Monday, May 27, 2024
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‘I’m not black, I’m O J’


THE recent death of O J Simpson, movie star, Heisman Trophy-winning footballer and serial wifebeater, made me think of the sordid and savage crime for which he was tried but not convicted. I refer of course to the murders of Nicole Brown Simpson, Simpson’s ex-wife and the mother of two of his children, and Ron Goldman, a young man, a close friend of Nicole’s, who happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time.

They were murdered on the evening of June 12, 1994, almost three decades ago, in front of the condominium where Nicole lived with her two children. Due to the celebrity of their apparent killer, their murders immediately captured the attention of America and were widely reported throughout the world.

The death of O J Simpson also prompted me to do something I now regret: go online and view the photographs of the victims taken at the scene of the crime. Having written a doctoral dissertation on murder and the death penalty in postwar Britain, I’ve spent many an afternoon in the Public Record Office at Kew looking at gruesome crime scene photos, but nothing prepared me for the sight of Nicole Brown Simpson’s exposed larynx protruding through her bloodied and lacerated throat. Whoever killed her – and there is a mountain of evidence that it was her footballing ex-husband – seems to have been possessed by a rage that bordered on the demonic.

Indeed, Nicole Brown’s autopsy report makes grim reading. Among multiple stab wounds including to her scalp, the wounds to her throat almost resulted in decapitation. According to Goldman’s autopsy report, he too suffered multiple stab wounds, which included, apart from the severing of the left internal jugular vein that killed him, wounds to the chest, abdomen and hands, the latter suggesting he had tried to defend himself or his friend Nicole, a possibility that gave his family a modicum of comfort during that dreadful time.

Nicole’s and Ron’s bodies were found just after midnight on June 13 after neighbours noticed that Brown’s Akita dog, which was barking immoderately, was covered in blood. It led them to the murder scene. God must be thanked that her two children, aged five and eight, who were sleeping in the house while all of this was taking place, did not discover their mother in her fearful state, her head barely attached to her body. Ron Goldman’s body was found in nearby bushes after police arrived.

Within days, O J Simpson became the leading and thus far the only suspect in the murders.

There followed Simpson’s suicide notes and the legendary two-hour low-speed chase as a friend drove him in a white Ford Bronco along the seemingly endless freeways of Los Angeles, the object of the pursuit cowering in the back, handgun to his temple, a phalanx of police cars, lights silently flashing, following in perfect order. The bizarre pageant was watched on television by 90million Americans, more than a third of the population. Soon thereafter followed the anticlimactic arrest, and then the nine-month trial that sank to levels of banality unusual even by American judicial standards.

From the start of the hearing it became increasingly about race: Simpson being black and his victims white. His expensive lawyers – the ‘dream team’ – quickly weaponised race in a way that has become very familiar thirty years later. Detectives and prosecutors were branded with the indelible stain of racism, which is now the most ruinous accusation in the English-speaking world, able to destroy the reputations of entirely innocent people; but the racial aspect of the trial that disgusts me the most was how the defence team changed the pictures hanging on the walls at Simpson’s house just before the visit of the predominantly black and female jury, substituting the existing scantily-clad white women with images showing him with black people – surely the height of cynicism.

Since Simpson’s acquittal – it took the jury just four hours of deliberation to come to that verdict after hearing nine months of evidence – it has become increasingly obvious to anyone with more than half a brain that he murdered his ex-wife and Ron Goldman.

Furthermore, in a 2016 documentary made for ESPN, Carrie Bess, who had been on the original jury, revealed that ’90 per cent of the jury actually decided to acquit Simpson, not because they believed him innocent, but as payback for Rodney King’. King was a black man who was pulled over by police in Los Angeles in 1991 and severely beaten. When the white officers who beat King were tried and acquitted, there ensued the LA riots of 1992 that claimed 63 lives.

Looking back to those terrible events of the early 1990s, one sees in them a foreshadowing of the era of George Floyd and Black Lives Matter, the new racial dispensation in which we find ourselves in 2024. When Simpson’s acquittal was broadcast, black Americans from coast to coast celebrated the verdict, ‘in parts of Los Angeles spill[ing] out on to the street, cheering and passing celebratory drinks’. One can only assume that a good number of those celebrating – otherwise decent, rational men and women, many of them churchgoers and passionate about civil rights – knew that Simpson was guilty of savagely murdering two innocent people. This is possibly the saddest aspect of all. Simpson’s acquittal was seen as payback for slavery, lynching and the evils of Jim Crow.

Reactions in the mainstream media to his death at the age of 76 have echoed this sentiment, eulogising Simpson as a semi-tragic figure, a victim of a systemically racist America. Space forbids me from citing all the many examples of the establishment media soft-pedalling on Simpson, so one will have to suffice, this from the New York Times: ‘He ran to football fame and made fortunes in movies. His trial for the murder of his former wife and her friend became an inflection point on race in America.’ This article does not name the ‘former wife’ or the ‘friend’, as if they were mere bit players in this grand racial narrative that was much more important than their lives.

‘My biggest accomplishment,’ Simpson told the journalist Robert Lipsyte, ‘is that people look at me like a man first, not a black man’, an attractive sentiment during an era of racial essentialisation and concerted attacks on the teachings of Martin Luther King. If only those noble words had been said by someone other than the man who brutalized his wife on sixty separate occasions and slaughtered two human beings in such a grotesque manner that world-weary LAPD detectives described the crime scene as one of the most horrifying they had ever seen. That he should have become ‘an inflection point on race in America’ is altogether surprising given the fact that he showed no interest in the civil rights movement and rarely referred to his race. ‘I’m not black, I’m O J’, he was fond of saying.

When all the obituaries are written and all the academics and former members of the Obama and Biden administrations have had their say, invariably using the debased language of academia and critical race theory that no ordinary American understands, including the present author, I am left with the ineffaceable crime scene photos of Nicole Brown and Ron Goldman, two young people who did not deserve their untimely and horrible deaths. Wherever they are, I pray they now know the peace that passeth all understanding.

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Bernard Carpenter
Bernard Carpenter
Bernard Carpenter is a semi-retired history teacher.

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