASP attorney. The Jewish defense attorney. The black ex-wife and kids from his first marriage. Biracial kids from his second marriage. The white racist cop. It went on and on. It was theater of the surreal so to speak.
The trial like many other issues in America exposed the large racial divide in our nation. At the time the nation was largely divided among racial lines with 62 percent of whites believing that Simpson was guilty and 68 percent of blacks feeling that he was innocent according to a CNN poll conducted at the time. Charges that the defense team lead by the late Johnnie Cochran was playing the race card to Time magazine darkening Simpson's face on its cover elicited outrage from certain segments of the black community and further divided the public. The racial gulf remained after the trial.
Many white Americans were shocked and in some cases, outraged by witnessing groups of blacks cheering the verdict. To many of them, such a reaction demonstrated a high level of callousness and indifference to the plight of two brutally murdered victims. On the contrary, for many black Americans, the verdict represented vindication from a justice system that had for so long vehemently judiciously mistreated, violated, railroaded and incarcerated so many black people (especially young black men) who in a number of cases were unjustly prosecuted without probable cause. In fact, Mr. Simpson was probably an afterthought, if a thought at all. I, myself, vividly remember the day the verdict was handed down, October 3, 1995. I was a graduate student working on my Ph.D. at a land grant institution in northern New England.
The day after the decision was rendered I was in the campus library reading reactions to the verdict from various newspapers and on the internet which was still in its infancy at the time. A well-built, slightly over six feet, athletic looking white man who looked to be in his late 20s, early 30s walked up to the table where I was sitting. I could tell that he was very despondent and troubled. He saw the various papers sprawled over the table. Given my medium height and diminutive size coupled with the troubled look on his face and the initial radical reactions that some Whites had expressed about the verdict, I will admit that I was somewhat nervous that he might become violent. He asked if he could sit down. I agreed.
We chatted for about twenty minutes about the verdict. I gave him reasons as to why I thought the jury came to the conclusions that it did and he reciprocated his feelings to me. Afterwards, he stood up, told me he felt better, shook my hand and left. I wished him a good day. Till this day, I often wonder how many people from different ethnic groups had similar conversations with one another. These were the sort of responses that the media should have been covering as opposed to the polarizing reactions of supposedly elated Blacks cheering and disgusted Whites crying foul.
The fact is that many of us had long come to the realization that stories of racial cooperation and harmony does not fit into the agenda of those who seek to divide us along racial, class and other lines. Rather, images of racial strife and consternation are far more psychologically and financially profitable for the powers that be. We saw the ugly stain of racial strife rear its head again during the George Zimmerman/Trayvon Martin trial. While the case was similar to the Simpson trial due to its racially charged nature, Zimmerman's bi-racial background added another dimension to the situation.
I was probably among those blacks in the minority, at the time, who felt that Simpson was guilty. I still feel that way. That being said, from an intellectual (not moral) standpoint, I could see why the jury came to the conclusion that it did. The prosecution failed to prove its case beyond a reasonable doubt. It is interesting to note that exactly 13 years later, on the same date, October 3, 2008, O.J. Simpson was found guilty by a Las Vegas jury and is currently serving time.
The trial established the television careers of previously unknown attorneys, saved the then fledgling Court TV, now known as TruTV and made a number of commentators and pundit's multi- millionaires with their multiple book deals. It was an event that has firmly etched itself in the fabric of American popular culture.