The Home of Steven Barnes
Author, Teacher, Screenwriter

Tuesday, March 01, 2005

O.J. and Michael Jackson: Part 2

O.J.'s "Not guilty" verdict set off quite a ruckus, one which, understandably, hasn't fully died down to this day. Let me make it clear: I believe him to be guilty, but am not certain that I would have returned a different verdict myself. The prosecution didn't prove their case "beyond a reasonable doubt," and Mark Furman perjured himself very conveniently. To this day, I wonder if Johnny Cochran bought him off, paid him to impeach his own evidentiary chain. For someone to state so specifically "I've never used the word 'Nigger' in the last ten years," and then for Cochran to conveniently produce an audiotape in which he says it a dozen That Cochran is amazing. Or something else.
At any rate, I thought it was loathsome indeed that Cochran used the Race card in that trial. Four hundred years of horrific deprevation led to the Civil Rights era, where for the first time mainstream America was forced to admit that there was something terribly wrong. To this date, Conservatives have taken the position that there is nothing wrong "now" (whenever "now" is) and only reluctantly admit that there was EVER anything wrong. Watching people like Dinesh D'Souza claiming that there was never widespread sexual abuse during slavery makes me want to foam at the mouth. Arrgh. So when a genuine miscarriage of justice can be exposed by demonstrating the pervasive influence of racism, and people are forced to see what they don't want to see, it can be beautiful. Or frustrating. The Black community felt so much vendication when the Rodney King beating was captured on video in 1992. "See?" they said. "This is what we've been saying has been happening for the last 400 years." The cops were caught lying about it. Laughing about "big time use of force." And I remember my conservative friends explaining their behavior. "Oh, well, Rodney was much like Conan The Barbarian...the cops were horribly scared...there was more tape that you didn't see, of King thrashing them back, but the Liberal Media won't show it..." and on and on. And the cops, tried by a jury of their peers, got off. And black people went a little nuts.
I'm going to bring this down to a more personal level, because I've heard lots of people implying that the L.A. riots were some kind of anomoly exclusive to black folks. These people are ignorant of America's history. They haven't researched the times when white people rioted (say...the Draft riots in New York during the Civil War) and seen that when a large group of people feels that they are being screwed over by the forces of the society, they lose faith in that society. Anger is a mask over fear. The explosion of anger you saw during the L.A. riots was actually fear. Stark, raving fear. The reinforced belief that black lives were of less value than white lives. When in 1991 a high school girl named Latasha Harlans was shot in the back of the head by a Korean grocer. The grocer was found guilty, and the judge handed down, as sole punishment, a fine SMALLER THAN THE FINE FOR LITTERING A HIGHWAY. What? Can you even begin to grasp the magnitude of this insult? Either proclaim the grocer innocent, or throw her ass in jail. To say: "oh, you're guilty, and the weirgild, the cost to society of the life you stole is less than the worth of garbage." THAT was the potential energy lurking in the Los Angeles Black community, coiled like a spring. When the Rodney King cops got off, I was in shock. I couldn't believe it. I felt completely, totally betrayed by the system. I felt stabbed, that the country I loved simply did not respect me as it did a person of identical inner characteristics with white skin. And all over the world, throughout all of history, when people have felt in danger, and betrayed by their leaders, they have exploded with fear and violence. And it happened here. Imagine yourself playing poker, and everyone else at the table is consistently getting better hands than you. You perceive that the deck is marked, and everyone else at the table winks at the dealer. Do you continue playing cards? No, you leave the table. What if you can't leave? What if it's the only table you know? Chances are, you kick the table over.
So when O.J. was declared innocent in 1995, the anger and fear stored up from centuries of Rodney King and Latasha Harlans incidents exploded, and you heard a lot of black folks cheering. Did they really believe him innocent? I don't know. Do white folks really think Elvis is alive? All over the supposedly "Liberal" media, I heard about how there was a huge divide between white and black, that black people thought O.J. was innocent, while whites thought him guilty. Really? In what exact proportions? I never heard any good figures on that. Worse, in NONE of the black media--black newspaper, Jet, Ebony, etc., did I see articles or editorials claiming O.J.'s innocence. I'm not saying such articles didn't exist, only that I looked, and I didn't find them. but white people are, based upon stories in the Mainstream media, convinced that 90% of blacks find O.J. innocent, while 90% of whites find him guilty. Interesting. I wonder what the real numbers are? And in whose interest was it for people to believe those statistics tilted this way or that?
O.J. was fascinating to us because of his celebrity, and, of course, because he was married to a white woman. There was a queasy undertone to all of the bruhaha--a "see what happens when the color line is crossed?" sense to much of that commentary that I'll never forget. A bit of "O.J. was the best of his kind, so we offered him the greatest gift we could offer--a beautiful white woman. And he betrayed his trust. See what a monster he is? And by extension, all of them might well be?" My god, it was, and continues to be a circus. Well, O.J. is a monster. And there is no slightest excuse for the horror of his deeds. Period. But what CAN be understood is the reactions of people who feel their lives have been a cavalcade of abuse and social denial. And their reactions are the reactions I've seen from whites in similar situations: a petulant "screw you" to " the man" even at the cost of their own sense of ethics. When there is a perception of injustice in the world, human beings go a little Coo-Koo. It's not a black thing, or a white thing. It's a human thing.
Me? I hate the bastard, and wish someone would shoot him in the street. But that's just my opinion. I could be wrong.

Next: Explaining Michael Jackson

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