Sunday, September 16, 2007

Can Even O.J. Be a Victim of a Police Rush to Judgment?
Earl Ofari Hutchinson

O.J. Simpson screamed loud and long that anyone who thinks he’s stupid enough to commit robbery in of all places Las Vegas has got to be nuts. The world’s best known accused and acquitted double murder defendant seems to have a point. His mug is known far and wide, and any and everything he does generally makes news. And when it doesn’t he makes sure that he turns up at a sports card signing, makes a reality show pitch, or takes a failed shot at a self-confessional book to grab some headlines and further stir the public’s hate Simpson juices.

So why did Simpson according to police feel that he needed to charge into a hotel room and snatch and grab some sports memorabilia from two collectors, at gunpoint no less? Why not call the police if the items as he claims are his and have them recover them? Simpson says the explanation is simple. The police won’t lift a finger to help him. That’s a clumsy, but tactful way of saying that he’s a marked man, and that police have had it in for him ever since he beat the double murder charge.
At first glance this seems to be the desperate rant of a guy who’s prone to lie, cheat, and as most think kill. But beyond his vehement protest that he’s innocent, Simpson also knows that playing the anti- police card might resonate if ever so slight with some. There’s no evidence at this stage of the case that Simpson was framed, or that Las Vegas police licked their chops at the thought of getting him back in a legal noose. He was at the hotel, the goods were taken, and a robbery complaint was filed.

From the day that he beat the double murder rap and walked out of a Los Angeles court a decade ago, he has gone wherever he pleased and done what he pleased. He’s at times been trailed by a pack of doting former fans, and celebrity gawkers. There is no evidence that police in any of these cities have routinely subjected him to a special get Simpson profile. Yet, Simpson’s ill gained notoriety and perverse celebrity virtually guarantee that the legal hammer will drop especially hard on him at the first whiff of criminal wrongdoing. There is little chance that given the savage public mood toward him and the two person truth squad of Fred Goldman and Denise Brown continually wagging the guilt finger at him that Simpson would get benefit of the doubt on any charges against him, and he, of all people, should know that.
Since the bloody and mangled bodies of Nicole Brown Simpson and Ron Goldman were found in the walkway of his Brentwood, California apartment a more than a decade ago, it seems that time has stood still with him. Tongues still furiously wag at the mention of the murders and at him. If a poll were taken today, a majority of the public will still rage that Simpson is a murderer who skipped away scot-free, and that the trial and his acquittal were a farce and a blatant travesty of justice. But there are also some who would contend that Simpson was victimized by a biased criminal justice system and the verdict to acquit was a just one.
Simpson didn't invent or originate this sometimes ugly divide in public opinion about celebrity guilt. It has always lurked just beneath the surface. But his case propelled it to the front of public debate and anger. The horde of Simpson media commentators, legal experts and politicians that branded the legal system corrupt and compromised also fueled public belief that justice is for sale. Simpson's acquittal seemed to confirm that the rich, famous and powerful have the deep pockets to hire a small army of high priced, high profile attorneys, expert witnesses, experts, and investigators that routinely mangle the legal system to stall, delay, and drag out their cases, and eventually allow their well-heeled clients to weasel out of punishment. Even when prosecutors manage to win convictions of or guilty pleas from celebrities, their money, fame, power, and legal twisting often guarantee that they will get a hand slap jail sentence, if that.
Whether the police did indeed as Simpson claims rush to judgment and grossly overcharged him, and he eventually stands trial, the chatter from most will be that a killer is finally getting at least some of his due. Others will say that even Simpson can be a victim of a vindictive and unforgiving criminal justice system. The truth as always may lie somewhere between the two views. In any case, Simpson will do his best to make sure that a public that believes that everything he says is a lie believes that even he can be falsely accused. A second non-trial of the century, anyone?

Earl Ofari Hutchinson is an author and political analyst. His new book The Latino Challenge to Black America: Towards a Conversation between African-Americans and Hispanics (Middle Passage Press and Hispanic Economics New York) in English and Spanish will be out in October.