The case of People v O.J. Simpson

In order to understand the OJ Simpson case, it is vital to understand the background, which led to his acquittal. The USA has been facing the problem of racism and slavery since eternity.[1] In the 1980-90s racism was a major cry of the African-Americans and which led to various movements to curb racism. At the same time, we saw the meteoric rise of feminism in the world. Women fought for their rights to gain equal standing in society. The fight of Race and Gender is against the justice system, but in this case, they were put up against each other.

In Los Angeles, a wealthy state in the U.S., there was a rampant rise of cases of black oppression, ironically spearheaded by its very own police department, the Los Angeles Police Department (hereinafter, LAPD). There had been various incidents in the past where the police treated black suspects with cruelty, and one such occurred in 1991 at the L.A. County. The police caught Rodney King (an African-American) over-speeding, after catching him they beat him mercilessly.

This was recorded by a resident and then shared on the media. This broke the last straw of the black community and led to a massive revolt in 1992. Rodney King had filed a suit[2]against the Police officers; however, they were acquitted from the charges. This further aggravated the anger of the masses, and they attacked various public properties, shops etc.[3] There was an uprising in the state, and the army was called to contain the violence.[4] The police only protected the high profile areas, and due to this, the Koreatown (belonging to Korean residents) was destroyed. After the riots were finally curbed, there were various accusations on how the police stratified and ignored Koreatown, which eventually led to its destruction.[5]

Meanwhile, OJ Simpson, a Black American Football star, had gained a lot of wealth and fame. He was considered as the epitome of the black community and was living the American dream. O.J. had married Marguerite L. Whitley and had three children with her. They later got divorced, and in the same year, Marguerite was found dead in her swimming pool. Later OJ married Nicole Brown who was a waitress in a Bar nearby O.J.’s house. During their marriage, Nicole had filed cases against O.J. for domestic abuse. These accusations were not proved, but eventually, the couple got divorced. Even after the divorce O.J. was accused of stalking her. This essay primarily analyses the Racial stratification in the society which was used to influence the jury in the case of People v. OJ Simpson.

Objectives

The objective of this paper is

  • To understand racial stratification in the United States.
  • To understand the circumstances\ background of the OJ Simpson case.
  • To understand how stratification was used in the selection of the jury and how it lead to O.J.’s acquittal.
  • To understand why race overshadowed gender in this case.

Rationale

Race and gender have always played an important in most of the cases of the United States. In the last few decades, the black and women communities many a time have fought for their rights. In this case, they fought against each other, the lawyers from both the sides used the divide in the society to win the case. The circumstances were such that the defence won. This paper seeks to understand as to why this happened and if the judgement was right or was influenced by the sympathy and media.

Methodology

The nature of the study is analytical, descriptive and .secondary in nature. For this project, various articles, newspapers, journals, magazines and Netflix (T.V. streaming app) have been referred too. For gathering the information, various websites. and databases have been used.

Research Questions

  • How was the existing stratification of the society used in the case of OJ Simpson?
  • How did stratification help in Jury selection?
  • Why the reverse discrimination of racism prevailed over sexism in the case?

The Trial

On June 13, 1994, Nicole Brown and Goldman (a friend) were found murdered outside Nicole’s Condo in Brentwood. The police suspected O.J. for the murders, and so he appointed Robert Shapario as his lawyer. Later an arrest warrant was issued in his name, and by the time police arrived to arrest him, he had fled with his friend in a White Bronco. The police chase was telecasted on television, and they even interrupted the telecast of the NBA finals of 1994 to show the chase. The live chase was seen by 95 million viewers and is the most viewed run in the history of the U.S. The trial was widely publicised and was considered as the “Trial of the Century.”[6]

The prosecution used the victimisation of women as a major aspect of the crime, and the defence played the race card[7] in light of the above-mentioned LAPD brutality. They even hired a black lawyer, Johnnie Cochran, who was famous in the community and had the time and again raised his voice against racism. O.J. had the best lawyers of the country fight for him. They are often referred to as the “Dream Team”. The defence mainly argued that the LAPD had conspired against O.J. because he was black and had framed him for the murder of his wife. They used the past instances of LAPD’s misconduct to convince the jury that he was innocent

The Role of Race, Gender, Religion and Education

There needs to be a strategy in place to win the case. O.J.’s lawyers chose to play the race card. Various tactics used by them led to reverse discrimination and thus, the acquittal of O.J. Race and gender were the major aspects of the case and were used from the beginning by both sides. 

