What the Fuck Did We Do?
You know... I don’t know if this is going to be good. I don’t know if this is going to be eloquent or if I’m going to say anything anyone hasn’t already said. I’ve been trying to think, What is it that I want to get across with this post? What do I want to communicate? And I think ultimately it’s just that I’m sad. Watching the re-enactment of OJ Simpson’s trial through FX’s series American Crime Story: The People v. OJ Simpson was really sad. I asked myself over and over as I watched: how did he get away with this? Week after week, episode after episode, I knew the ending but I couldn’t believe it. Not even as I watched it unfold again. How did this man get off for such a brutal crime that he CLEARLY committed. Seeing it back, I was like, did he even try to cover his tracks? His, Nicole Brown Simpson’s, and Ron Goldman’s blood were all found in his car, his blood was found on Nicole’s back gate, socks containing his and Nicole’s blood were found at the foot of his bed, he left actual footprints of blood leading away from the scene, he left one glove at the scene and one at his place, witnesses saw him driving between the murder scene and his house just after the murders were committed, his driver didn’t see OJ’s car out front when he pulled up but it magically appeared ten minutes later when he came out to be picked up TO FLY TO CHICAGO FOR NO REASON IN THE MIDDLE OF THE NIGHT. Like mountains of evidence. Not to mention common sense stuff like the fact that when OJ was notified that Nicole had been murdered, he did not ask how. Think about that for a second. Really sit with it.
When I first heard that pointed out on the show I was like, okay yeah that’s weird but maybe he was distracted or overwhelmed or something or other. But then I thought, what if someone told me my mom was killed? Or my best friend, or a co-worker, or even someone I don’t know, like a famous actor or musician. When someone is murdered, we ask how. What happened? What was the motive? This man was told that his ex-wife, the mother of his children, had been murdered on a random Sunday evening, and he did not ask “how?” Instead he says something like “Oh my gosh, really? Okay, I’ll take the next flight back.” What in the actual fuck.
When the show starts, it opens with the reading of the verdict in the Rodney King case played over footage of the ensuing LA riots. The worst the city had ever seen, and I say, rightfully so. I don’t feel bad for what LA went through. That part’s not new, black people are tired. We are fucking TIRED of being killed by police without consequence. Somehow that’s still a thing we have to protest, but I digress. So the show opens with LA on fire and I loved that because it set the stage. Race relations are always a sensitive area for Americans, but two years after the worst riot in one of America’s biggest cities, they were at an all-time high. Black people were not prepared to see yet another “innocent” black man taken down by the LAPD. Let alone one they grew up with, one they idolized and exalted, one who was a symbol of hope for kids wanting to make it out of the projects. To be honest, short of confession, I don’t know if there’s anything anyone could have said or done to make a jury stacked with people of color convict OJ of these murders. Which is an excruciating shame because he did it. 100%. In case that wasn’t already clear.
And I wonder what we do with that now. I wonder how people who 20 years ago stood by him and cheered him on from the freeway and sent letters of support to prison— I wonder how they feel now. Is there still a question? Are we still holding on to blind faith despite being shown incontrovertible evidence to the contrary? I think about people connected to the case who’ve passed, like Robert Kardashian and Johnnie Cochran. From what I can tell, both thought OJ was innocent at the time, how would they feel now? What about the black people who did think he did it? I feel like as the trial was going on, if you were black and you thought OJ was guilty, you had to keep quiet for fear of losing your “black card” (an expression I loathe but am using to refer to the sense of belonging to the black community.) Chris Darden, the poor lawyer called onto the prosecution team (probably largely because he’s black) was painted as an Uncle Tom in the media because of the side he was on. Turns out he was right. Everyone who thought OJ did it was right. How do we all feel now about where we chose to stand?
I think I feel a little sick. To be honest, I didn’t know much about the trial when it was happening, I was six. If it wasn’t pink, bejeweled, or emblazoned with the Barbie logo, it had 15% of my attention, tops. I knew OJ was famous, I knew he was being accused of killing his wife, but it seemed like the general consensus was that there wasn’t enough proof, which seems silly in retrospect. But I remember hearing the prosecution couldn’t prove that he had done it. And growing up in a black, albeit immigrant, household, the prevailing sense was something like “This is awful, but there’s too much speculation to pinpoint the actual murderer so I guess he shouldn’t go to jail. Also Americans are crazy.” So I didn’t necessarily see his acquittal as a victory, but wasn’t convinced he should have been convicted either. And then in 2006 he released a book called If I Did It and I was like Hmmmmmmm. Perhaps an error in judgment has been made. And then I watched this show and I was like FUCK. A DEFINITE ERROR IN JUDGMENT HAS BEEN MADE. We fucked alllllll the way up.
