A Black and White View of the O.J. Simpson Case 20 Years Later

Jesse Washington, Huffington Post, June 8, 2014

The O.J. Simpson murder trial exposed many painful truths. None hit harder than the idea that white and black people often look at the same facts and see different realities.

Today, 20 years after the case captivated and divided the nation, few opinions about the saga have changed. Despite two decades’ worth of increasing racial acceptance, the Simpson case still reflects deep-rooted obstacles to a truly united America.

Most people still believe that the black football legend killed his white ex-wife and her friend, polls show. But for many African-Americans, his likely guilt remains overwhelmed by a potent mix: the racism of the lead detective and the history of black mistreatment by the justice system.

For these people, Simpson’s acquittal is a powerful rebuke to what they see as America’s racial crimes. Others simply see a murderer who played the race card to get away with it. Across the board, emotions remain vivid.

“It was very tense at work,” recalls Carlos Carter, who at the time was one of the few black people working in the trust department of a Pittsburgh bank. “The whites felt like OJ was guilty, they were rooting for their team. We thought he was innocent, that he was kind of framed, so we were on the black team.”

He adds: “We were consumed with it. Like Sugar Ray Robinson fighting the great white hope. It was like a match. It represented something bigger than the case, the battle between good and evil, the battle between the white man and the black man. It was at that level.”

This sentiment, widespread in the black community, was confusing to Shannon Spicker, a white woman who was working her way through college in Ohio at the time.

“Most of us didn’t understand why it was racially charged,” she says. “We didn’t understand how people could defend him just because he was black, is what it felt like. We knew he was guilty but they defended him because he was black. It was weird.”

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“It becomes a very complex study in American history,” says Ronnie Duncan, who was working as a TV sportscaster at the time.

“O.J. was in a weird place,” says Duncan, 55, who is black. “He lived a lavish life in L.A., sunny skies, beautiful women, everyone takes you out to lunch. But one thing we recognize, you can deny it all you want, but I can be driving right now and —”

Duncan makes the sound of a police siren, then quotes a common saying among black folk:

“You may be a million-dollar star, but when it’s finally said and done, you are still, to them, the N, the I, the G, the G, the E, and the R.”

The sirens sounded for Simpson on June 17, during the legendary slow-speed Bronco chase.

{snip} A police caravan trailed him down the 405 freeway as crowds lined the overpasses and more than 90 million people watched on live television.

“It was such a surreal scene,” says Todd Looney, a black Los Angeles native.

“What was so strange was the fact how even reactions to his pursuit were divided along racial lines,” says Looney, 46, a media company consultant. “I remember seeing people on the overpass by Sunset Boulevard, cheering as he went by, and most of them were black. I’m thinking, why are you cheering? Somebody’s about to kill himself. It was kind of disgusting, as if it was O.J. versus the police.”

{snip}

The prosecution had a pile of evidence, including something relatively new then: DNA analysis. Prosecutors said that DNA matched Simpson’s blood to samples from the murder scene. They said they found blood matching the victims’ in his Bronco, on a glove at Simpson’s property, and on a sock in his bedroom.

But the prosecution had a big problem: the lead detective, Mark Fuhrman–the one who had produced the bloody glove from Simpson’s estate.

Fuhrman was a white cop who used racist language and lied about it on the stand during the trial. (He was later convicted of perjury.) He was on tape bragging about assaulting black gang members and making them beg for mercy: “You do what you’re told, understand, nigger?” Before the murders, he had arrested Simpson for beating Nicole.

Defense lawyers suggested that he planted the glove out of a racist desire to frame a black man. They said that other blood evidence could have been planted, too, or at least was unreliable due to sloppy police work.

{snip}

The bloody glove itself, which probably was the strongest evidence of Simpson’s guilt, also was seen through very different lenses.

Prosecutors asked Simpson, in court, to try it on. The former movie star struggled and grimaced while trying, apparently unsuccessfully, to fit the glove on his hand.

Spicker laughs at the memory.

“I’m sorry, I thought it was hysterical. I laughed that day too,” she says. “It doesn’t make any sense. Any good attorney wouldn’t make him try it on. Those were his gloves. His facial expression, it was comical. He was acting.”

But it was a big moment for Carter. He repeats the famous line from Cochran’s closing statement:

“If it does not fit, you must acquit.”

The 12-person jury did exactly that. Nine jurors were black, two white, and one Hispanic.

Duncan was at home, watching on television, as the verdict was announced. He literally jumped for joy.

“It wasn’t so much for O.J. I was jumping for joy. It was the process. . . . It was the victory over the United States justice system that has always had a different treatment for me and my brother.”

“I never said O.J. wasn’t guilty,” Duncan continues. “I just said he got off. That’s what it is: O.J. got off. There’s a side of me that’s annoyed by my jubilation. But my jubilation is motivated by the ills and pains of the past. There have been too many tears.”

{snip}

There was no solace for Spicker. The cheers that echoed across black America that day troubled her.

“These two innocent people were killed, and you’re cheering because their murderer was just set free,” she said. “It was a shame. It feels racist against the white victims.”

Spicker recognizes white racism, then and now. She has black family members, and when she hears white people making racist remarks, she speaks out. But that doesn’t change her sense of injustice over the Simpson verdict.

“A lot of inner-city kids and adults are taught not to trust the system, not to trust police; as a young black person you’re going to be found guilty before any evidence comes out because you’re black,” she says.

“That may be true sometimes,” she says, “and it may not be true sometimes.”

Carter now thinks that Simpson was guilty, but he makes no apologies for his feelings at the acquittal 20 years ago.

“That pride that I felt, I don’t take it back. I don’t feel I was hoodwinked. I was just living in the moment, and it was a victory for my people,” says Carter, now 42.

“I didn’t think of it then, but that’s what it was for me. A victory,” he says. “I could have cared less about O.J., but when I saw him, I saw myself.”

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