1.      Jury Selection[8]

Jury selection is an important process and can even change the outcome of the case. In 1991 Rodney King faced an all-white jury which led to the acquittal of the policemen who were seen beating him on a videotape. In O.J.’s case, both prosecution and defendants knew the importance of the selection process. Both parties were determined to have a jury favourable to them to get the desired result. They conducted various jury experiments to understand the attitude of the people towards the case and predict an outcome. They wanted to understand as who would favour O.J. and thereafter came up with their favourable jury characteristics.

When jury selection began the prosecution were looking for the following

1] Educated – Educated American were more likely to pass a guilty verdict. Educated people favour law and order and are in a position to understand the rights of women. They are aware of the atrocities faced by the women and therefore might be more sympathetic towards Nicole.

2] Old – It was found that older people were more likely to convict O.J. for the crimes. A possible explanation for this could be that overtime older individuals have accumulated more wealth and demand a stringent justice system so as to protect their wealth. Thus, older people were less likely to be sympathetic to O.J.

3] High Income – People from the high-income group are most likely to be old and educated. They understand the situation and tend to favour law and order. Further, white Americans believe that black men are aggressive and thus are likely to convict O.J.

The defence rooted for a jury which consists of –

1] Females– Through the experiment, it was found that females were more sympathetic towards O.J. Further, Nicole Brown did not fit in well as a victim in the eyes of the people, they resented her and her lifestyle.  Black women did not like that a famous man like O.J. married outside the community. They even saw Marica Clark, the prosecutor negatively as she was a white female trying to bring down a black man.[9] There were two reasons as to why black women wanted to acquit O.J. The first being, to keep their community together and to convict him might be considered race treason.

The second is that black women believe domestic violence to be justified. They think that their husbands have been exploited by the whites in the outer world, and thus, they express their anger towards their wives. The feel that the rot of domestic violence is the discrimination against the black man and therefore, it can only be stopped when the discrimination stops.[10]  Hence, the jury which contained six black women overlooked the domestic violence and believed that O.J. was set up by the police because he was black. 

2] Blacks – The people of the black community felt that the justice system has been biased and discriminatory. Some white Americans also accepted this during the jury experiments. After the acquittal of the officers in the Rodney King case, they knew that something had to be done to protect their community. They were very supportive of O.J. and felt that he should be protected from the police conspiracy. Therefore a black juror was more likely to acquit O.J.

The case was tried in the downtown court where the population was dominated by the black community.[11] The final jury consisted of six black females, two black males, two Hispanics, a half-native American male and a white female. It was also noted at the end of the trial that the most educated juror had been to college only for two years. This was the first significant victory for the defence and one of the factors which led to O.J.’s acquittal.

2.     The Verdict

O.J. was acquitted of the charges, the Race Card was the primary weapon of the defence, and it overshadowed sexism and women victimisation. Now we will understand as to why that happened. First, they made the jury believe that Nicole was not a victim. On the contrary, they portrayed O.J. as the victim of racism and then they created a reasonable doubt in the mind of the jury by questioning the methods of Mark Fuhrman. This strategy has been dealt with in detail below.

a.     Nicole’s Image

During the case, some of the headlines read, “Another black man put down by the system.”[12] This seems to convey that a black man was punished for no other reason than his colour. This was exactly how the black community felt, therefore they became blind to the domestic abuse faced by Nicole in the past. Nicole’s image as a victim was not acceptable to the elected jury as she did not fit in the victim paradigm. This was primarily of her lifestyle and her relationships with other men.[13] After the case, one of the jurors went to the extent of saying that “seeing Nicole’s lifestyle, we can say she was no saint”.[14] They saw her as a white woman whom America is trying to protect from a black man,[15]who has a  stereotype of being a sexual aggressor? Since most of the jurors were black, they did not agree with the victim of Nicole and therefore, believed that O.J. innocent.

b.     O.J.’s Image

People loved O.J.; he was one of the best footballers and had achieved what most black men could not. His celebrity status led to the extensive media coverage of the case. The black community supported O.J. as the historical and modern experiences triggered a reactionary. and angry response towards the system.[16] O.J., rather than being the perpetrator, was believed to be a victim of the incident. The defence made the jury believe that there existed a conspiracy theory against him.[17] O.J. even after his celebrity status was still black and thus, was not free from racism. The obfuscation of Nicole’s gender allowed O.J. to be portrayed as the victim.[18]

