June 12, 1994.
Do you remember where you were on that date? There’s a generation that is unable to answer since they had not yet been born. Still, the events of that day left an indelible mark on the already tattered fabric of America torn by race. It’s a legacy that is inherited at consciousness, when you first become aware that that the world can often be viewed in simple black and white, no credit given to shades of gray.
The perfect storm of race, celebrity, sex, drugs, media, money, police brutality and justice showered down 20 years ago. June 12, 1994 is the day that Nicole Brown Simpson and her friend Ron Goldman were found murdered in her Brentwood home. Both had been stabbed to death and Nicole was nearly decapitated. O.J. Simpson, NFL icon, stood accused of the crimes.
This human tragedy pushed all levers. Millions tuned into their television screens during the Bronco chase after the murder when O.J. went on the run. It was shown on endless loop, even interrupting the NBA finals. I was one of those curious eyes.
I was finishing up the fourth grade. It’s easy to begin my recollection of where I was through the lens of a child of 10. The Bronco chase, eventual mug shot and bloody gloves were my introduction to “The Juice”. He was retired at this point, but Orenthal James had made a name for himself because of his playing days for the Buffalo Bills and San Francisco 49ers. He accumulated many NFL records but now he was wanted for murder.
Children often take their cues from the adults around them and for me, it depended on which faces I was looking into. For Blacks, they were willing to extend the benefit of the doubt because it wouldn’t be the first time a man of color was railroaded. Granted, O.J. may not have been the perfect person to wade in so much good will. O.J. had married a white woman and was removed from the community, but he was still a black man who looked like he was being set up by a racist cop and LAPD. If you can’t trust the messenger who claims to have found a bloody glove, you can’t trust any part of the message and DNA evidence that suggested O.J. was at the crime scene.
To whites, there was only a presumption of guilt. He had already plead guilty to domestic violence against Nicole during their marriage and the racist actions of Det. Mark Furham didn’t pardon O.J. of his own. In their eyes, O.J. was just playing the race card to get away with two murders and aided in the process by his fame and wealth.
There didn’t seem to be much middle ground as each side believed that their opinion was an irrefutable truth interred in their bones.
My heart broke for the kids, Justin and Sydney Simpson and still does. I didn’t know what I’d do if I lost my mom, much less in such a brutal way. I still don’t, but the deaths of Nicole and Ron became a bit of an aftermath. They had died but it was so flagrant how their deaths became just another part of the circus.
The seeds for the 24/7 news cycle were planted during the coverage of “The Trial of the Century”. Soap operas were preempted to feature the unscripted drama that has given such rise to reality TV shows. Kato Kaelin became the prototype of folks being famous just for the sake of it.
Through it all, race held all these intangibles together. It seemed like the public had made up its mind mostly along racial lines when the “Not Guilty” verdict was announced on October 3, 1995. Nine Blacks, two Whites and one Latino believed that if the glove didn’t fit, you must acquit.
The reactions of which there were many spoke for themselves. As politically incorrect as it was and still is, O.J. acquittal wasn’t right but a win for many. The scales of justice have notoriously been tipped against minorities. The feeling is permeated that justice is served for all but “just us.”
The Dream team consisting of Johnnie Cochran, Robert Kardashian, and F. Lee Bailey kept O.J. out of jail, but he was never really free. He was physically free to find “the real killers” and write a book about if he did it. Or have books written about him about the so called real killer. However, his freedom to do as he pleased without suspicion was surrendered that fateful night in June. O.J.’s second act as a celebrity centered on his infamy, rather than football lore. He lived in his own cage gilded by lawsuits and evading the law until he no longer could. A believer of karma would argue that O.J. met his on October 3, 2008. He was convicted of charges stemming from a Las Vegas burglary 13 years after he had been found not guilty in the double murders.
As the 20th anniversary of the deaths of Nicole Brown Simpson and Ron Goldman dawns, the elixirs of race, celebrity, court TV is as strong as it ever was. As a child, it’s easier to ignore the potent residue. As an adult, it’s almost total recall all the time.