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Cultural Diversity: Breaking Barriers, Widening Perspectives
As destructive as those events were, not all of them together equaled one event of 1995 in its power to rend the fabric of societal relations. None of these other volatile events came close to producing more belligerent racism than the 0. J. Simpson trial. This double-murder case involved all the passions and principles and factors that make race the overarching problem of this society. Every imaginable aspect of courtroom justice, the validity of the jury system, the powers of judges the ugly specter of men beating their wives, the factor of drug abuse, the ability of the rich to “buy” a verdict, the role of a defendant’s fame, the custom of juries “nullifying” evidence, the modern habit of lawyers stacking juries with members of one race, the constitutional issue of illegal searches and seizures, the curse of policemen lying and planting evidence, the legitimacy of lawyers “playing the race card” all this and more made this trial as explosive as any in the nation’s history.
The land mines of that historic legal struggle are still lightly buried across the American landscape, and that is why I must discuss them at length, with details you readers probably missed, to explain the imminence of a race war.
The moment I heard the news that Nicole Brown Simpson, the white former wife of football hero 0. J. Simpson, and a Caucasian male friend had been found murdered in Los Angeles, I knew that the ultimate American social tragedy was about to unfold. I knew that this nation was about to see sordid, riveting elements of a human drama that would engross, entertain, titillate, in ways that no novel, no soap opera, no sleazy TV talk show ever could — and that at the end there would be a tragic widening of the already gaping racial divide in America.
I knew that the stories of these two murders would immediately grab the glands of millions of American white men, prejudicing them in ways they would never admit to publicly. More than eight decades had passed since boxer Jack Johnson roiled white America by flaunting his white bride, and half a century since Till was hitched. Interracial marriages had become so commonplace in all parts of America that the surface assumption was that when a Caucasian woman gave her body, even her love, to a black man, the matter no longer stirred jealous fury in the hearts of white men. But I knew better.
The huge headlines, and the long television stories about the California murders would enliven the insecurities of millions of white male psyches. The old college girl’s chant, “Once you go black, you never go back!” surely would take on feverish new meaning.
A black friend of morbid wit said to me, “Doesn’t 0. J. know that we can fuck ‘em now, but we still can’t kill ‘em?”
But I knew that the societal repercussions would go beyond any white-man fears of black men and the age-old stories and myths of their sexual prowess. There were the fears and resentments of black women who have recently complained loudly about “white women taking our men.” With the nation’s jails and prisons overcrowded with virile young black men of marriageable age, and with a large percentage of black households headed by single women, 0. J. would for many become a symbol of black men who “betray” black women. He had, after all, left a black wife and his black children to marry a teenager whom some called “white trash.”
And on a more general level, a million blacks and whites would gossip about bow “0. J. lived white” and was never “part of black America.” Simpson worked among white people, ran through airports for white people, partied with white people, lived amidst white people on an estate few blacks could afford. He was not running through Selma or Birmingham, risking his life in any civil rights endeavor, involving himself in any causes to lift black youngsters out of the poverty and illness that almost destroyed him as a boy.
Cocaine came before caring for Simpson — or so millions of black Americans believed. Some would say initially that if 0. J. Simpson got the electric chair, it was what he deserved.
But I knew immediately that there was more that was tragic about this case than a resurgence of splenetic passions over interracial fornication and marriage. Here was a case certain to strain every fiber of America’s criminal justice system, including white people’s assumptions about the inherent criminality of black people, especially black males, and black people’s distrust of prosecutors and police witnesses. Everything would be challenged, even the rights of the media. Television in the courtroom would become the focus of national debate as never before.
This case produced a great racial schism primarily because most Americans, of whatever race or background, started out in this case with preconceived notions of Simpson’s innocence or guilt, and even though the televised trial was one of the most-watched events in American history, most Americans did not could not — follow it closely enough to let any evidence alter their early judgments.
I watched all but a few hours of this gripping TV extravaganza. At the end, for my personal benefit, I wrote a chronology of the major events and pieces of testimony that I thought had to be considered before anyone could make any fair judgment as to Simpson’s guilt or innocence. I still believe that no one has personal right to “convict” Simpson, or declare him innocent. who has not pondered such a chronology.
Most Americans know some of the details of the very beginning of this tragedy. At 11:40 P.M. the night of June 12, 1994. Sukru Boztepe arrived at his Brentwood home to find his neighbor, Steven Schwab, sitting by the pool of their apartment complex with a large, white Akita dog that had four bloody paws. The Akita had followed Schwab and his own dog home less than an hour earlier. At about midnight, Boztepe and his wife, Bettina Rasmussen, took the Akita for a walk, hoping to find its owner, after the dog kept running to their window and scratching at their door. The dog led them to Nicole Simpson’s home where Boztepe and Rasmussen spotted a woman lying on the ground. Rasmussen noted that “an ocean of blood” covered the scene on Bundy Drive.
The Akita was Nicole’s dog. The butchered body near Nicole’s was Ron Goldman, a friend of hers who was a waiter at the Mezzaluna restaurant, where she had dined earlier that evening.
Detective Mark Fuhrman of the Los Angeles Police Department was dispatched to the murder scene, where, moving about the crime scene alone, he said, he found one bloody glove. When two veteran LAPD detectives, Tom Lange and Philip Vannatter, arrived at Bundy, Fuhrman was “taken off the case.” Fuhrman, who had once confronted Simpson while investigating a dispute between 0. J. and Nicole when they were married and living together on North Rockingham Road, just “hung around” the murder scene, witnesses said.
The stories of the first week or so, which were based mostly on Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD) and prosecutor leaks, led me to an early conclusion that Simpson was “as guilty as sin.” I had learned as a reporter many years earlier that it was dangerous folly to pretend to know what was going on in the marriage of any other couple. But the media stories about Simpson’s past, and about the alleged evidence against him, led me to fear that he was beyond any defense lawyer’s salvation.
-Rowan, Carl T. The Coming Race War
in America. Little, Brown and Company, Boston, MA, 1996
Reflection Exercise #1
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