They thought that O.J. symbolised prosecutorial abuse, police brutality and judicial arbitrariness.[19]  Indeed, black men are always presumed to be criminals and this can also be seen from the Charles Stuart case. The facts were such; a man was accused by the husband (white) of shooting his wife and a child. The police only searched the black neighbourhood in Boston as they had already presumed that the accused was black. Later, it was found that the husband had himself killed his family for the insurance money. Thus, showing that a black man is always presumed to be guilty. Hence, it was correct for the jury to consider that there could be tampering of evidence.

c.     Fuhrman’s misconduct

Next, the defence put Mark Fuhrman on the stand, the detective who found the gloves near Nicole’s house with O.J.’s blood. They used his past conduct as an officer to prove his hate for the black community and how he mistreated them.[20] The defence played an audiotape in which he was heard hurling racial abuses, and he even admitted to wrongful beatings.[21] This made the jurors question the findings of the police. After this, when O.J. was asked to try the gloves, they did not fit him, which confirmed the juries suspicion.

All these factors created a doubt in the mind of the jurors and led to the acquittal of OJ Simpson.

Conclusion

The OJ Simpson case was one of the most famous trails in the history of America, and it shook the justice system until the roots. The blacks for the first time felt that justice had been done and whites were concerned about the fallacies of the judgement and its repercussions. Feminists criticised the judgment as it led to pure sexism and tarnishing of the victim’s image by questioning her lifestyle. The previous parts have mainly focused on race and how it won against gender in this case, but now we will understand why it should not have been the case. O.J.’s position was very different from Rodney King; he was friends with the police; he had celebrity status and the best lawyers in the country to defend himself.

There was ample evidence against him, and even after destroying Mark Fuhrman’s testimony, there was evidence which no one could deny. The jury should have taken into account violence against Nicole and should have not rushed into the judgement. If any person other than O.J. would have been the perpetrator, then the result could be different. More heed would be paid to the history of sexual violence, and the stalking of a woman and the issues in court would have been different from conspiracy theories. Sexism is a significant issue and should not have been overlooked in this case.


Bibliography

Other Authorities

Alexander, Scott, and Larry Karaszewski. “100% Not Guilty“, American Crime Story: The People vs. O.J. Simpson. F.X. 1WAX09, Los Angeles, California, March 29. 2016. Television

Alexander, Scott, and Larry Karaszewski. “Conspiracy Theories“, American Crime Story: The People vs. O.J. Simpson. F.X. 1WAX09, Los Angeles, California, March 29. 2016. Television

Alexander, Scott, and Larry Karaszewski. “Marcia, Marcia, Marcia.”, American Crime Story: The People vs. O.J. Simpson. F.X. 1WAX09, Los Angeles, California, March 29. 2016. Television

Website Articles

CNN Business, Los Angeles Riots Fast Facts, April 22, 2019, https://edition.cnn.com/2013/09/18/us/los-angeles-riots-fast-facts/index.html (Last visited on April 3, 2020)

Jeff Wallenfeldt, Los Angeles Riots of 1992, February 13, 2020, available at http://www.britannica.com/event/Los-Angeles-Riots-of-1992. (Last visited on April 3, 2020)

The NewYork Times, Simpson Defense Advances Police-Conspiracy Theory, July 28, 1995

VanityFair.com, How O.J. Simpson’s Dream Team played the “Race Card” and Won, November 1995, HTTPS://WWW.VANITYFAIR.COM/MAGAZINE/1995/11/DUNNE199511 (Last visited on April 3, 2020)

Journal Articles

Aaronette White, O. J. Simpson Trial: We Are All Guilty, Agenda: Empowering Women for Gender Equity, no. 28, 1996, 102–107

Alderman, Derek H., T.V. News Hyper-Coverage and the Representation of Place: Observations on the O. J. Simpson Case, Geografiska Annaler. Series B, Human Geography, vol. 79, no. 2, 1997,  83–95

Bulkin, Ellie, and Becky Thompson, The Spectacle of Race and Gender in the O.J. Simpson Case, Off Our Backs, vol. 24, no. 9, 1994, 10–23

Devon W. Carbado, Black Male Racial Victimhood, Callaloo, vol. 21, no. 2, 1998, 337–361

