June 17th, 1994. I was nine years old when all television networks switched to a police chase taking place live in Los Angeles. At the time, I didn’t fully understand the significance of this event nor could I see the future ramifications that this police chase and subsequent trial would have over all Americans moving forward.
When I entered my teenage years, I had a bit of a clearer understanding of its significance and the narrative that surrounded the O.J. Simpson trial. I got a clearer understanding why I saw footage of black people reacting in a joyous manner when the verdict came through as “not guilty” and why it appeared that white people nationwide were disappointed with such a decision.
2 years prior to the Bronco chase, chaos broke out across L.A. as a reaction to the acquittal of the police officers that were caught on camera beating Rodney King as he laid on the pavement. Even though two years had passed, the amount of racial tension in L.A. may have still been relatively high and the visual of a black man on trial for allegedly killing two white people, for some, could rehash their distrust in the justice system when justice system failed them previously.
The O.J. Simpson trial was dubbed as the “Trial of the Century” because it encompassed multiple taboo topics in one trial, like interracial coupling, accusations of the police conspiring against a black man, domestic violence and the treatment of someone famous in the eyes of the law.
The O.J. Simpson trial was supposed to be an indictment of how black people are treated by the police and how they are treated by the judicial system but was that actually true? To be clear, I’m not here to argue about the treatment of black people by law enforcement and the judicial system but was O.J.’s situation a kin to the average black man that faces a similar charge?
The narrative of the trial, from the defense’s end, was less about proving that O.J. did not commit the crime but more about creating a reasonable doubt by insinuating a conspiracy again the L.A. County Police department. The narrative of the trial shifted into this being a racial issue and the defense played on the notion that the L.A. County Police were either tampering with evidence or in some way attempting to conspire against O.J. simply because he was black.
Johnnie Cochran used the racial tension that was still left behind post-riot to his benefit and made the general public always remember the injustice of what happened to Rodney King when they are examining the case against O.J.. I mean honestly, if I was Johnnie, I probably would have done the same thing, especially if it appears that the evidence against my client could be damning.
Was the O.J. Simpson trial indicative of a greater problem? I would argue no. I would actually say that the Rodney King situation and general mistreatment by the police at the time in L.A. was far more common and truer than anything that came out of the O.J. Simpson trial in comparison to what is more likely to occur against black Americans. O.J. was a wealthy and famous man that lived a very privileged life and was well liked in general. He even had friends on the L.A. police department. His situation of having economic wealth and public appeal places him in a different class in comparison to the average American, regardless of race.
Hindsight is 20/20 and we can now look back at this trial for what it is actually was because the emotion of the trial has disappeared. We now know what the jurors were thinking behind closed doors since some of them were willing to speak publicly on the documentary “O.J.: Made In America”. There was a feeling of revenge for some of them because of the lack of justice that happened years before. We now know that some of the jurors felt pressure to go along with a “Not Guilty” verdict even though they felt conflicted about making such a decision. This is not to be judgmental of someone who has to decide the fate of another person but to point out that the consideration of evidence was not the only consideration behind closed doors.
Why am I hashing up a trial that has been over for decades? It’s because we face a similar trial today with the trial of Derek Chauvin, the police officer who was filmed holding a knee on the neck of George Floyd. First let me say, I don’t have a dog in this fight and I’m not overly emotional about this particular case. From what I can tell, it’s complicated, but it reminds me of similar narratives that were manufactured during the O.J. Simpson trial. Granted, this trial is not about defending a black man’s freedom but about justice for a dead black man. However, the cues of racial motivation remind me of the Simpson trial.
If we are honest, if George Floyd was white and Derek Chauvin was black, there would be no mentioning of race. It would be a case of police misconduct or excessive force that lead to the death of another man. I’m not arguing Derek’s innocence, like I stated before, I have no dog in this fight. If the justice system finds him guilty, I’m not losing any sleep over it. What I am concerned with is the narrative surrounding this case and the extrapolation of a narrative stating that what happened to George Floyd is indicative of a greater and common problem specifically against black people, which it isn’t.
There are more people who are killed by lightning strikes (20 people in 2019) than black people that are unarmed, shot & killed by the police (12 people in 2019 for example). This is not a justification for the death of unarmed people, everyone deserves justice, but a highlighting of how rare this type of situation is, even though it is unfortunate.
I am concerned with the level of fear, the level of politics and the level of racial animosity that surrounds this trial. A city hangs in the balance, heck, possibly a country hangs in the balance as we wait to see what happens with this trial. I am extremely concerned with the possible negative reactions of some if this trial does not go in the way that they believe is truly justified.
I am concerned about the innocent that will get caught in the middle of the chaos that could ensue if this trial is seen as another Rodney King situation. I am concerned with the usage of race as an emotional trigger for Americans in general because of its historical sensitivity. The media and Johnnie Cochran knew exactly what they were doing by leaning on this narrative during the Simpson trial, the same could be said today for the media who is peddling this narrative for ratings and could care less if the world burns around them.
Simply put, I am worried for my country.