I remember they called this the “Trial of the Century” and I get it. It hit on almost all of America’s pressure points: Racism, Sexism, Domestic Abuse, Celebrity, Police Misconduct. To comment on the sexism aspect, let me just say, the way we treated Marcia Clark during that trial is – I was going to say “criminal” but that felt a little tone deaf for this post. But like really everyone owes her an apology. EVERYONE. The criticism that woman had to endure, from what her hair looked like, to what clothes she wore, to how she spoke – all WILDLY irrelevant to the case she was trying to present. Focus groups were called in to see how people were receiving her and no one wanted to listen to what she was saying because “she seems like a bitch.” Like! And it’s shit I know exists, obviously. It’s shit I live every day because surprise, I am also a woman. But I don’t know, I felt like yelling at this focus group WHO CARES WHAT HER HAIR LOOKS LIKE?! SHE IS TRYING TO PUT A MAN IN JAIL FOR MURDERING HIS WIFE AND HER FRIEND WHICH HE DEFINITELY DID LISTEN TO HER! But alas, when I Googled an image of her at the beginning of the series, my first thought was “Wow dear God look at that hair” and THAT, my friends, is internalized sexism, and why I, along with everyone else, owe Marcia Clark an apology.
Like I said at the beginning, the questions I asked over and over while watching this were “How did he get away with this? How did we let him get away? How was he not convicted?” One of the only answers I’ve come to, feeble as it may be, is the power of distraction and illusion. If the real life events were anything like the show (and they were, I researched obsessively), Johnnie Cochran was an ACTUAL magician posing as a lawyer by day. The man’s charisma was out of this world. He was able to take a tiny hesitation in a witness testimony and blow it out of proportion to make the witness appear wholly incompetent and/or untrustworthy. He was skilled in whipping up sentiment in and out of court, positive or negative depending on what he needed. From the moment he was brought on, he, not Judge Ito, controlled the climate of the courtroom. And no matter the overwhelmingly damning evidence, no matter what played out in court that day, he knew better than anyone that the only issue of importance was what would stick in the jurors’ minds. What their memories would not be able to shake – like OJ trying on that damned glove. Iconic. I tell ya, when that scene came up I squeezed my hands over my face. I couldn’t bear to watch what I perceive to be the biggest blow to the prosecution’s already struggling case. Honestly, watching the prosecution team on this show was a lot like watching Titanic— everyone’s happy and confident in the beginning and only the audience knows that there is looming disaster. OJ trying on the glove was the moment they hit the iceberg. You could see it on the jurors’ faces— he was practically acquitted in that instant. And then of course came Johnnie Cochran’s lovely little catchphrase: “If it doesn’t fit, you must acquit!” Really drove that one all the way home.
Another thing I liked was that they showed OJ’s complete delusion and defiant refusal to take responsibility for any of his actions. Which I guess we could have gleaned from the fact that he pleaded not guilty for murders he OBVIOUSLY committed, but the extent of the charade was fascinating. For example, when it was mentioned in court how he used to beat Nicole (which also, didn’t realize that was a thing until I watched the show. Seriously how was this guy freed?!), or when someone pointed to him and called him a murderer, you could see him squish and squirm as if trying to physically shake the accusations from him. He had built up such a thick wall of self-importance and denial that he convinced himself everything’s okay. That he’s okay. Nothing had changed, and the trial was a mere blip on his otherwise stellar life, which he would resume once the trial ended. One of the most poignant scenes was at the end when OJ throws an “acquittal party” (ten thousand side-eye emojis), and asks his son to make reservations for him at the Riviera Country Club. His son returns with the news that he is no longer welcomed there and for a second, for one second, it begins to dawn on OJ that his life is not going to continue as it was. He quickly shakes it off, loudly announces that he doesn’t care, and scurries off into the party. I read an article somewhere essentially asking what the point of that scene was. I believe it said something like “Are we supposed to care about OJ’s fading social life?” And I’m like no! That scene is important! His social life itself is not the focus but rather it’s that this entire time OJ has been protecting himself via fantasy, thinking he could return to the life he had before the murders with his reputation unscathed. This scene finally shows the beginning of that disillusion— perhaps the only moment we get to see a glimpse of him having to face the consequences of his actions. I relished it, of course not as much as I would have relished watching him being carted off to jail, but I guess that was the best we’re gonna get. I mean yeah, I know he’s in jail now for armed robbery or whatever, but armed robbery is not the same as butchering two innocent people. AND he’s up for parole next year! Like what kind of shit is that?
So yeah, I’m sad. As I said, I knew what the outcome was going to be but it was still rough to watch. I’m sad for the families of Nicole Brown Simpson and Ron Goldman, who had to see their loved one’s murderer acquitted. I’m sad for Marcia Clark and the justice system and OJ’s children and America. I know other stuff has happened before and since then that’s also sad, but that doesn’t take away from the fact that we allowed a man, who stabbed two people repeatedly in cold blood even after they were dead, to go free. Because we refuse to figure out our race problem, because we still treat celebrities like they’re superhuman, because we still low key hate women, this monster walked.
Here’s to him never getting parole and dying in that jail cell in Nevada.