Sunday, April 17, 2011

1995: Trial of the Century

It may not have been the trial of the century, but it certainly was the media frenzy of the century, and a kind of a sneak preview of the 24/7 shark hunt for new frenzies that our cable networks have become. 

So, O.J. Simpson. I've made a conscious decision over the last year and a half not to run very many OJ cartoons, in large part because I felt it was one of the most overreported stories of the decade, and we all had more important things to talk about, like the GOP onslaught. The OJ case, I felt, didn't really tell us that much about ourselves.

Okay, so I was wrong.

The Simpson case tells us plenty about the state of race relations in the US, the state of relations between the sexes, and about the crucial questions of state power and the corruption of our major institutions. If you believe, as I do, that OJ Simpson killed those two people, AND that the LAPD planted evidence in an attempt to secure his conviction, then the OJ case presents any number of legal and ethical dilemmas.

If the above is true, then OJ had to walk, no matter how odious that is. The alternative is to expose all of us to unfettered state power, and lord knows the state has enough power at its disposal. It should come as no surprise that a jury of mostly working class African Americans had no trouble believing that their local police would frame a suspect. In a murder case with no weapon or eyewitness, the state's case comes down to the integrity of its investigators, and that, my friends, is history.

The Fuhrman tapes are as important a document as the Packwood diaries, and even more appalling. His boasts of killing suspects and planting evidence are a chilling reminder of the abuse of power found every day in our nation's major cities.

The problem with my point of view, as well as any hypothetical effort by the jury to send a "message" to the LAPD, is that OJ's case is such an aberration. Not one defendant in a million has the resources he had to challenge the state's case against him. Thus any deterrent effect upon LA's finest will likely be disregarded, just like the lip service given to reform after the Rodney King beating. The LAPD is notorious as a haven for Klansmen and Neo-nazis, and Mark Fuhrman couldn't have made a career of it there if he were some sort of rogue elephant, as in the wishful thinking of the law-and-order crowd.

In the vast majority of capital crimes, the defendant is massively outgunned by the resources of the state-which is why we have a bill of rights. Fuhrman and Vanatter ran roughshod over the Fourth and Sixth Amendments (what's left of them after the work of GOP Supreme Court appointees, that is). The prosecution seemed to expect the jury to ignore this, as well as both detectives' obvious perjury.

But if we allow the LAPD to bend the rules to convict the obviously guilty OJ, then anyone is fair game, including yourself. Those who complain about the interminable appeals process for capital crimes, would do well to consider how they'd handle it if they were wrongfully accused of such a crime.

A major study of the death penalty in the US found that over four hundred people had been wrongfully convicted of capital crimes in this century, with over forty wrongfully executed. I don't know about you, but I'm not so eager to give police and prosecutors more leeway with illegally seized evidence...unlike the redoubtable Judge Ito.

Anyway, we haven't heard the last of the OJ case by a long shot, but I've saved up every cartoon I got since last June, and this issue, there's four pages of them. If that seems like too much, there's twice as many cartoons on the other burning issues of the day.

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