After OJ: the forgotten victims of the

Someone killed Ron Goldman. His family still allege that it was OJ Simpson.
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The family of Ronald Goldman were shut up in their home in the Los Angeles suburb of Oak Park-Agoura yesterday, as black ribbons sprouted on street signs through the neighbourhood. Ron's sister Kim and his father, Fred, have their grief to cope with, but they also have a critical decision to make.

At an emotional press conference on Tuesday, delivered after the not guilty verdict was handed down on OJ Simpson, Fred Goldman vowed that he and his family would do "everything in our power to bring about the kind of change that won't allow what happened today ever to happen to another family again". They now have to decide whether and how to pursue the civil suits for damages that they have filed against Simpson. If they proceed, they could hound Simpson through his projected media comeback as well as claiming millions of dollars from him.

In court documents, Fred and Kim Goldman allege that Simpson killed Ron with "vicious and outrageous savagery". Goldman's mother, Sharon, divorced from Fred and estranged from her son, has filed a civil suit of her own, as has Louis Brown on behalf of his daughter Nicole.

The suits seek unspecified damages from Simpson, alleging that he murdered Goldman and Nicole. A criminal acquittal is no legal barrier, attorneys said yesterday, to a civil case, in which a jury can find a defendant liable if there is a "preponderance of evidence" pointing in that direction.

A civil suit was used recently by the family of a race killing victim to bankrupt the local chapter of the Ku Klux Klan. In financial terms, the bigger Simpson's success in rebuilding his image and cashing in on his fame, the larger the target.

Outside the courtroom, Mr Goldman made it plain that he saw the trial as a gross miscarriage of justice, but he pledged to fight to change the system rather than to pursue OJ. Nevertheless, there was no sign that the family was backing off. "I feel very confident that we will get a substantial judgment," said Robert Tournelot, who represents the Goldmans.

Nicole Brown Simpson's family have a clear and compelling motive for dropping their own suit against OJ. Nicole's parents know that the couple's two children, Justin, 7, and Sydney, 9, would then be caught in the middle of another brutalising court fight. Aside from making some catty remarks about Simpson's need to sow his wild oats after being celibate for a year and a half, Mr Brown seemed reconciled to the children being returned to their father.

Mr Goldman has less to lose, but he risks extending the racial wounds from the Simpson case. Simpson's defenders, mostly in the black community, would cry double jeopardy were he to proceed with his civil action. And Mr Goldman could unwittingly play into the hands of the angry white males in the US who found it all too easy to believe in Simpson's guilt. In polls, white Americans have shown broad dissatisfaction with the trial; Mr Goldman has already proved a moving symbol of that resentment.

The Goldman family's appearances both before and after the verdict rang with emotion, with Fred Goldman verging on the breathless and hysterical. He thanked "all law-abiding citizens". "Last June 13th, 1994, was the worst nightmare of my life. This is the second," he said. "This prosecution team didn't lose today, this country lost today. Justice was not served."

Throughout the nine months of the trial it was easy to forget the victims amid the hyperbole about the judge, the witnesses, the prosecution and defence teams and Simpson himself. As if to remind everyone of the bare truths of the case, the supermarket tabloid the Globe this week published the crime scene photographs from the Simpson murders. At the news-stand across the street from the Mezzaluna restaurant, where Ron Goldman waited tables in a white shirt-front and bow tie, copies of the paper sold out on the same day.

In the police pictures Nicole Simpson, for all the pool of blood, looked almost peaceful. Her hair covered the massive neck wounds. But Goldman's shirt was pulled up and the wounds where he had been stabbed repeatedly were clearly visible. His throat and torso were slashed.

As the juror Michael Knox concluded, Goldman "had died hard, boxed in and fighting desperately in a tiny area bounded by a gate and heavy shrubbery ... Ron had been butchered. And a madman had done it." Goldman's beeper and keys had gone flying as he struggled.

