Two decades later, views on O.J. still in black and white
LOS ANGELES, CA - FEBRUARY 28: Robert Kardashian, Simpson, Robert Shapiro and F. Lee Bailey. (Photo credit should read POO/AFP/Getty Images)
OJ Simpson Mug Shot at the Los Angeles in Los Angeles, California (Photo by Steve Granitz/WireImage)
O.J. Simpson confers with his attorneys Carl Douglas, left front, and Johnnie Cochran Jr., partly hidden, after he waived his right to visit the Bundy Avenue crime scene, in a court hearing before all parties in the case toured four prominent sites in Simpson's double-murder trial Sunday, February 12, 1995, in Los Angeles. 9AP Photo/Reed Saxon)
Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Lance Ito yells in court during the O.J. Simpson double-murder trial in Los Angeles Friday, Sept. 29, 1995. (AP Photo/Eric Draper, Pool)
LOS ANGELES, CA - JANUARY 23: Defense attorneys for murder defendant O.J. Simpson Robert Shapiro(L), Johnnie Cochran Jr.(R) and F. Lee Bailey(R,rear) enter the courthouse for the first day of the trial 23 January in Los Angeles. Jurors in the case will reportedly be allowed to see a photograph of the crime scene during opening statements, Superior Court Judge lance Ito ruled 23 January. (COLOR KEY:Barricade marker is red.) AFP PHOTO (Photo credit should read Dan GROSHANG/AFP/Getty Images)
BRENTWOOD, : An unidentified man and woman place flowers on the walkway of Nicole Brown Simpson's condominium in Brentwood, California, 12 June. Simpson and her friend Ronald Goldman were allegedly murdered at the Bundy Avenue site by O.J. Simpson on 12 June 1994. To mark the first anniversary of the murder, people were permitted by police to pause at the crime scene for a moment. AFP PHOTO (Photo credit should read MIKE NELSON/AFP/Getty Images)
UNITED STATES - OCTOBER 04: Daily News front page dated Oct. 4, 1995, Headlines: HOME FREE, After senational double-murder acquittal O.J. walks back into mansion a free man., Al Cowlings, left, and unidentified man, flank O.J. as he walks around his Brentwood estate., O.J. Simpson, (Photo by NY Daily News Archive via Getty Images)
SANTA MONICA, UNITED STATES: Demonstrators Larry Green (L) and Morris Griffin (R) yell at each other outside the Santa Monica Courthouse where the first day of opening arguements is underway in the O.J. Simpson wrongful death civil lawsuit 23 October. In 1995 Simpson was aquitted in his criminal trial for the murders of Nicole Brown and Ron Goldman. AFP PHOTO Vince BUCCI/mn (Photo credit should read Vince Bucci/AFP/Getty Images)
SANTA MONICA, UNITED STATES: A woman who identified herself only as Elf from Brentwood holds a picture of O.J. Simpson as she stands in front of the Santa Monica Courthouse in California where evidence proceedings in the the O.J. Simpson civil lawsuit are taking place 17 September. The trial will get underway with jury selection 18 September. AFP PHOTO Vince BUCCI (Photo credit should read Vince Bucci/AFP/Getty Images)
LOS ANGELES, UNITED STATES: A group of supporters of OJ Simpson demonstrate near Santa Monica Court in Santa Monica, CA, 27 January. The case is expected to go to the jury 27 January. AFP PHOTO/Hector MATA (Photo credit should read HECTOR MATA/AFP/Getty Images)
LOS ANGELES - JUNE 17: O.J. Simpson at a press conference where he announced his upcoming role in an episode of the CBS drama: 'Medical Center.' Image dated June 17, 1969. (Photo by CBS via Getty Images)
Football coach Bo Schembechler of Michigan and football player O.J. Simpson meet on the Rose Bowl field before the game between Michigan and Southern California in Pasadena, Calif., on Jan. 1, 1977. (AP Photo)
Jason Simpson, 2, wearing his dad's number 32, gets a piggy-back ride from his dad O.J. Simpson in Buffalo, N.Y., Oct. 10, 1973. (AP Photo)
SAN FRANCISCO, CA - CIRCA 1979: Running back O.J. Simpson #32 of the San Francisco 49ers looks on from the sidelines during an NFL football game at Candlestick Park circa 1979 in San Francisco, California. Simpson played for the 49ers from 1978-79. (Photo by Focus on Sport/Getty Images)
