O.J. Simpson was paroled on Thursday. He’ll be granted his conditional release from Nevada’s Lovelock Correctional Center in October. As interested as I am in Simpson’s story, my reaction to his release is much different than it was in 1995.
I was a little more than a month into my sophomore year at Rockhurst University in Kansas City. The school placed a big screen TV in the Rock Room (commons) so everyone could see and hear the verdict clearly. A group of black students crowded together on one side of the room and a group of white students huddled together on the other.
Rockhurst, like America, was more than black and white. There were students from all different backgrounds on-campus, but race has a clear line of demarcation. It’s black or it’s white. A part of me always wondered what my Asian, Hispanic, and international classmates thought about the exercise.
Did they pick a side to fit in or did they think we were fools to retreat to superficial corners when times got tough? Everyone stood as the original O.J. verdict was read: “On the above entitled action, we, the jury find Orenthal James Simpson not guilty…”
The black side of the Rock Room erupted in cheers. We hugged, slapped five and celebrated like we’d won a championship. Our white classmates, on the other hand, looked something like Atlanta Falcons fans after this year’s Super Bowl. Their mouths were agape, some cried and others stormed from the room yelling four-letter words unbecoming of our fine institution.
Were we celebrating the acquittal of a murderer? No, Simpson’s innocence was never in question for us. At 19, given my personal interactions with law enforcement, those of my friends and the reputation of the L.A.P.D., you couldn’t pay me to say O.J. did it.
I’ve been in hundreds of arguments over the years about the case. The wall no one could crack for me was the incontrovertible fact that the lead detective in the Simpson case is a racist. That’s reasonable doubt for me every day of the week, week of the month and month of the year.
Thank God you don’t stay 19 forever. You learn things over time. Reasonable doubt does not equal innocence. A racist detective, a mistake-prone lab and a group of the greatest living litigators at the time on Simpson’s team made the case impossible to win for the prosecution, but it doesn’t mean O.J. is innocent.
After reading articles and books on the subject as well as viewing countless documentaries on the evidence, I’ve evolved from my previous position. I wouldn’t bet the farm on Simpson’s innocence as I would have at 19. In that time, I also learned about Simpson’s disdain for the black people who supported him during his trial and the general discomfort he has with being black.
I was done with O.J. at that point. Do I think the nine-year sentence he’s served for robbery and kidnapping is bogus? Yep, but those are the consequences of arrogance and a life spent getting what you want, when you want without much regard for anyone else.
Seriously, why didn’t Simpson just call the police and tell them some guys have some of his valuables? They probably would have settled things without the situation turning into a rumble between geriatric versions of the Greasers and the Socs.
Yet, there are lessons, and the lessons I’ve learned from O.J.’s travails are plentiful:
- Money plays a huge role when you’re in legal trouble. Simpson got out of a case he shouldn’t have because he was loaded. He went to prison over some nonsense when he was comparatively broke.
- Celebrity life is a constant cycle of rising and falling.
- Domestic violence litigation is basically a set of Blue Laws.
- No one trusts the justice system as much as they might say.
- Revenge can even be served in another state.
- Sports connect us to people we’ve never seen play. O.J. retired from football when I was three-years-old.
- No matter how well-educated I am, no matter where I work, no matter who I marry and no matter who my friends are, I will always be black. And at some point in my life, I will be reminded that I am black and my blackness will be challenged in a very real way. I must be ready when the time comes.
O.J. Simpson will be released soon and I’m sure he’ll have much more to teach. Grab your pencils. Class is in session.