The Third International after Lenin

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

The trials of O.J. Simpson: a Marxist view

Today is the twentieth anniversary of the arrest of U.S. athlete, broadcaster, and actor O.J. Simpson for murder.

Three contemporary articles by The Militant correspondent Naomi Craine explained the facts and layed out the stakes for working people.

Simpson Jury Rejects Word Of Racist Lying Cops  

A Los Angeles jury decided unanimously to reject the word of lying, racist cops and voted to acquit O.J. Simpson on two charges of murder October 2. The jury made the right decision.

By the time the jury went into deliberations, the case against the former football star had become, in fact, a trial of the police and their standard method of operation. Particularly damning for the cops and prosecution were audio tapes of their key witness, detective Mark Fuhrman, using repeated racial slurs and bragging about beating up and framing numerous people.

"I think [Simpson] probably did do it," the daughter of juror Anise Ascherback quoted her mother as saying. But "there wasn't enough evidence." The jury voted for acquittal, Ascherback said, "because of Mark Fuhrman."

The murder of Nicole Brown Simpson and Ronald Goldman was a horrific crime. When their bloodied bodies were found in June, 1994, O.J. Simpson, who had beaten his wife on numerous occasions, became the prime suspect.

The cops did what they always do - they began assembling the case they thought would guarantee a conviction. The rights of the accused, which workers guard jealously, are irrelevant to them.

Fuhrman, by his own admission, searched Simpson's yard without a warrant, where he says he found a bloody glove that was a key piece of evidence. Blood samples and other physical evidence were handled haphazardly - a fact a couple of jurors pointed to in explaining why they voted "not guilty." These procedures are so typical, the cops and prosecutors thought nothing of it. Fuhrman was praised for his work by the prosecutors and higher-ups in the police department.

From the beginning, Simpson's attorneys hammered away at the actions of the police, accusing Fuhrman and other cops of planting and tampering with evidence and of being racist. The defense got a boost when taped interviews between Fuhrman and an aspiring screen-writer were released. In the interviews the cop uses the epithet "nigger" at least 30 times - a word he swore under oath he had not used in 10 years - and describes in graphic detail beating and torturing suspects in a mostly Latino housing project.

After small portions of the tape were presented to the jury, Fuhrman declined to take the stand for further questioning, citing his Fifth Amendment right to avoid self- incrimination.

Not the trial workers get
Simpson didn't get the same treatment working-class people, whether Black or white, receive. A millionaire, Simpson was able to hire several of the best defense attorneys in the country. And Judge Lance Ito allowed him to do what few workers ever get an opportunity to do - present the record of the cops and make it possible to challenge their evidence. Because of his high-priced legal team and the widespread distrust of the Los Angeles police department, Simpson was able to get the fairest trial money can buy in capitalist society.

This stands in stark contrast to what working people face when they find themselves in court. The main cop who testified against framed-up unionist Mark Curtis in Iowa, for instance, had been suspended from the police force in the past for brutalizing suspects and then lying to cover up his actions. The judge, however, ruled that the jury could not be told this fact, let alone review the cop's entire record.

The same week Simpson was acquitted, 10 men who follow the Muslim faith were found guilty of seditious conspiracy in New York on the word of a paid FBI snitch. The prosecution had not one shred of physical evidence against most of the defendants, yet all face between 20 years and life imprisonment as the U.S. government put its full weight behind the frame-up.

Many innocent working people sit on death row, not able to afford high-priced attorneys.

As two young workers on the Santa Fe railroad in Los Angeles - one of them Black and the other white - told a Militant correspondent, "If we were on the stand [instead of Simpson], we would have both gone to jail."

Normal functioning of cops, prosecutors
The functioning of the Los Angeles Police Department and district attorneys was no aberration. It is exactly how the cops function across the country, all the time. This has been exposed in recent months not just in Los Angeles but in Atlanta, New Orleans, New York, Philadelphia, and elsewhere. And the prosecutors work hand-in-glove with the cops. They're an inseparable part of the same system.

"This has been going on for years in our country to the Black people," Bonnie Beasley, a 55-year-old woman in San Francisco, told the New York Times following the Simpson verdict. "In every city there is a Fuhrman."

The trial highlighted how discredited the police have become. The Times reported September 25 on interviews with dozens of perspective jurors across New York. The big majority said they would distrust the word of the cops. Many of those interviewed cited Fuhrman as an example.

From beginning to end, the big-business press has played up what they call a "racial divide" over the Simpson case, citing the fact that a much higher percentage of Blacks than whites polled said Simpson should be found "not guilty." The key factor in this "divide," however, is class and experience with the cops, not race.

