O J case threatens to tear open US racial wounds
Sunday 24 July 1994
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.
- 1 Man who held up 'hire me' sign at Waterloo station returns a year later with 'I'm hiring' sign
- 4 Tennis fan suing Australian Open organisers for 'failing to shade spectators' during Murray match
- 5 This crazy skiing video will leave you feeling queasy
Man who held up 'hire me' sign at Waterloo station returns a year later with 'I'm hiring' sign
Mother of newborn Baby No 59 trapped in sewer pipe told Chinese police she 'heard crying' when she raised alarm
Saudi preacher who 'raped and tortured' his five -year-old daughter to death is released after paying 'blood money'
AirAsia QZ8501: Black box reveals warning alarms 'screamed' before crash, as more bodies recovered from near fuselage of jet
Rob Lowe hits out at White House decision not to meet Israeli leader
British Muslim leaders outraged after Eric Pickles says followers of Islam should 'prove their identity'
UK terror fears: My jihadist son returned from Syria mentally scarred – now he is being ignored
Nigel Farage: NHS might have to be replaced by private health insurance
Billy Crystal: 'Stop shoving gay sex scenes in my face'
French court convicts three over homophobic tweets, in case hailed as a 'significant victory' by LGBT rights campaigners
British Muslim school children suffering a backlash of abuse following Paris attacks
Excellent Salary : Austen Lloyd: OXFORD - REGIONAL FIRM - An excellent opportu...
Super Package: Austen Lloyd: BRISTOL - SENIOR CLINICAL NEGLIGENCE - An outstan...
£15000 - £50000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Fantastic opportunities are ava...
Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: A Compute Engineer is required to join a globa...