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September 17, 2007

Audio: OJ's "Undercover Police Sting" Tape

One of the men he was with turned his digital voice recorder on.

Bonus: How the Simpson murder trial led Roger L. Simon away from traditional liberalism.

I remember looking over at the jury. The women were sitting there stone-faced, probably trying to hide their boredom with peripheral testimony. This was the fourteenth week of the trial. I started to feel sad. What had happened to America that things had come to such a pass that a group of black women were about to free a rich black celebrity who had butchered his white wife and a friend of hers? (Yes, it was pretty clear at that point that that would happen.) This wasn’t 1934 but 1994. We weren’t in the world of Richard Wright – or were we?

I searched around for an explanation … still do … for why the promise of the Civil Rights Movement had never been fully realized. These women, largely from South Central Los Angeles and similar neighborhoods, lived lives light years from OJ and his friends and yet they still bent over backwards to defend this man who essentially deserted them. The psychological reasons (shame, rage at the white bitch, etc.) were clear enough, but this stuff was as old as the American subconscious. Surely these women could rise above it. But they couldn’t.

Of course, the obvious answer, the cliché, was that we had not done enough, not enough aid, not enough affirmative action. But sitting there that day, and in the weeks to come, I started to consider that the reverse was true. Well, not quite the reverse. We had not done too much, but we had done well enough. At the point of history America had reached, probably had already reached some years before, affirmative action had become an albatross around the neck of those who received it. Aid given to people – no matter who they are – when it is not earned carries with it a level of insult and denigration. It comes from on high to down low and carries with it an implicit message of lowness.

I began to think of Johnnie Cochran as condescending to the African-American community, as their enabler, treating them like children who would believe something as imbecilic as “If the glove doesn’t fit, you must acquit.” Cochran was in a way the racist in how he dealt with his own people. He was certainly a racist in the way he dealt with white people.

I didn’t say that out loud in those days, at least not very often, but I began to think it. It was the first chink in my very traditional liberal armor, the first time I thought outside a conventional wisdom that I had never questioned in my life. The groundwork was prepared for a larger questioning after 9/11. The OJ Trial began it all.

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posted by Ace at 11:16 AM

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