Buffalo Bills Hall of Fame running back O.J. Simpson (32) carries the ball during a 38-14 victory over the Denver Broncos on October 5, 1975, at Rich Stadium in Orchard Park, New York. (Photo by Tony Tomsic/Getty Images)
SAN FRANCISCO, CA - CIRCA 1979: Running back O.J. Simpson #32 of the San Francisco 49ers stands on the sidelines with his mother Eunice Simpson before the start of an NFL football game at Candlestick Park circa 1979 in San Francisco, California. Simpson played for the 49ers from 1978-79. (Photo by Focus on Sport/Getty Images)
FROGMEN -- Pictured: (middle) O.J. Simpson, (far right) Evan Handler (Photo by NBC/NBCU Photo Bank via Getty Images)
O.J. Simpson aka Orenthal James Simpson serves as a NBC Sports sideline reporter for AFC Wild Card playoff game between the Denver Broncos and Oakland Raiders at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum on Jan. 9, 1994. (Photo by Kirby Lee/WireImage)
NBC Sports commentator and former professional football player OJ Simpson, center, watches a Thanksgiving Day football game with United States troops deployed in the region for Operation Desert Shield, Saudi Arabia, 1991. (Photo by PhotoQuest/Getty Images)
LOS ANGELES - JAUNARY 13: NBC Analyst O.J. Simpson poses with the Raiderettes during the 1990 AFC Divisional Playoffs game with the Cincinnati Bengals against Los Angeles Raiders at Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum on January 13, 1991 in Los Angeles, California. The Raiders won 20-10. (Photo by George Rose/Getty Images)
American former football player O.J. Simpson (right) and his wife Nicole Brown Simpson (1959 - 1994) arrive at the Samuel Goldwyn Theater for the premiere of the film 'When Harry Met Sally,' Beverly Hills, California, July 14, 1989. (Photo by The LIFE Picture Collection/Getty Images)
ATLANTA - DECEMBER 16: Running back O.J. Simpson #32 of the San Francisco 49ers relaxes in the locker room before the final game of his career against the Atlanta Falcons at Atlanta-Fulton County Stadium on December 16, 1979 in Atlanta, Georgia. The Falcons defeated the Niners 31-21. (Photo by Michael Zagaris/Getty Images)
ATLANTA - DECEMBER 16: Running back O.J. Simpson #32 of the San Francisco 49ers talks to reporters after the final game of his career against the Atlanta Falcons at Atlanta-Fulton County Stadium on December 16, 1979 in Atlanta, Georgia. The Falcons defeated the Niners 31-21. (Photo by Michael Zagaris/Getty Images)
SAN FRANCISCO - DECEMBER 9: Running back O.J. Simpson #32 of the San Francisco 49ers shakes hands with John McKay, his former coach at USC and current head coach of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, before his final home game at Candlestick Park on December 9, 1979 in San Francisco, California. The Niners defeated the Bucs 23-7. (Photo by Michael Zagaris/Getty Images)
SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE -- Episode 12 -- Aired 02/25/1978 -- Pictured: Host O.J. Simpson during the monologue on February 25, 1978 (Photo by NBC/NBCU Photo Bank via Getty Images)
SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE -- Episode 12 -- Aired 02/25/1978 -- Pictured: (l-r) Laraine Newman, O.J. Simpson during 'Weekend Update' on February 25, 1978 (Photo by NBC/NBCU Photo Bank via Getty Images)
SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE -- Episode 12 -- Aired 02/25/1978 -- Pictured: (l-r) Bill Murray as farmer, Laraine Newman as farmers daughter, Garrett Morris as farmer, O.J. Simpson as Mandingo during the 'Mandingo II' skit on February 25, 1978 (Photo by NBC/NBCU Photo Bank via Getty Images)
Close-up of American former football player, actor, and sports commentator O.J. Simpson in a baseball cap on the 'The Sonny & Cher Comedy Hour,' December 21, 1973. (Photo by CBS Photo Archive/Getty Images)
American actor Chad Everett (right) examines American football player and sometime actor O.J. Simpson in a scene from the debut episode (called 'The Last 10 Yards') of the television series 'Medical Center,' Los Angeles, California, September 24, 1960. Everett listens to Simpson's head with his stethoscope. (Photo by CBS Photo Archive/Getty Images)
SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE -- Episode 12 -- Aired 02/25/1978 -- Pictured: (l-r) John Belushi as Samurai Futaba, O.J. Simpson as Joe during the 'Samurai Night Fever' skit on February 25, 1978 (Photo by NBC/NBCU Photo Bank via Getty Images)
O.J. Simpson and Nicole Brown (Photo by Ron Galella/WireImage)
O.J. Simpson and Nicole Brown Simpson (Photo by Ron Galella/WireImage)
OJ Simpson & Nicole Simpson & family (Photo by Steve Granitz/WireImage)
UNITED STATES - MARCH 17: OJ Simpson (Photo by The LIFE Picture Collection/Getty Images)
LOS ANGELES, UNITED STATES: Mark Thomas (C) watches his portable television outside the Los Angeles Criminal courts building and celebrates with others 03 October as a not guilty verdict is read by the jury in the O.J. Simpson murder trial. Jurors deliberated for less then a day before reaching a verdict in the highly publicized case. AFP PHOTO (Photo credit should read Vince Bucci/AFP/Getty Images)
UNITED STATES - CIRCA 2000: O.J. Simpson golfing at the Legend golf course. (Photo by David Handschuh/NY Daily News Archive via Getty Images)
395562 01: Former NFL star O.J. Simpson talks with one of his defense attorneys on the first day of jury selection October 9, 2001 at a Dade County courtroom in Miami, FL. Simpson, who was acquitted in 1994 in the murders of his ex-wife and her friend, is on trial for allegedly attacking a motorist in the Miami suburb of Kendall, Florida in December of 2000. If found guilty, Simpson could face up to 16 years in prison. (Pool Photo/Getty Images)
UNITED STATES - SEPTEMBER 16: In handcuffs, O.J. Simpson is transferred by police officers to the Clark County Detention Center in Las Vegas, Nev., after being arrested in connection with an armed robbery of sports memorabilia, in a hotel room at the Palace Station Hotel-Casino. Simpson claimed he was trying to retrieve stolen items of his that were being offered for sale. (Photo by Debbie Egan-Chin/NY Daily News Archive via Getty Images)
Room 1203 at the Palace Station Hotel & Casino is seen in Las Vegas, Friday, Sept. 19, 2008. The room is where O.J. Simpson allegedly commited felony kidnapping, armed robbery and conspiracy related to a September 13, 2007 confrontation with sports memorabilia dealers. Simpson and another defendant are current on trial.(AP Photo/John Locher, Pool)
FILE - This May 13, 2013 file photo shows O.J. Simpson at an evidentiary hearing in Clark County District Court, in Las Vegas. Simpson's lawyers have until mid-April to file their written Nevada Supreme Court appeal for a new trial for the former football star in his Las Vegas armed robbery case. (AP Photo/Julie Jacobson, Pool, file)
O.J. Simpson arrives for a fifth day of an evidentiary hearing in Clark County District Court in Las Vegas, Friday, May 17, 2013. Simpson, who is currently serving a nine-to-33-year sentence in state prison as a result of his October 2008 conviction for armed robbery and kidnapping charges, is using a writ of habeas corpus to seek a new trial, claiming he had such bad representation that his conviction should be reversed. (AP Photo/Steve Marcus, Reuters)
O.J. Simpson, supporters Sabrina Scotto, sister, Carmelita Durio, Tom Scotto, and Sandra Scotto react as he Simpson is found guilty on all 12 charges, including felony kidnapping, armed robbery and conspiracy at the Clark County Regional Justice Center in Las Vegas on Friday, Oct. 3, 2008. The verdict comes thirteen years to the day after he was acquitted of double murder charges. (AP Photo/Daniel Gluskoter, Pool)
O.J. Simpson's attorney Yale Galanter holds a book written by witness Thomas Riccio in court during Simpson's trial in Las Vegas, Monday, Sept. 22, 2008. Simpson faces 12 charges, including felony kidnapping, armed robbery and conspiracy. (AP Photo/John Locher, Pool)
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The O.J. Simpson murder trial exposed many painful truths. None hit harder than the idea that white and black people often look at the same facts and see different realities.
Today, 20 years after the case captivated and divided the nation, few opinions about the saga have changed. Despite two decades' worth of increasing racial acceptance, the Simpson case still reflects deep-rooted obstacles to a truly united America.
