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No Race Card for O.J.

New America Media, Commentary, Earl Ofari Hutchinson Posted: Sep 20, 2008

Editor's Note: In the first trial, blacks and whites argued over whether Simpson was a victim of racial persecution in his double murder trial. But in his Las Vegas robbery trial, there is no race card to play, writes NAM commentator Earl Ofari Hutchinson. Hutchinson is author of the book "Beyond O.J.: Race, Sex and Class Lessons for America." His new book is "The Ethnic Presidency: How Race Decides the Race to the White House" (Middle Passage Press, February 2008).

O.J. Simpson and his attorney complained that the jury in his Las Vegas robbery trial has no blacks on it. But there was never much doubt that it would. Thats the kind of jury that most minority defendants get in Clark County courts. Hes fortunate, though, that he did get two black juror alternates. Only 5 percent of the potential jurors among the 500 in the Simpson juror panel were blacks. African Americans make up about 10 percent of Clark County's population.

But even if blacks were on his jury, it wouldnt change the fact that this time around, there is no race card to play. In the first trial, blacks and whites argued over whether Simpson was a victim of racial persecution in his double murder trial. But immediately after Las Vegas prosecutors hit Simpson with multiple charges, polls showed that the racial divide was only a marginal issue.

There were still more than a few blacks who complained that an African American couldn't get a fair trial in any court in America. They even said that was the case with Simpson in Las Vegas. However, there is no hint that blacks are willing to expend an ounce of emotional capital railing that Simpson is a victim of a racist system. Virtually none of the prospective jurors, black or white, uttered anything about race during the jury selection process.

Too much has changed in the decade since the ill-fated trial of the century for that to happen. At the center of that change is Simpson himself; or rather his antics. He hasnt exactly been the picture of the humble, empathetic former sports icon, and much vilified double murder suspect. Simpson has had multiple encounters with the police and courts, been sued, and has appeared to take every opportunity he could to thumb his nose at the civil court that found him liable for the death of Ron Goldman and his ex-wife and slapped him with a multi-million dollar judgment.

This hardly does much to win Simpson friends, let alone convince anyone that he was indeed the victim of a malicious, racist prosecution.

Then there are the Las Vegas charges.

There's absolutely no evidence that Simpson was framed or that Las Vegas police licked their chops at the thought of getting him back in a legal noose. He was at the hotel, the goods were taken, and a robbery complaint was filed. There is no evidence that police in any of the cities that Simpson traveled to peddling sports cards and memorabilia routinely subjected him to a special get-Simpson profile. The best or worst that can be said is that Las Vegas prosecutors have taken great pains not to give any hint that they were giving him any special treatment because of his celebrity status. If anything, they may be piling the extra-heavy felony charges on him precisely to avoid giving the impression of celebrity favoritism.

Simpson should have known that any allegation of his involvement in a crime would get him the fast collar. That still has everything to do with his murder trial acquittal. Polls still show that a majority of the public think that he is a murderer who got away, and that the trial and his acquittal were a farce and a blatant travesty of justice.

Simpson didn't invent or originate this ugly divide in public opinion about celebrity guilt. It has always lurked just beneath the surface. But his case propelled it to the front of public debate and anger. The horde of Simpson media commentators, legal experts and politicians that branded the legal system corrupt fueled public belief that justice was for sale. His acquittal seemed to confirm that the rich, famous and powerful have the deep pockets to hire a small army of high-profile attorneys and investigators that routinely mangle the legal system to drag out their cases and eventually allow their clients to weasel out of punishment.

Whether the police did rush to judgment as Simpson claims -- and there's some wiggle room to debate the magnitude of the charges -- the chatter from most is that a killer is finally getting at least some of his due. Others will say that even Simpson can be a victim of a vindictive and unforgiving criminal justice system. The truth, as always, may lie somewhere between the two views.

But one thing is certain: Race isnt on the table of public opinion this time around. And thats not a bad thing.

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