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“Two halves of the same apple”

White and black America’s division over the O.J. Simpson trial

By Natalie James

Once again, America was divided over another spectacular case that has brought its racial differences to the surface. Race relations in America had its day in court last Tuesday, and hey, it didn’t have a chance.

Even before the verdict was read, the racial divide created divergent opinions of O.J.’s guilt. Whites and blacks saw the same body of evidence, but somehow came away with totally different opinions about the case. To some of them, the verdict was a vindictive plot by a “black jury,” driven to acquit by racial motivation.

Innocence or guilt aside, O.J.’s acquittal, to blacks, was not seen as a victory for O.J., but for blacks in general, many of whom have been targeted by the police.

While blacks were jubilant, white Americans were stunned by the verdict, mouths agape, staring into their television screens. It was evident that the verdict was a blow to white America. 

Every one had the same vague ideas about the gloves, the blood and the racists cops, etc. (Despite popular opinion watching the O.J.-o-rama bi-weekly on CNN does not constitute expert opinion)

Whites overwhelmingly upheld the credibility of the police. They were incredulous at the notion of police conspiracies against non-white and had a general optimism in the matter of justice. 

Blacks in North America, on the other hand, have a drastically different view of law enforcement. In the United States, blacks are six times more likely to be victims of crime than whites. To them, the police, under the sanction of lawmakers, have undermined any attempts to ensure equal justice for all citizens. District attorneys have disproportionately targeted blacks for prison, resulting in the highest incarceration rate for blacks males in American history. 

Only 13 per cent of African Americans are drug users, but 55 per cent of the prison population is imprisoned on drug related charges. Carrying five grams of crack will get you a mandatory five years in jail, but carrying 50 grams of cocaine — the drug of the rich — one can only get probation.

In response to the evident disparity between black and white opinion on the verdict, the Reverand Jesse Jackson made an apt analogy. White and black Americans, he said, are looking at the same apple, — the whites are looking down from the top, seeing that it is shiny and red; blacks are at the bottom, looking at the underside of this same apple and seeing that it is half rotten. If this vivid picture doesn’t move you, you must be dead — my sincere regrets to half the people living on this continent. 

But Andrew Hacker, a white professor and author of the book Two nations : black and white, separate, hostile, unequal commented that introducing race to any discussion in the aftermath of the O.J. trial will do little more than exacerbate white people’s intolerance. “When they saw blacks cheering at the outcome of the case, white Americans said ‘Oh, oh, here they go again.’” He adds cynically, “we know what white Americans do when they think black Americans are behaving badly.”

I think perhaps the lasting legacy of the trial is that it has given despondent Americans a reason to sit up and take notice. 

It is completely absurd that people are discounting the verdict, saying that a black jury wouldn’t convict a black defendant, especially O.J. Simpson. This is a preposterous assertion for two reasons. The jury was not a “black jury.” The jury also consisted of two whites and one Hispanic.

If you really followed the case and knew the evidence, there is no doubt that O.J. had to be acquitted. If reasonable doubt was what the defense needed to get an acquittal, they had plenty.

To say that the legal system would acquit more criminals because they are black is naive and unsubstantiated by the evidence.

The truth is, most blacks don’t care for O.J. Simpson. They see him as an Uncle Tom, who cherishes his cross-over appeal in white society more than his identification within the black community. Rightly or wrongly, none of his support from the black community comes from his being a role model or hero, but out of an overwhelming distrust of the police.

O.J. Simpson’s acquittal itself is not about race, but about the lack of evidence and credibility in the system that has ironically brought him to justice. His acquittal became an outlet for pent-up frustration shared by black Americans and anyone else who has the odds stacked against them. 

Even in Toronto, blacks were elated. Many of them are still outraged by the incident that occured more than a year ago when City TV’s chief deputy assignment editor, Dwight Drummond, and a friend were pulled over at gunpoint by Metro Police, suspected of carrying an illegal weapon. They did not fit the description of the suspects, except that they were two black men in a car. Drummond says that police harassment is a rite of passage for many young black men.

The most that can come out of this trial is that a meaningful dialogue can start between the races. However, it is hard to see anything positive coming out of accusation and mudslinging between whites and blacks.

Fred Goldman, father of Ron Goldman, attacked Simpson’s attorney, Johnnie Cochran for allegedly comparing former LAPD detective Mark Fuhrman to Hitler. He said “Cochran shoves racism in front of everything,” and also called him “a sick man” and “a disgusting human being.” Cochran has denied the allegations.

While Goldman’s grief is understandable, why should we quibble about who has the right to evoke Hitler’s infamous and terrible memory? That is besides the point.

Everyone knew the LAPD science lab was incompetend, but no effort was made to remedy the situation. Furthermore, the LAPD defended the tainted evidence of its racist cops. It can be argued that Johnnie Cochran shouldn’t have brought up the “race card” in his closing argument, since the defense had enough evidence to get an acquittal without having to underline the Fuhrman scandal. I think it would be impossible for him not to.

O.J.’s sister, Carmelita, condemned the personal attacks on Cochran by saying, “It’s very shocking that once Johnnie gets up and starts telling what we feel happened, that this has rocked somebody’s world.” 

Natalie James is a self-proclaimed O.J. junkie.

Observations on O.J.
Even though the racial divide is the most talked – about part of the O.J. Simpson murder trial, Natalie James has noted some exceptions here in Toronto:

The white educated court watcher:
A white middle-aged librarian surprised me with her bookish knowledge of the case and the evidence.
“You want O.J.,” she said with a wry smile, as I asked her for the most current issue of Newsweek.
“Yes” I conceded playfully “I want O.J.”
“It’s the best news I’ve heard in weeks,” she burst out.
I was taken aback; a white person who hadn’t turned into an anarchist after the decision.

Social class:
A friend in my class recounted a memorable scene in the subway that he witnessed the day of the acquittal – two Irishmen who supported O.J.’s innocence. 

In a stilted Irish accent, my friend impersonated one of them, saying of the police “You can’t trust those pigs.” Perhaps the Irish, who have been historically oppressed by a larger dominant group (the British) in another part of the world, can identify more closely with the North American Black experience.

Those who know nothing of the trial but remember O.J. fondly for his part in the Naked Gun movies:
Some white students raucously cheered O.J.’s acquittal in The Edge pub. 

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