Most people still believe that the black football legend killed his white ex-wife and her friend, polls show. But for many African-Americans, his likely guilt remains overwhelmed by a potent mix: the racism of the lead detective and the history of black mistreatment by the justice system.
For these people, Simpson's acquittal is a powerful rebuke to what they see as America's racial crimes. Others simply see a murderer who played the race card to get away with it. Across the board, emotions remain vivid.
"It was very tense at work," recalls Carlos Carter, who at the time was one of the few black people working in the trust department of a Pittsburgh bank. "The whites felt like OJ was guilty, they were rooting for their team. We thought he was innocent, that he was kind of framed, so we were on the black team."
He adds: "We were consumed with it. Like Sugar Ray Robinson fighting the great white hope. It was like a match. It represented something bigger than the case, the battle between good and evil, the battle between the white man and the black man. It was at that level."
This sentiment, widespread in the black community, was confusing to Shannon Spicker, a white woman who was working her way through college in Ohio at the time.
"Most of us didn't understand why it was racially charged," she says. "We didn't understand how people could defend him just because he was black, is what it felt like. We knew he was guilty but they defended him because he was black. It was weird."
The perception gap grew from a perfect storm of race, sex, history, celebrity and media.
On June 12, 1994, Nicole Brown Simpson and her friend Ronald Goldman were found knifed to death outside her condo in the wealthy Los Angeles enclave of Brentwood.
Suspicion quickly focused on Simpson. He had beaten and threatened his former wife in the past. Police said they found blood on his driveway, and a bloody glove and sock on his property. He had a cut on his hand. Nobody saw him at the time of the murders.
Several factors heightened and complicated the drama:
Simpson had a mixed-race marriage in a nation that had historically punished black men who dared to explore interracial sex. He was the target of a Los Angeles Police Department that had a reputation for racism and corruption.
But Simpson also was a wealthy Hollywood actor and ad pitchman with little connection to the black community, a man who divorced his black wife for a young blonde and traveled in Los Angeles' most privileged white circles. His money and fame placed him far from the poor, black men languishing in the criminal justice system.
"It becomes a very complex study in American history," says Ronnie Duncan, who was working as a TV sportscaster at the time.
"O.J. was in a weird place," says Duncan, 55, who is black. "He lived a lavish life in L.A., sunny skies, beautiful women, everyone takes you out to lunch. But one thing we recognize, you can deny it all you want, but I can be driving right now and -"
Duncan makes the sound of a police siren, then quotes a common saying among black folk:
"You may be a million-dollar star, but when it's finally said and done, you are still, to them, the N, the I, the G, the G, the E, and the R."
The sirens sounded for Simpson on June 17, during the legendary slow-speed Bronco chase.
Simpson was supposed to turn himself in, but failed to show up at the police station. Instead, his friend and lawyer Robert Kardashian (father of the Kardashian reality-show clan) read a rambling statement from the missing Simpson that many interpreted as suicidal. A few hours later, Simpson was spotted in the Bronco, driven by his friend Al Cowlings. A police caravan trailed him down the 405 freeway as crowds lined the overpasses and more than 90 million people watched on live television.
"It was such a surreal scene," says Todd Looney, a black Los Angeles native.
"What was so strange was the fact how even reactions to his pursuit were divided along racial lines," says Looney, 46, a media company consultant. "I remember seeing people on the overpass by Sunset Boulevard, cheering as he went by, and most of them were black. I'm thinking, why are you cheering? Somebody's about to kill himself. It was kind of disgusting, as if it was O.J. versus the police."
Just like that, the narrative began.
"Based on well-documented stories throughout this city's history, I did believe the LAPD was wracked with racism and corruption," Looney says, mentioning the case of Rodney King, the black suspect whose videotaped beating by white officers led to devastating riots.
"So there was already suspicion that the police would not only bungle this case, the production and protection of evidence, but they may actually lie and bring forth things that weren't true as evidence," he says.
Simpson was charged with double murder, punishable by the death penalty. The trial began six months later. In his opening statement, Deputy District Attorney Christopher Darden said that Simpson was a wife beater and a stalker who murdered his ex in a jealous rage.
