Inspired by the upcoming parole hearing, in which double knife-murderer O.J. Simpson is expected to be paroled (and should be), I decided to watch a much-praised documentary series that I had thus far avoided.
Ezra Edelman’s “O.J.: Made in America” (not to be confused with “The People v. O.J. Simpson: American Crime Story,”the dramatic TV mini-series starring Cuba Gooding, Jr. as the fallen football great, released the same year ) is a 2016 documentary produced for ESPN Films and their 30 for 30 series. I saw it a few days ago. I’m sorry I did.
Not that the film isn’t excellent, thorough, fair and though-provoking. It is. Nor was there too much in it that surprised me. Simpson defense attorney Carl Douglas gloating over how the defense team unethically and dishonestly altered Simpson’s home to deceive the jury made me want to punch him in his smug face, but I already knew about that outrageous tactic. Seeing Mark Furmin on the stand invoking the Fifth Amendment when he was asked whether he had ever planted evidence at a crime scene made me want to gag, but it made me want to gag when I saw it live. One more time, I was convinced that the prosecution had so botched the case that there was plenty of reasonable doubt for a jury to employ to acquit O.J., just as it was obvious from the trial that he was guilty as sin. All of this I expected.
I did not expect to be so emotionally troubled and ethically disoriented by the conclusion of the film, in which one African-American after another, most of them speaking in the present day, tells the camera with various levels of offensiveness that O.J.’s acquittal was a great moment for black America, a form of redemption, pay-back for centuries of abuse and decades of discrimination by police and the justice system, proof that the system can work for African Americans and not merely against them, a well-earned poke in the eyes of white America, sweet vengeance and retribution, and a result to be honored and cherished as victory for blacks everywhere.
A prominent minister and civil rights leader actually compares Simpson’s acquittal to Jackie Robinson breaking baseball’s color barrier. I wonder what Robinson would have thought about that comparison.
I am currently unable to reconcile what I saw and heard with respect for the civil rights movement and the African American community. I am trying. I am. But these statements and arguments are devoid of ethical content, and cannot be excused without wholesale adoption of rationalizations and logical fallacies. Do I “understand” the reaction? I had many arguments about this use of “understand” when President Obama and others used it to justify the African American community’s view that Trayvon Martin was the victim of a racist murderer whom a just system would convict and imprison. This use of “understand” is a means of clouding and confusing the truth, while adopting the false construct that everyone is entitled to have their own “truth” respected.
No, I don’t “understand” that position, except in the sense that I understand how some people are so driven by bias and emotion that they are incapable of reason, and refuse to accept reality. I cannot respect that position, because to accept it helps spreads ignorance and anger. “Understand,” used the way it was used in the Martin-Zimmerman case, eventually means empathy, and ultimately respect. No, I will not respect someone who says a man should be imprisoned for murder when the law says that the facts don’t support that charge, and the system requires that his guilt be proven beyond a reasonable doubt. Respecting the position gives it legitimacy that the position does not deserve.
Yet the position expressed regarding O.J.’s acquittal is much worse. It says that an innocent woman, abused by her killer, and an innocent young man should not get the justice society is supposed to exact for the crime that ended their lives because their race demands that they be slaughtered without consequences to their executioner. It says that because blacks have been treated unjustly when they were innocent, a guilty black man who murdered two people out of rage deserves to go free. It says that the pain and frustration whites (and many non-whites) felt at the failure of society to punish a killer is worth the price of a murderer escape justice to create. The post-Simpson verdict attitudes I saw in the documentary communicated, very clearly, these statements:
We’re glad O.J. Simpson got away with murder, because of the color of his skin, and for nothing else related to him. That’s enough.
If you are white, we hate you.
It is more important to us that a black man escape the consequences of a murderous act than it is that his white victims and their families see that act punished.
Vengeance is good.
Social justice for black America means treating whites just as unjustly as they treated blacks, and for just as long if possible.
I know: the Simpson case was 20 years ago. It came on the heels of the Rodney King riots. It was in L.A. Things are different now.
Are they? In those mocking, gleeful, satisfied African-Americans being interviewed, I saw Black Lives Matters, I saw Evergreen University, I saw Marilyn Moseby, I saw Eric Holder, I saw Al Sharpton and Melissa Harris-Perry, I saw Jamelle Boiue, Colin Kaepernick, and Ta’Nehisi Coates.
As I said, I’m sorry I saw the film, and very troubled that I can’t, so far at least, find a way to reconcile what I saw in “O.J.: Made in America” with maintaining some semblance of trust toward a large segment of the African American community that appears to believe that I and members of my family need to be harmed to pay off a blood debt created by those with whom I share nothing but a pigment.
I am going to continue to try, however. Any assistance you can offer will be much appreciated.
You can watch the documentary here.