Ron Goldman was proud of his well-toned body. But he became a sideshow corpse in the Simpson case, collateral damage to the abusive relationship of OJ and Nicole. His label was either "Nicole's friend" or "25-year-old waiter". A civil suit, if it achieves nothing else, would keep his name alive.

Goldman was presented by the prosecution as having been in the wrong place at the wrong time, murdered because he was there. "The defendant came back from Bundy [Nicole's house] in a hurry," the prosecutor Marcia Clark told the jury. "Ron Goldman upset his plans and things took a little longer than anticipated."

Only late in the trial did anyone notice the fact that Goldman was Jewish, when Johnnie Cochran compared Detective Mark Fuhrman's "genocidal" racism to Adolf Hitler. This was the last straw for Cochran's disenchanted colleague Robert Shapiro. "Not only did we play the race card, we dealt it from the bottom of the deck," he said, vowing never to work with either Cochran or F Lee Bailey again. "I feel very sorry for Bob Shapiro," Cochran sniped back. "Apparently his ego got crushed during this trial."

As Mr Goldman walked from court on Tuesday, the Los Angeles Times reported, he turned towards OJ Simpson and uttered one word: "Murderer". The verdicts were delivered on Yom Kippur, the Jewish day of atonement. Kim, who had taken leave from a banking job in San Francisco to attend every day of the trial, virtually collapsed in sobs.

Mr Goldman had already denounced Cochran as a "horror" for playing to the race of the jurors. "He is the most disgusting human being I have ever listened to in my life," he said. "He is sick and should be put away."

Mr Goldman began to speak out, the family said, because he felt his son was being overlooked. He wanted to assert the worth of a man whose biggest claims to fame, if one were believe the television coverage, were an appearance on the dating show Studs and his friendship with a football star's ex-wife. "I will forever be proud of my son," Mr Goldman repeated, soon after the verdict was announced. Three days after his murder, he put it this way: "The bottom line is that Ron was a good person."

But whether Mr Goldman's rage and grief over his butchered son will translate into anything more lasting is to be doubted. Attention spans, after all, are short in the United States. Some observers speculate on the possibility of a "white backlash": indeed, some see anxiety over this as the subtext of President Clinton's terse reaction to the end of trial, urging Americans to grieve for the victims and their families, but "to respect the verdict".

But if "backlash" there is to be, it will do no more than reinforce a trend already in place. The same state of California which brought the case against OJ Simpson has led the campaign to roll back affirmative action, the programme to steer jobs and contracts and college places towards minorities and women, of which blacks are the prime beneficiaries. A proposal to abolish affirmative action is set to be on California's election ballot in November 1996.

Elsewhere, too, if one looks for signs of whites wreaking revenge on blacks, they can be seen to be doing so already. For in the wider scheme of things, Simpson's acquittal was an isolated black "success" in a sea of setbacks. Apart from the pressures against affirmative action, a Republican Congress is seeking deep cuts in Medicaid, the federal health scheme for poorer Americans, which again benefits blacks. On welfare reform it is the same story. The Supreme Court for its part is poised to strike down the drawing of weirdly shaped Congressional districts to favour the election of ethnic majorities. By one estimate, the seats of half the 38 members of the Black Caucus on Capitol Hill would be in jeopardy.

What the outcome of the trial will do, however, is to deepen the divide between the races in the US, and turn the spotlight again on to domestic violence. Whether or not race was a deciding factor in the verdict will only become known when the jurors tell their tale, but for whites in particular race certainly looked to be central. For David Horowitz, president of the Centre for the Study of Popular Culture, the verdict was a "disgrace" that may have set race relations in the United States back by 30 years. Women's groups have been appalled by how Simpson's past and proven record of wife-beating was swamped in the later stages of the trial.

These issues will linger. So, too, will the image of Fred Goldman's impotent, boiling grief and fury. But in America's race wars, he is one of the rare white losers.