Workers who are Black and Latino bear a disproportionate brunt of police brutality and frame-ups, and therefore know first-hand what the cops do routinely. Many workers who are white also have similar experiences with the cops, and greater numbers do every day. With the Fuhrman tapes and other recent revelations, more workers than ever before distrust the cops' word, including the two white women who were on the jury that acquitted Simpson.

For many people the verdict does not resolve whether O.J. Simpson murdered Nicole Simpson and Ronald Goldman. Only O.J. Simpson himself knows that for sure. It is a matter of record that Simpson physically abused his wife more than once. When he was caught, he pleaded no contest and got a slap on the wrist from the court - a $970 fine and counseling, which he was allowed to do by telephone. This sorry record demonstrates how little the cops and courts really care about wife-beating and other violence against women.

The jury wasn't in a position to correct what the cops and courts failed to do about O.J. Simpson's wife-beating. The choice before them in the murder trial was to accept the cops' tainted evidence or to acquit. They made the right choice.


Simpson Verdict Causes A Stir (`Discussion With Our Readers' Column)  

Militant reader Evelyn Spencer has decided to cancel her subscription over our coverage of the O.J. Simpson verdict. "I am sickened both by the verdict and by your response to it," she writes in response to the article "Simpson jury rejects word of racist, lying cops."

Former reader Spencer's basic argument is: Simpson beat his wife and we know he killed her, so he should be convicted, regardless of the evidence and cops' actions. That's a dangerous position for the working class to fall into, and one that doesn't advance women's right to be free from domestic violence either.

The presumption of innocence, the ability to challenge your accuser, and democratic safeguards against police manipulation of "evidence" are rights that the working class has fought for and jealously defends. Once the cops' behavior was exposed, the jury decided to not just take their word in the O.J. Simpson trial. They decided the evidence wasn't good enough, and they were right to return a not guilty verdict.

Simpson's attorneys pointed to the cops' records - including detective Mark Fuhrman's racist comments and the mishandling of evidence by various officers - and challenged their testimony. The police searched Simpson's home without a warrant, haphazardly carried a vial of his blood around, and covered up Fuhrman's racist record.

The police, by their actions, have made it virtually impossible for whoever killed Nicole Brown Simpson and Ronald Goldman to ever be brought to justice.

Many reporters and columnists present the verdict as a reflection of the "racial divide" - a decision by a mostly Black jury to acquit Simpson because he is Black. Spencer criticizes defense attorney Cochran for "playing the race card." The jurors' sensitivity to racism did have something to do with the verdict, but the exposure of the standard operating procedure of the Los Angeles police was the most compelling factor.

Simpson's lawyers put their finger on the frame-up methods that the cops routinely use against thousands of working people who they assume must be guilty of something. For instance, nine more people in Philadelphia just had criminal convictions overturned after six cops confessed that they lied on reports and planted drugs in people's homes in order to ensure convictions. Thousands of other arrests there are now under review. These abuses, which are not at all unique to Philadelphia, occurred largely in the city's Black and Puerto Rican neighborhoods.

The cops routinely victimize and frame up working people of all nationalities. But workers who are Black receive especially harsh, racist treatment, which leads many more of them to draw the conclusion that a cop's word can't be trusted.

Many workers who are white distrust the cops too, as they learn from experience how common police frame-ups and beatings are against working people - white and Black. A poll by Newsweek right after the Simpson verdict found that one-third of whites agreed with the jury's decision and half thought the jury was fair and impartial - hardly a solid "racial divide."

It's important to remember that workers don't get the same kind of "day in court" O.J. Simpson got. The jury made the right decision, but that doesn't mean the justice system is any fairer to working people today.

In regard to the other letters, reader Robbie Scherr is correct in noting that the Militant's previous article on the Simpson verdict was not simply a news item. It was a news analysis, which should have been indicated.

Fred Feldman points out that the Militant should have been more accurate in attributing statements by a juror and her daughter. All of the quotations cited were indeed from the daughter. Ascherback herself has made similar statements since, however. And while jurors pointed to a range of problems with the cops' evidence and behavior, Fuhrman's record did play a key, if not decisive, role in the verdict.



Simpson Trial Abused Democratic Rights  

For several months, nightly TV news broadcasts across the United States began with an update on the second trial of Orenthal James Simpson, who was acquitted in 1995 of murder charges in the deaths of his former wife, Nicole Brown Simpson, and Ronald Goldman. Simpson was found guilty in the second trial, on civil charges of wrongful death brought by the families of the deceased. He was ordered to pay the plaintiffs $8.5 million in compensatory damages.

