The accused murderer, a former professional football player and actor, was a handsome, rich, black celebrity, all of which I think are factors in his getting away with murder. His name, which nearly everyone knows, is less important than the story of his crime and escape from punishment. To me, he ought to be remembered as the Butcher of Brentwood.
He was arrested for lying in wait to murder his pretty white, blonde ex-wife, Nicole Brown Simpson, and Ron Goldman, a handsome waiter at a nearby restaurant where she had dined who was doing her a favor by returning a pair of sunglasses. Most people know the details of the brutal double homicide and the trial that followed, which were covered in the book Outrage by former Los Angeles prosecutor Vincent Bugliosi, who had prosecuted hippie mass murderer Charles Manson and obtained the death penalty.
Police detectives, lawyers, judge, jury, witnesses and reporters were mediocre, incompetent, self-centered, racist and, above all, subjective, not objective, about examining the crime. Even on the terms of the trial, as bungled a case as the prosecution made – an observation which Bugliosi rightly pointed out – the jury should have convicted the accused of murder.
Instead, the verdict was Not Guilty.
Why is a matter of speculation. Twenty years later, the guilt of the accused is widely accepted as a fact. It is not controversial. Most think he’s guilty of murder.
One possible explanation – and this is a cultural, not a legal, conjecture – is that blacks on the jury sought to counterbalance decades of real or perceived bias by whites in the judicial system. In a fundamental sense, whites accepted this retributive injustice. The notion that the jury did not understand genetic evidence, such as blood testing and DNA, may be true. But I think that the fix, as the saying goes, may have already been in. The trial took place shortly after the 1992 L.A. riots, a bloodbath and the worst U.S. riot of the century, and the city’s blacks felt wrongly maligned for the riots which many blamed on another controversial racially themed trial’s verdict. The conviction of police officers in that trial over the beating of convicted felon Rodney King was not satisfactory to L.A.’s black community. Letting the accused get away with murder was considered a potential form of payback.
The televised courtroom coverage acquired a frenzied atmosphere. The trial became a spectacle. From the Tonight Show host’s absurdist skits to the media’s sensationalistic approach, both crime and punishment were incessantly trivialized. Americans were gripped by the trial and verdict, though they were not moved to outrage, not really. A few intellectuals, such as Bugliosi, Dominick Dunne and Leonard Peikoff, were outraged and said so. Most people, from the roadside cheering of the accused murderer’s flight from arrest to the ignorant verdict, may have been caught up in the spectacle with no active interest in making a call for justice. After the trial, I participated in candlelight vigils, marches and protests at the Brentwood murder scene. Demonstrators spoke out against wife-beating. The accused had previously and admittedly done that, too. But talk of outrage at the verdict was discouraged.
The trial was fertile ground for collectivist tendencies.
The criminal justice system has disproportionately convicted blacks and Los Angeles Police have a track record of institutionalized prejudice against blacks, so when the issue of white detective Mark Fuhrman using a racist term for blacks was raised during the trial, it infused other, unrelated injustice into the proceedings. Ultimately, I think the prospect of letting one of America’s most successful high profile blacks go free for murder may have been too tempting for the mostly black jury. Racism, an offshoot of collectivism, festers in people that to varying degrees choose to be irrational, regardless of blood. Being black does not mean one cannot also be racist. Add racial, cultural and economic stereotypes and tensions and the childishly coded dismissal of facts in evidence in the legal hustler’s line that “if it doesn’t fit, you must acquit” and the jury’s verdict came through as a willful redress for past grievances which everyone seemed more or less resigned to accept. There was no white backlash. There were no riots. There were no race wars. There was celebration among blacks.
In a sense, black militants had won. They had triumphed without even having to bother making explicit what idea drove the unjust verdict and the celebrations that followed: that one’s identity is based on race. If the thesis of black power was invoked – I think it was and has, in the 20 years since, been accepted as dogma – the civil rights movement’s vision of judging a person as an individual, not based on one’s race, had been discredited if not defeated. Not long after the verdict, Americans would elect a biracial president whose wedding was officiated by an advocate of black liberation theology. But accepted, too, on an underlying level was the idea that the ends justify the means; that rendering an unjust verdict in the name of past wrongs is OK and in any case the show must go on. Indeed, the race-themed spectacle did go on, and the culture is crawling with Kardashians and those with whom they multiply such as the hip hop artist known for verbally assaulting a white artist for defeating a black artist at an awards ceremony.
Life, too, goes on, but not for those who were murdered. In the 20 years since the injustice was delivered, the exonerated lost the civil court battle brought by the murdered Ron Goldman’s father, real-life avenger Fred Goldman. The one I call the butcher of Brentwood, a phrase which is earned with one look at the crime scene photographs, is in jail for other crimes. His 1994 lawyers scattered like cockroaches into other lines of work or they passed away, with not a single practicing attorney, whether Legal Zoom founder Robert Shapiro or Israel defender Alan Dershowitz, acknowledging let alone admitting or atoning for complicity in the bloodied butcher getting away with murder. Vigilantism at the expense of justice did not result in progress for blacks. Whatever cultural impact of O.J. Simpson, his foremost legacy is the death of Ron Goldman and Nicole Brown Simpson and Americans resigning themselves to going along with injustice as they have gone along with every other injustice since 1994. Then and 20 years later, the facts show that Orenthal James Simpson ended two lives in an act of pure evil. That he got away with murder is beyond dispute. That the injustice is so blithely mocked and maligned (yet accepted) taints the nation and foreshadows its decline.