From OJ Simpson to George Zimmerman (How the US Justice System is seen through the Eyes of many Blacks) -December 12, 2013
It is no secret that there was a stark difference in the reactions across America to the verdict of these two criminal cases that involved murder. One would think that those in predominantly White communities were watching very different judicial proceedings from those in predominantly Black communities. When the verdict was announced in 1995 at the conclusion of OJ Simpson’s criminal trial, international broadcast networks moved between jubilant crowds cheering the “not guilty verdict” as vindication to totally stunned crowds that looked like they had seen a ghost because they saw the outcome as a miscarriage of justice. Some groups were giving each other high fives and others were looking at each other in absolute shock as though they were searching for the missing piece of the puzzle. That was called the trial of the century. Now, fast-forward eighteen years and we have another criminal case that involves murder and it also commands the attention of the American public. George Zimmerman confesses to fatally shooting an unarmed Black teenager that a 911 employee told him not to follow. At issue here was the question of whether a grown man with a loaded weapon has a right to “stand his ground” (that is according to Florida law) and fatally shoot the unarmed teenager if Mr. Zimmerman felt threatened by the young man. Again, small crowds gathered all over the country and watched international broadcast stations awaiting the final verdict. When that verdict came back “not guilty”, there were jubilant crowds cheering the verdict as vindication while other crowds were stunned in amazement that any jury could have ruled “not guilty” given the evidence.
Let’s reflect back on these two trials. In the OJ Simpson trial, the evidence seemed to identify a trail of blood that moves from the murder scene to Mr. Simpson’s residence. At the murder scene was found two bodies (his estranged wife, Nicole, and her boyfriend, Ron Goldman). An officer of questionable character found a glove with DNA linking it to the murder. The glove appeared to have been damaged in the same spot where Mr. Simpson’s finger had a scar. I might add that the scar appeared to be from a recent injury. When officers went to detain Mr. Simpson, he led a low-speed chase down the California freeway. So here you have a Black man accused of murdering two White people. The evidence supporting Mr. Simpson’s conviction seemed pretty compelling. In the George Zimmerman trial, you have a White-Hispanic adult male who followed a Black teenager who was walking through the neighborhood to the house where he was staying. Mr.
Zimmerman called 911 and told them he was following a suspicious looking guy in his neighborhood. He was told by the 911 employee to stop following the young man but he pursued him anyway. There is only one living person who can tell us what really happened after that—and that is George Zimmerman. Mr. Zimmerman admits that he fatally shot the young man but claimed that it was in self defense as part of Florida’s “Stand Your Ground” law. He testified that the young man turned on him and attacked him—but of course there are no witnesses. Again, I say the evidence seemed pretty compelling. Now I admit if we were talking about a justice system that is inherently fair without any biases, the verdict of both trials should have been the opposite of what really happened.
Now, I will make an assertion. Many of us in the Black community are not looking for an inherently fair justice system because we have seen time and time again that it is biased. In some cases, it is shamefully so. It is just in the open, in your face, we don’t really care what you think. So when we start from the position that the system has a track record of being biased, we want to ensure that it is biased in spite of color. In other words, we have observed that wealthy people don’t have to play by the rules and therefore they can be guilty and still not have to go to jail. On the other hand, poor people who are found guilty go to jail no matter what color they are. We can handle bias if it is fair along racial lines. If rich people can get away without having to face justice, then we just need to get some more money to experience the same thing. Many Blacks believe in the principles that America portrays to the world. We believe this is a land of freedom and opportunity and we work hard to try to keep our country true to what America tells others about us. It was easy for many of us to celebrate the verdict of the O. J. Simpson trial because it followed the pattern of bias we had already observed. The rich are vindicated in spite of guilt or innocence. O. J. Simpson never confessed to murder and he had enough money to prove some doubt concerning the evidence. There is no greater sense of believing that we as a people have made it in America than to see systematic biases offered to all in spite of racial identity. We were not celebrating because we believed that O. J. Simpson was innocent. We were celebrating because we believed this biased justice system was color-blind. Let me just say this: most of the people I know and have talked to believe that if O. J. did not murder those people, he knows something about what happened. So no, this was not a celebration because we believe that O. J. is innocent or ignorant. We were watching the system to see how it would perform for a wealthy Black person.
Then eighteen years later, along come George Zimmerman and his murder trial. We already know that if we are only reviewing evidence, then the accused person’s financial well-being will determine trial outcomes. Mr. Zimmerman admits that he fatally shot an unarmed teenager that he was told by a 911 employee not to pursue. There are no eyewitnesses but this man says enough out of his own mouth to be convicted of manslaughter. People who are intoxicated and get into a vehicle and have an accident that results in a fatality are convicted of vehicular homicide or manslaughter and they were operating without all of their faculties. Yet they are still convicted. If Mr. Zimmerman had lied about the facts, and there was no one who could have refuted him, then I would expect his verdict to be not guilty because of his family’s wealth. Again, this seemed to be: in your face, the victim is a Black kid, the accused is more White than anything, so he should not be found guilty of anything.
Again, I say as far as previous performance is concerned, many in the Black community thought the U. S. Justice system had developed a consistent bias in many areas but yet we thought she had become color-blind. We know that the outcome of the 1995 Simpson trial was not the end of the story. There were those who continued to doggedly pursue Mr. Simpson until he did something that could be twisted into an O. J. Simpson Trial Part 2. On the one hand, you wished that O. J. Simpson would have lived a quiet life and stay out of the limelight but on the other hand you know that if he had moved a salt shaker from one table to another one in a cheap café, somebody would have filed a lawsuit that would have been blown out of proportion. The 2013 George Zimmerman trial was a stark reminder that the justice system that historically declared human slavery to be okay because there was a law on the books that supported it, historically defended Separate but Equal in the face of inequality, and ignored the public vote and put President Bush in office still sees color when it comes to administering justice. Many Blacks who watch these high-profile trials are not really looking at the proceedings to judge what they see against Constitutional Law. We are evaluating how those court systems prosecute and persecute Blacks irrespective of economic status, guilt, innocence, victim, or perpetrator. It seems that when a court wants to be racially biased, neither evidence nor confession is enough to deter it.