Enomoto, Carl E., Public Sympathy for O. J. Simpson: The Roles of Race, Age, Gender, Income, and Education., The American Journal of Economics and Sociology, vol. 58, no. 1, 1999, 145–161

Harris, Angela P., Gender, Violence, Race, and Criminal Justice, Stanford Law Review, vol. 52, no. 4, 2000, 777–807

Katherine Spillar & Penny Harrington, The Verdict on Male Bias: Guilty, L.A. TIMES, May 16, 1997, available in 1997 WL 22113

Nopper, Tamara K., The 1992 Los Angeles Riots and the Asian American Abandonment Narrative as Political Fiction., CR: The New Centennial Review, vol. 6, no. 2, 2006, 73–110

Zinn, Maxine Baca. Family, Feminism, and Race in America., Gender and Society, vol. 4, no. 1, 1990, 68–82


[1] Zinn, Maxine Baca. Family, Feminism, and Race in America., Gender and Society, vol. 4, no. 1, 1990, 68–82. 

[2] Rodney King case

[3] Jeff Wallenfeldt, Los Angeles Riots of 1992, February 13, 2020, available at http://www.britannica.com/event/Los-Angeles-Riots-of-1992. (Last visited on April 3, 2020)

[4] CNN Business, Los Angeles Riots Fast Facts, April 22, 2019, https://edition.cnn.com/2013/09/18/us/los-angeles-riots-fast-facts/index.html (Last visited on April 3, 2020)

[5] Nopper, Tamara K., The 1992 Los Angeles Riots and the Asian American Abandonment Narrative as Political Fiction., CR: The New Centennial Review, vol. 6, no. 2, 2006, 73–110.

[6] Alderman, Derek H., T.V. News Hyper-Coverage and the Representation of Place: Observations on the O. J. Simpson Case, Geografiska Annaler. Series B, Human Geography, vol. 79, no. 2, 1997,  83–95.

[7] VanityFair.com, How O.J. Simpson’s Dream Team played the “Race Card” and Won, November 1995, HTTPS://WWW.VANITYFAIR.COM/MAGAZINE/1995/11/DUNNE199511 (Last visited on April 3, 2020)

[8]Enomoto, Carl E., Public Sympathy for O. J. Simpson: The Roles of Race, Age, Gender, Income, and Education., The American Journal of Economics and Sociology, vol. 58, no. 1, 1999, 145–161.

[9] Alexander, Scott, and Larry Karaszewski. “Marcia, Marcia, Marcia.”, American Crime Story: The People vs. O.J. Simpson. F.X. 1WAX09, Los Angeles, California, March 29. 2016. Television.

[10] Devon W. Carbado, Black Male Racial Victimhood, Callaloo, vol. 21, no. 2, 1998, 337–361.

[11] Alexander, Scott, and Larry Karaszewski. “100% Not Guilty“, American Crime Story: The People vs. O.J. Simpson. F.X. 1WAX09, Los Angeles, California, March 29. 2016. Television.

[12] Bulkin, Ellie, and Becky Thompson, The Spectacle of Race and Gender in the O.J. Simpson Case, Off Our Backs, vol. 24, no. 9, 1994, 10–23.

[13] supra note 8.

[14] Id.

[15] supra note 10.

[16] Aaronette White, O. J. Simpson Trial: We Are All Guilty, Agenda: Empowering Women for Gender Equity, no. 28, 1996, 102–107.

[17] The NewYork Times, Simpson Defense Advances Police-Conspiracy Theory, July 28, 1995,

https://www.nytimes.com/1995/07/28/us/simpson-defense-advances-police-conspiracy-theory.html(Last visited on April 3, 2020); Alexander, Scott, and Larry Karaszewski. “Conspiracy Theories”, American Crime Story: The People vs. O.J. Simpson. F.X. 1WAX09, Los Angeles, California, March 29. 2016. Television. 

[18] supra note 10

[19] Id.

[20] Katherine Spillar & Penny Harrington, The Verdict on Male Bias: Guilty, L.A. TIMES, May 16, 1997, WL 22113. 

[21] Harris, Angela P., Gender, Violence, Race, and Criminal Justice, Stanford Law Review, vol. 52, no. 4, 2000, 777–807. 

Dishay Chitalia from The WB National University of Juridical Sciences, Kolkata

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