School Daze: The OJ Simpson Trial 

The gripping 30-for-30 documentary, O.J.: Made in America, has brought back memories of my college days and the way his murder trial affected every aspect of African-American life for an entire school year.  Who can forget that 60-mile low-speed pursuit across Orange County freeways in the infamous White Bronco with his boy Al Cowlings handling the wheel, and the subsequent arrest on murder charges?

Then the eight-month long trial that had the world at a standstill, which somehow became a referendum on the state of race relations in this country instead of what it was — a tragedy inflicted by a some sick individual or group of individuals.  

I was a college student at an HBCU back in  ’94 and 95 when the O.J. trial was on TV every day. It was almost like the campus was on hold. Actually, the entire state of Virginia was captivated by the many intriguing, racially charged, scandalous and horrific elements of the trial, which were captured on Court TV.

It was one of the most enthralling criminal trials in American History. And throughout the course of it, any off-campus crib you walked into had a crew of people either cutting class, or were between class, and they were focused on the O.J. trial. Everything during the day was scheduled around the trial.

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(Photo Credit: USA Today)

Of course, being that the school was predominantly African-American, everyone was pulling for O.J. and Johnnie Cochran to prove O.J.s innocence. Im sure in the back of the minds of many a militant, socially and historically conscious college student, it didnt matter if O.J. was innocent or guilty.

The dynamics of the trial took on a White vs. Black personality. Some of my schoolmates were simply rooting for Team Cochran to somehow get O.J. off, proving that the number one defense attorney in the world was of African-American descent.

The majority of African-Americans were appalled by O.J.s actions and didnt believe he was innocent, but O.J.’s victory was more symbolic than about the man and his character as a former star athlete turned accused abuser and killer. It was an exhale for years of oppression and false convictions perpetrated upon minority males. Finally  we had a victory against the oppressive American judicial system. 

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(Photo Credit: USA Today)

I also remember the verdict. I moved back home to NY and was working part-time that fall semester as a dispatcher at a security firm in Hollis, Queens. When the verdict was announced, people ran out of their homes and businesses and celebrated in the streets throughout the African-American neighborhood.

But on television, we saw the reactions of non-blacks. One of horror, disbelief and anger. Most considered it the worst failure in american judicial history. They said O.J. was given preferential treatment by the jury because he was a football legend. Fact of the matter is, he was still black and everybody expected a conviction.  

As much as I remember the racial elements in the trial and the brilliant legal combat executed by both sides, the O.J. trial represented the moment when reality TV met real life and it became acceptable for people to became stars off of anothers personal tragedies and burdens.

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(Photo Credit: USA Today)

The world still hasnt come back to its senses yet. Race relations between the LAPD and Los Angeles residents were very strained at that time. Only two years earlier, riots followed the acquittal of four LAPD officers who were videotaped beating Rodney King, so African-American youth in general were very aware of instances of police brutality and subtle and overt racism. 

With the recent slew of killings involving young unarmed Black males by cops, not much has changed since the O.J. trial.

He’s still considered a murderer. It marks an unforgettable time in the life of many Americans. It’s still the “Trial of the Century” and it was the one time when everyone is in agreement that a brother beat the system. 

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