I was too young to know anything that was going on when O.J. Simpson was arrested and tried for the murder of his ex-wife Nicole Brown Simpson and her very unlucky friend Ron Goldman. I remember it being all adults talked about (most of it going way over my head). I remember the night of the car chase, because it interrupted T.G.I.F. on ABC, and I was trash for T.G.I.F. as a nine year old, even though it was June and all my shows must have been in re-runs. Watching that Bronco drive endlessly down the highway is my earliest memory of TV-related fury. This is so boring, bring back Urkel! Honestly one of my most vivid childhood memories. And I remember sitting in music class almost a year later when the verdict was read. They played it over my (private, Catholic, very white) school’s intercom! Why? I don’t know! That’s just the kind of thing that happened in 1995.
All that to say, I certainly missed the nuances of this case at the time, but I’m not really alone there, as most of America seems to have as well, so caught up in the pageantry and the tabloids and the endless news cycle over the most trivial new bit of evidence, not to mention the incompetence and arrogance of the prosecution, who botched one of the most obviously guilty murder trials ever to have occurred, and the scummery of the defense, who used (real) racial issues and the (justified) hatred and frustration Black people had (have) with the LAPD to mask the brutality and narcissism of their obviously guilty client. (When I got to the part where it described how Nicole was murdered, his boot on her back, holding her head up by her chin so he could slit her throat, I swear half the contents of my stomach threatened to crawl up my esophagus.) The victims of these murders were almost completely lost in the everything else of the “trial of the century.”
It was a very compelling book.
Toobin reported the case at the time, was in fact the one to break the story in the New Yorker that Robert Shapiro and the defense team were planning on using a race-based defense, and afterwards interviewed hundreds of people over the course of the two years he spent writing this book. He is up front in his beliefs that O.J. is guilty, so the book isn’t about proving that guilt. That’s a given here. Instead, this book is about the investigation and the trial, and how so many people’s agendas collided with the mass media and racial tensions in LA and corruption in the LAPD, and a handsome, once beloved professional football player who famously once said, “I’m not black, I’m O.J.” He focuses particularly on the dual forces of the prosecution and the defense, how the prosecution could have lost so badly, and how the defense turned around their case and managed a victory when all they hoped for at the beginning was a hung jury at best.
If you’re a true crime fan, this book is a feast, but it’s also frustrating. I found myself shouting back in time at many people in this book out of sheer frustration. I also found it fascinating to see a time I lived through in such a different perspective. Things I recognized (the glove, for instance) suddenly meant something entirely different. The world is a very different place when you’re a sheltered white nine-year old. And I am sorry to say that I agree with my parents about Johnnie Cochran, to some degree, as much as it pains me to admit that. It honestly made me so angry to read about how he used the real, legitimate concerns of the Black community to help a murderer go free, and to make money and bolster his own reputation, knowing full well O.J. was guilty as shit and the police did not frame him for murder. They played “the race card, from the bottom of the deck,” as Shapiro later told the press (unethically, as it should have been protected by lawyer/client privilege). Much of this book felt extra relevant to what’s currently going on America, especially the chapter on police brutality. I felt like I was reading an echo.
All in all, highly recommend this one, and now I’m finally off to watch the FX show from a couple of years ago.
CBR Bingo: Repeat (Adaptation)