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April 15th, 2024. (Tax Day)

Baton Rouge, Louisiana


O.J. Simpson died last week. Many younger people will just say “So?” To anyone over 50, his life and his actions created riveting news, and poised him, both good and bad, as one of the most recognizable personalities in American history. O. J. was a little of everything. A football star in both college an in the NFL.  He was the highest paid football player in the pros, and broke the all-time rushing record held by Jim Brown. (Unfortunately, no relation.). But he was also many other things. Yes a hero to so many of us, but also a liar, an actor, an abuser and a killer.

Back in his football days, everyone called him “Juice,” because of his energetic athletic ability and  because his initials also stood for “orange juice.” He also was  a member of a world-record-setting 440-yard relay team while at the University of Southern California in 1968. I was a member of the U.S. 440-yard relay team in 1963, and avidly followed O.J.’s track career. I had turned down a track scholarship at USC myself, and briefly  attended law school there. While visiting some old friends at the track facility, someone pointed out the superstar to me as he was working out. In hindsight, I probably should have taken the time to say hello.

In June of 1994, 95 million viewers watched for hours as a white Ford Bronco, driven by a friend, attempted to make a low speed escape from a number of law enforcement vehicles as O.J. hid in the backseat.  When the bronco headed back to O.J.’s home, he was arrested and charged with the murder of his wife and a friend.

What a trial.  The proceedings were televised and rightly so.  Judges too often keep the public from seeing just what happens in an American courtroom. And what a soap opera it was to watch. Viewers by the millions talked their bosses into letting them watch the daily proceedings around the water cooler, and some even smuggled small handheld tv devices into their desk drawers. To say that America was mesmerized by the trial would be an understatement.

Many felt the case was open and shut against Simpson.  Others felt charges brought by the prosecution were built on fraud, and that the police investigators were racist. Defense attorneys argued that incriminating evidence was either mishandled or illegally planted.  A glove, supposedly worn by the killer, was found at the crime scene. Attorneys for O.J. said the glove seemed way too small for his hand. Then the famous quote was put forth by the defense.  “If the glove don’t fit, you must acquit.”

The trial lasted for more than eight months. Then, on October 2, 1965, the jury reached a verdict. Last week’s Wall Street Journal put the anticipation this way. “No one in America did a bit of work from the moment it was announced that the jury had a verdict. Everyone ran to a TV set. Even President Bill Clinton left the Oval Office to join his secretaries. In court, cries of ‘Yes!’ and ‘Oh, No!’ we’re echoed across the nation as the verdict left many Black people jubilant and many white people aghast.”

Reagan speech writer Peggy Noonan hit the nail right on the head. “Before O.J., American blacks lacked confidence in the legal system. After OJ., everyone lack confidence in the legal system. It looked cynical, performative, agenda driven, and not on the level.”

The racial divide was vividly on display during O.J.s trial. But is it really any different today?  There’s a strong feeling  among many Americans, both black and white, that the American judicial system is still significantly defective. Many feel that a number of charges against former President Donald Trump are unjustly flawed as his trial begins this week.

It’s obvious that America still has a long way to go, both with race relations as well as with prosecutorial misconduct and judicial fairness. The “Juice” was finally able to get away from the legal and media mess that he created.  The rest of us still have to put up with it.

Peace and Justice

Jim Brown

Jim Brown’s syndicated column appears each week in numerous newspapers throughout the nation and on websites worldwide. You can read all his past columns and see continuing updates at http://www.jimbrownusa.com. You can also listen to his weekly podcast at www.datelinelouisiana.com.



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