O J case threatens to tear open US racial wounds

WHEN O J Simpson was arrested after a car chase through Los Angeles watched by 95 million Americans, one thing at least was clear: his case may have been about domestic violence, the pressures of stardom, the effects of wealth, but it did not have much to do with the colour of his skin.

Commentators were quick to observe that the former football idol and movie actor was what marketing executives call 'race neutral' - a celebrity whose popularity spanned America's racial divide and whose riches long ago had eradicated any knee-jerk prejudice. One month on, however, the picture has clouded considerably.

Signs are growing that race relations are becoming subtly entwined in the trial of Simpson, who on Friday told Los Angeles Superior Court that he was '100 per cent not guilty' of stabbing to death his ex-wife, Nicole, and a young man, Ronald Goldman. The issue is no small matter in Los Angeles, where memories of the Rodney King affair and the subsequent riots in 1992, are still raw.

It has been fuelled by opinion polls, which have shown that significantly fewer blacks than whites are inclined to believe that O J is guilty. The margin of difference at the last count, by the California Field Poll, was 24 per cent. Among whites, 62 per cent thought that O J was 'very likely or somewhat likely' to be guilty; only 38 per cent of blacks agreed.

These figures may prove nothing more than that blacks in the United States are generally more distrustful of the police than other groups. But it bolsters the view of some that white institutions - the police, judiciary and media - are intent on putting down prominent and successful blacks.

This position was encapsulated by the black-run Los Angeles Sentinel newspaper's observation on the Simpson saga. 'A black man in legal trouble, no matter how famous, (is) treated like another nigger,' it raged. A touch hyperbolic perhaps, but the widespread existence of this perception was confirmed by detailed investigations by Sam Fulwood, of the Los Angeles Times.

'In interview after interview,' he wrote, 'black Americans cited the unproven accusations against singer Michael Jackson, the rape conviction of former boxing champion Mike Tyson, the stiff jail sentence given to former Washington Mayor Marion Barry for smoking crack, and the Senate hearings into alleged sexual harassment by then Supreme Court nominee Clarence Thomas to support their belief that the nation's white power elites act in concert to maintain white supremacy.' Not everyone sees the O J case this way. For example, Joe Hicks of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, one of LA's vocal black groups, is adamant that the affair is primarily about wealth, not pigmentation.

To what extent race will ultimately influence the case remains unclear; that depends on the strength of evidence against Simpson and the outcome of his trial. But the players are in place. Last week, a delegation of black leaders met the District Attorney, Gil Garcetti, to plead with him to ensure a fair trial, and not to seek the death penalty. The ex-footballer, meanwhile, added to his defence team a leading black trial lawyer, Johnnie Cochran, who has a long track record of race-related civil rights cases.

But the most disturbing suggestion that the shadow of racial conflict has fallen over the affair came this week, when O J's defence team privately encouraged reporters to believe that a police detective on the case had racist inclinations, and might have tried to frame the star by planting evidence - namely, a bloody glove.

To date, the team has supplied no convincing evidence to support this claim, which was part of its elaborate campaign to influence potential jurors. Predictably, O J's chief counsel, Robert Shapiro, has publicly denied any intention to introduce race into the case.

But the seed has undoubtedly been planted, in a city which can well do without any further tribal conflicts.

(Photograph omitted)

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Digital Optimisation Executive - Marketing

£30000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: The UK's fastest growing, multi...

Recruitment Genius: Professional Sales Trainee - B2B

£15000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: First things first - for the av...

Recruitment Genius: Creative Web and UI Designer

£30000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An experienced creative web and...

Recruitment Genius: Web Developer - PHP

£17000 - £24000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An exciting opportunity is now ...

Day In a Page

On your feet! Spending at least two hours a day standing reduces the risk of heart attacks, cancer and diabetes, according to new research

On your feet!

Spending half the day standing 'reduces risk of heart attacks and cancer'
Liverpool close in on Milner signing

Liverpool close in on Milner signing

Reds baulk at Christian Benteke £32.5m release clause
With scores of surgeries closing, what hope is there for the David Cameron's promise of 5,000 more GPs and a 24/7 NHS?

The big NHS question

Why are there so few new GPs when so many want to study medicine?
Big knickers are back: Thongs ain't what they used to be

Thongs ain't what they used to be

Big knickers are back
Thurston Moore interview

Thurston Moore interview

On living in London, Sonic Youth and musical memoirs
In full bloom

In full bloom

Floral print womenswear
From leading man to Elephant Man, Bradley Cooper is terrific

From leading man to Elephant Man

Bradley Cooper is terrific
In this the person to restore our trust in the banks?

In this the person to restore our trust in the banks?

Dame Colette Bowe - interview
When do the creative juices dry up?

When do the creative juices dry up?

David Lodge thinks he knows
The 'Cher moment' happening across fashion just now

Fashion's Cher moment

Ageing beauty will always be more classy than all that booty
Thousands of teenage girls enduring debilitating illnesses after routine school cancer vaccination

Health fears over school cancer jab

Shock new Freedom of Information figures show how thousands of girls have suffered serious symptoms after routine HPV injection
Fifa President Sepp Blatter warns his opponents: 'I forgive everyone, but I don't forget'

'I forgive everyone, but I don't forget'

Fifa president Sepp Blatter issues defiant warning to opponents
Extreme summer temperatures will soon cause deaths of up to 1,700 more Britons a year, says government report

Weather warning

Extreme summer temperatures will soon cause deaths of up to 1,700 more Britons a year, says government report
LSD: Speaking to volunteer users of the drug as trials get underway to see if it cures depression and addiction

High hopes for LSD

Meet the volunteer users helping to see if it cures depression and addiction
German soldier who died fighting for UK in Battle of Waterloo should be removed from museum display and given dignified funeral, say historians

Saving Private Brandt

A Belgian museum's display of the skeleton of a soldier killed at Waterloo prompts calls for him to be given a dignified funeral