Verdict highlights racial split and puts legal system in dock

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The Independent Online


President Bill Clinton is considering publicly addressing the issue of the racial divisions in America laid bare once again in the closing stages of the OJ Simpson trial.

The Simpson story might have been knocked from its perch on top of the news bulletins by the advance of Hurricane Opal on northern Florida, but the impact of the case on the already frayed racial fabric of the country may, in its own way, be no less threatening.

Poll after poll showed the jury's decision has done virtually nothing to reduce the gulf between the races' views about the guilt of the former football star. According to a CBS survey, six out of 10 whites believed the verdict was wrong, while nine blacks out of 10 considered it correct. Overall, the country disagrees with the verdict by a margin of 56 per cent to 33 per cent, a USA Today poll found.

Across the country afterwards, the scenes everywhere were the same: groups of jubilant blacks erupting into cheers, whites mostly sombre and stunned by disbelief. For blacks, the case has confirmed that only Mr Simpson's ability to pay for a top-flight defence team prevented a "rush to judgement" against him; cynical whites are convinced that a jury containing nine blacks allowed itself to be swayed by racial factors.

That was rejected by the one juror who has spoken publicly so far, Lionel Cryer. Mr Cryer, who is black, said that race had been "barely a blip" in their decision, which was shaped by weaknesses in the prosecution's case. But on one point everyone is agreed: race relations have been damaged by the affair.

So much was evident in the statement from Mr Clinton, urging his countrymen to respect the jury's verdict. Officials say the President is considering an address urging harmony and reconciliation.

The other prime casualty of the case is the US legal system itself. The outcome, declared the Philadelphia Inquirer, "is bound to fortify the notion that justice is for sale in America, that a 'dream team' can get anyone off anything".

Poisoning everything is the majority's suspicion that a murderer has walked free. This is evident from bitter jokes making the rounds, among them a supposed new slogan for Hertz rental cars, which Mr Simpson once advertised: "We guarantee to get you to the airport with an hour to kill."