It’s funny, when the OJ Simpson trial was being broadcast live on TV, I didn’t want anything to do with it, but now that Ryan Murphy has turned the trial of the previous century into a TV mini-series, it’s become the highlight of my week.
I don’t have cable so in order to watch The People vs OJ Simpson, I had to buy a season’s pass on iTunes. Coincidentally, I had also bought a season’s pass for The X-Files reboot at the same, so there was a period of of a few weeks where I was basically watching the same shit on TV as I was twenty years ago.
What I remember most about the OJ Trial was that you couldn’t escape even though we didn’t have the Internet (much less screens in our pockets), and I couldn’t discuss it without getting really angry. It was so obvious OJ had a motive and the means for committing the murders, and yet the media and the defence kept on throwing curve balls at you trying to distract you from the truth, and create a reasonable doubt. It was like they were working together.
I have to admit it was hard watching last night’s episode today after work. At the time of the trial, I had a bit of crush on Chris Darden (and Sterling K. Brown who plays him) and I completely sympathized with Marcia Clark despite her prickly personality in court. Here were two people basically shaking the public and the media by the shoulders trying to get them to wake up and smell the coffee and no one was listening. By today’s standards you could compare it to convincing the Republican party that Climate Change is not a conspiracy theory.
I watched OJ try on those gloves live on TV with my roommates. We were all a little stoned, (it was the Nineties and we were in our Twenties); we were watching the trial on this shitty little colour TV from the Eighties that had been left in the flat by the previous tenant. I just remember the silence after OJ couldn’t get the gloves on. It was like the air had been sucked out of the room. Right there and then, you knew the trial was over.
I’ve read The Run of His Life: The People v. O. J. Simpson by Jeffery Toobin three times since the trial; it’s actually one of my favourite crime books (the other being Vulgar Favors by Maureen Orth). In the years since the verdict and now, I always thought the OJ Simpson trial was one of the biggest miscarriages of justice in American history, but thanks to this new re-telling of the story and the Black Lives Matter movement, I finally understand why the jury delivered the verdict it did.
Back in the day, the brutal murders of two innocent people seemed like a horrible and disturbing way to make a political statement about law enforcement’s treatment of black people, but in light of the cell phone footage we’ve been seeing and the blatant lack of justice for the victims, it’s hard not to put yourself in the juror’s shoes. The real tragedy is, it was another twenty years before the rest of us took the problem seriously.