Working people should oppose this second trial as a clear case of double jeopardy. The Fifth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution prohibits twice putting a person "in jeopardy of life and limb" for the same alleged crime. This is one of the basic rights of the accused stipulated as part of the Bill of Rights, which codifies many of the democratic safeguards that the working class needs to defend its interests, and that the capitalist rulers keep trying to whittle away at.

The prohibition on double jeopardy means that if you're acquitted of some offense, the state can't just keep retrying you until they get the desired verdict.

Previous court rulings had already set a precedent that private lawsuits - such as the "wrongful death" charges against Simpson - don't violate this provision. The high- profile Simpson trial gave added legitimacy to this narrowing of democratic rights.

In a February 6 editorial, the New York Times declared the outcome of the second trial "a reasonable response." Although "some experts consider the second trial a violation of the principle of double jeopardy," the editors wrote, "there seems no reason that the original verdict should give him [Simpson] immunity from civil suits."

Many other aspects of the second Simpson trial breached democratic safeguards. One was setting the venue in an area where most members of the jury would be white, instead of mostly Black as was the case in the first trial.

The earlier acquittal of Simpson, who is Black, hinged on the jury's rejection of blatant racism and lies on the part of the Los Angeles police officers involved in the investigation. One of the cops, Mark Furhman, was caught in a lie on the witness stand, when he claimed he never used racist epithets against Blacks. The defense then played an audio tape in which Furhman repeatedly referred to "niggers" and bragged about beating up and framing numerous people.

It's worth noting that Furhman was never charged with perjury, despite this obvious case against him. Neither Simpson's defense lawyers nor the prosecution or other officials filed such charges.

Other cops involved in the investigation admitted sloppy handling of blood samples and other evidence. It was under these circumstances that the jury refused to find Simpson "guilty beyond a reasonable doubt."

Lower standard of evidence allowed
The standard for finding someone guilty in a "civil" case is substantially less than in a criminal court. The jury in the latest trial was charged with determining whether a "preponderance of the evidence" showed Simpson guilty, not whether he was "guilty beyond a reasonable doubt." Allowing this lower standard of evidence is a blow to the presumption of innocence, a very recent democratic gain.

Through most of the history of class society, when a person from the toiling classes was accused of something the presumption was that of guilt. If you were allowed any hearing at all, it was to "prove" your innocence, a virtually impossible task. Putting the burden of proof on the accuser, not the accused, is a fundamental democratic conquest that the working class must fiercely defend, for everyone.

There were other factors that made the second Simpson trial a travesty. Unlike the criminal case, there didn't have to be a unanimous jury to win a conviction, just a two- thirds majority vote by the jurors. Simpson was also forced to testify, which he chose not to do at the criminal trial. This violated constitutional protections against self- incrimination.

O.J. Simpson is a former sports star who has garnered millions from advertising various products. His life as a social parasite -like the lives of most of those around him -is totally alien to working people. No worker accused of a crime could buy the kind of defense Simpson had at either of his trials.

But this shouldn't blind workers to the dangerous abuse of democratic rights that was carried out - one that will be committed a thousand times over against workers and their allies, particularly those who stand up and fight. To ignore this would be to fall prey to the politics of resentment - the argument that "O.J. Simpson is a millionaire, so his rights are no concern of mine."

The second Simpson trial coincided with the second trial of Lemrick Nelson, a youth from Brooklyn who is Black, in connection with the killing of Yankel Rosenbaum in 1991. While the big-business press trumpeted the incident that led to Rosenbaum's death as an anti-Jewish riot, the outburst actually erupted in response to racist treatment of Black residents of Crown Heights by the cops and emergency personnel after a Black child was killed in a traffic accident.

Nelson, who was 16 at the time, was charged with stabbing Rosenbaum to death on circumstantial evidence that relied heavily on the word of the cops. He was acquitted in a state trial in 1992, with the jurors openly saying they did not believe the cops' story. Nelson was then retried on federal civil rights charges, convicted, and faces 6 to 20 years in prison.

The grounds on which Nelson was tried in federal court were established in the 1960s, when state governments refused to vigorously prosecute the murderers of civil rights activists in the South.

Under pressure from the advancing fight for Black rights, the federal government was forced to take action. Federal prosecution of those acquitted of racist acts in the state courts was a gain for the working class. The application of this precedent in the case of Nelson, however, a young Black man framed up by the police, was a travesty of justice.

The Simpson trial also took place in the context of other attacks on the rights of the accused, prisoners, and those who have previously been convicted of a crime. These include taking away the civil rights of alleged sex offenders, increasing the cops' powers to carry out warrantless searches, and others.

Working people should speak out against all these attacks on democratic rights.


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