*White people were mad as hell.
I’ve never seen or felt anger around Los Angeles like I did on October 3, 1995. It was unfiltered, devoid of any of the time-honored White Guilt that blacks in America have long manipulated and relied upon.
That day, after the verdict was read, sitting at traffic lights, I’d glance into the car next to me and see the person behind the wheel wearing a scowl, sometimes aimed at me. Just after noon I walked down tony Robertson Blvd. in cosmopolitan, liberal West Hollywood, where I lived. I didn’t get the usual smiles or nods.
They were pissed.
They still are, twenty years later. Bring up O.J. Simpson’s acquittal of the June 13, 1994 murders of ex-wife Nicole Brown Simpson and her friend Ron Goldman and they’ll let you know how they feel about it.
They don’t care to know that I feel the same way.
Yes, I, a black man, believe that Simpson killed his ex-wife and Goldman. That was the other injustice meted out on that fateful day: the perverted notion that most black Americans believed Simpson was innocent.
As if those who make up the black community are unable to think and reason as individuals.
Cementing the myth was television news footage aired over and again for days–first of a room of blacks gathered before a TV cheering the verdict, followed by a scene of whites in front of a TV elsewhere, gasping in stunned disbelief and rage.
Obviously they exist, but frankly I don’t know any black people who ever thought O.J. was innocent. Still, it was only natural to make room in our minds for the usual bamboozlement blacks have historically endured. I remember the exchange a friend and his father had one morning during the trial.
“They framin’ O.J.,” his dad pensively opined from his favorite chair while watching yet another day of coverage.
“Daddy, O.J. killed those people,” my buddy replied.
“I know he did,” said Dad. “But they still framin’ him.”
Actually, in addition to blacks who truly believed Simpson was being unjustly accused, there was another demographic quietly convinced of Simpson’s innocence: white men. Sometimes, superstar jockdom trumps everything. One monday evening, at the height of the trial, while nursing a Guinness at the bar of the long since shuttered Morton’s, I initiated small talk with the tall, casually dressed middle-aged white man drinking next to me. When I asked him what he thought about the trial, he was adamant.
“O.J. Simpson did NOT kill those people,” said the man, who, of all people with whom to strike up an O.J. conversation, happened to be Don Ohlmeyer. The former president of NBC’s west coast division and former producer of ABC-TV’s iconic “Monday Night Football ” told me he was a longtime personal friend of Simpson.
“Our kids used to go trick-or-treating together,” he said. “I know this man. He wouldn’t do something like that; he wouldn’t do it to his children.”
Today, Simpson is in prison, “officially” convicted of having some shady associates held at gunpoint in Las Vegas over some memorabilia he says they took from him. We all know why he’s really there.
Simpson’s incarceration quelled the racially charged vexation of a segment of white America, but not by much. Today I say to them what I said then: if white folk were as outraged every time a white person was unfairly exonerated of a crime the way they were outraged when O.J. was acquitted, then perhaps O.J. might not have walked in the first place. Maybe the justice system would work for everyone all the time, instead of for a select few.
In the meantime, they should dispense once and for all with the insulting, self-serving fantasy that all black Americans believe Simpson is innocent of the heinous crime of double murder.
We know better than anyone that acquittal doesn’t equate innocence. For what seems like forever, our understanding of the term is all we’ve had to console us while watching those who commit crimes against us and our community go free with absolute impunity.
Those Black people cheering that day weren’t celebrating the triumph of a murderer. A galaxy away from Obama’s election, they were reveling in what, if only for a fleeting, conflicted moment, felt like equality in America: a black man had gotten away with something in the same bold and arrogant fashion in which white people do all the time, with the best justice money could buy.
A guilty man getting away with murder is not equality. But sadly, for just a little while in October of 1995 , it somehow felt like it.
Steven Ivory, veteran journalist, essayist and author, writes about popular culture for magazines, newspapers, radio, TV and the Internet. Respond to him via [email protected].