Simpson assembled the highest-profile lawyers money could buy. During his opening, attorney Johnnie Cochran said there was a rush to judgment by authorities who wanted to win at any cost. He said that Simpson was home alone at the time of the killings, practicing his golf swing.
The prosecution had a pile of evidence, including something relatively new then: DNA analysis. Prosecutors said that DNA matched Simpson's blood to samples from the murder scene. They said they found blood matching the victims' in his Bronco, on a glove at Simpson's property, and on a sock in his bedroom.
But the prosecution had a big problem: the lead detective, Mark Fuhrman - the one who had produced the bloody glove from Simpson's estate.
Fuhrman was a white cop who used racist language and lied about it on the stand during the trial. (He was later convicted of perjury.) He was on tape bragging about assaulting black gang members and making them beg for mercy: "You do what you're told, understand, nigger?" Before the murders, he had arrested Simpson for beating Nicole.
Defense lawyers suggested that he planted the glove out of a racist desire to frame a black man. They said that other blood evidence could have been planted, too, or at least was unreliable due to sloppy police work.
"That was huge for me," recalls Carter. "I thought any investigation Fuhrman is part of, especially when evidence was not handled properly, he's trying to get someone at any cost."
Believing police "planted something on him," Carter says, "I thought they compromised it so much I can't trust the evidence. The corruption overshadowed all the other things that may have been logical to me."
Cameron Vigil, who is white, saw it differently.
"Clearly (Fuhrman) was difficult and lying and trying to obfuscate while he was up there," recalls Vigil, a 45-year-old strategic retail analyst from Charlotte, North Carolina. "That's a win for the defense. I thought it was just another nasty look at the LAPD, and not that big for the case. I kind of separated those things out."
"Just because he is a not very smart, racist guy," Vigil says, "I don't know that means O.J.'s not guilty."
The bloody glove itself, which probably was the strongest evidence of Simpson's guilt, also was seen through very different lenses.
Prosecutors asked Simpson, in court, to try it on. The former movie star struggled and grimaced while trying, apparently unsuccessfully, to fit the glove on his hand.
Spicker laughs at the memory.
"I'm sorry, I thought it was hysterical. I laughed that day too," she says. "It doesn't make any sense. Any good attorney wouldn't make him try it on. Those were his gloves. His facial expression, it was comical. He was acting."
But it was a big moment for Carter. He repeats the famous line from Cochran's closing statement:
"If it does not fit, you must acquit."
The 12-person jury did exactly that. Nine jurors were black, two white, and one Hispanic.
Duncan was at home, watching on television, as the verdict was announced. He literally jumped for joy.
"It wasn't so much for O.J. I was jumping for joy. It was the process. ... It was the victory over the United States justice system that has always had a different treatment for me and my brother."
"I never said O.J. wasn't guilty," Duncan continues. "I just said he got off. That's what it is: O.J. got off. There's a side of me that's annoyed by my jubilation. But my jubilation is motivated by the ills and pains of the past. There have been too many tears."
Not all black people cheered - Looney recalls hearing the verdict while a student at Stanford business school, and being perplexed by other blacks' response.
"Not that it made me question my identity, but I'm thinking, I don't relate to these people," says Looney, who thinks that Simpson committed the crimes but the prosecution didn't prove it beyond a reasonable doubt.
"They were cheering because black folks have always felt like the justice system was stacked against them... Lots of disenfranchised black people experiencing the brunt of police brutality probably found a lot of solace in this."
There was no solace for Spicker. The cheers that echoed across black America that day troubled her.
"These two innocent people were killed, and you're cheering because their murderer was just set free," she said. "It was a shame. It feels racist against the white victims."
Spicker recognizes white racism, then and now. She has black family members, and when she hears white people making racist remarks, she speaks out. But that doesn't change her sense of injustice over the Simpson verdict.
"A lot of inner-city kids and adults are taught not to trust the system, not to trust police; as a young black person you're going to be found guilty before any evidence comes out because you're black," she says.
"That may be true sometimes," she says, "and it may not be true sometimes."
Carter now thinks that Simpson was guilty, but he makes no apologies for his feelings at the acquittal 20 years ago.
"That pride that I felt, I don't take it back. I don't feel I was hoodwinked. I was just living in the moment, and it was a victory for my people," says Carter, now 42.
"I didn't think of it then, but that's what it was for me. A victory," he says. "I could have cared less about O.J., but when I saw him, I saw myself."