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O.J. SIMPSON: 10 YEARS AFTER THE VERDICT
The Augusta Chronicle, October 3, 2005 Edition: Page: A05
Author: Gregory Clay, Guest Columnist

The tension was palpable. The anxiety was immense. The date was Oct. 3, 1995. The time was 1:07 p.m. EDT. That's when the court clerk announced Orenthal James Simpson was found "not guilty." It's been 10 years since that Tuesday in a downtown Los Angeles courtroom; has it really been that long already? We never will forget that stunned look on longtime Simpson friend Robert Kardashian's face during the reading of the verdict. We never will forget the plethora of new words and phrases that emanated during the trial and became so commonplace in the English vernacular, from "disingenuous" to "rush to judgment."

THE SIMPSON case essentially set up shop in our conscience for nearly two years in the mid-1990s. For many, it was unshakeable because the courtroom television cameras gave us a daily live shot into the technical (and often sensational) process of a modern-day, high-profile trial of drama - from the good, the bad, the ugly and the "Dream Team."

The trial became more than just that. In fact, the trial appeared lost in all of the political and celebrity maneuverings. Thanks to Simpson's slick defense team, it really became an ugly referendum on police investigative skills, interracial marriage, racial politics and the relationship between economic affluence and the American justice system.

Everything but whether Simpson actually committed the murders of ex-wife Nicole Brown Simpson and her friend, Ronald Goldman. Regardless of what the criminal jury shamefully told us that day, in reality Simpson was guilty. The blood and DNA evidence was overwhelming. We should all know that by now, in 2005. Remember, it's the 10th-year anniversary. So we've had much time to reflect and re-examine.

The trial marked the first time we publicly saw the "70-30" racial chasm in this country. In 2005, we see it with the Hurricane Katrina polls: NBC's Meet the Press recently displayed a survey that indicated 70 percent of black respondents believed the government response would have been better for white suburban citizens in Louisiana rather than black urban in New Orleans. Only 30 percent of white respondents agreed with that. In 1995, we saw a similar pattern with the polls: approximately 70 percent of black respondents polled during the trial said Simpson was innocent; again only 30 percent of white respondents agreed.

But one element we didn't see in '95 was a percentage breakdown based on socioeconomic strata. Did middle-class black folk feel the same way as lower-class black people or even the upper class? There were no lines of demarcation, at least publicly by the media. However, 10 years ago, we did see the "spite factor." It became increasingly obvious that some black people in the United States didn't care about Simpson's guilt or innocence. Some just wanted him to be exonerated, simply because he killed a white person.

SOME VIEWED a Simpson "getaway" as revenge and retribution for past incidents of horror perpetrated by such groups as the Ku Klux Klan and ardent segregationists during America's Jim Crow era in the South. That "hidden" spite subtly brought to light the vastly under-covered issue of black-rooted racism in the United States.

We also saw how many black citizens suddenly rallied to the defense of Simpson, the Pro Football Hall of Famer and co-star of those silly Naked Gun movies who, at least from outward appearances, had little or no connection to most in the black community. Suffice to say, before the trial you probably wouldn't have expected to see Simpson at the annual NAACP convention. It was obvious some black folk privately were saying, "You hate him, so therefore we have to love him." Simply put, that's called spite.

We saw the in-house rift that developed between "Dream Team" attorneys Johnnie Cochran and Robert Shapiro. Remember when Shapiro reportedly accused Cochran of playing the "race card" and "dealing from the bottom of the deck." ...

STILL, THE RIFTS, the feuds and the drama in this case all conspired to foment a new media genre - that of legal shop talk mainly on cable television. During the trial, attorneys working as media legal analysts on the side, such as Greta Van Susteren, James Curtis, Star Jones, Jeffrey Toobin, Dan Abrams and Nancy Grace, all used the Simpson case as a catapult toward more lucrative and big-time television careers.

Besides Simpson, the central figure most recognized in the vortex of the "Trial of the Century" was Cochran, who died on March 29 of this year. In the end, was he ostensibly more demagogue than attorney, more carnival barker than facilitator of justice? ...In any regard, now we are left to wonder if Simpson can truly find, as only he describes, the "real killer" - on the golf courses of America, no less. Perhaps, he can, but only if the 1968 Heisman Trophy winner brings a mirror along with his 9-iron. That's nine lives, too. ---

 


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