Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Despite Elitism, Simpson Adopted as Black Symbol

Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Despite Elitism, Simpson Adopted as Black Symbol

Article excerpt

THE O.J. SIMPSON verdict illustrates a paradox of America's tense racial climate. He lived in an exclusive white community, married a white woman, golfed at white country clubs, didn't crusade for black causes and yet was suddenly transformed into a symbol of racial justice.

"He became every black male who's ever been involved in the criminal justice system," said Wilbert A. Tatum, editor and publisher of New York's Amsterdam News, one of the nation's most prominent black weeklies. "It was the black male in America who was on trial." And yet, Tatum added, "He was more of a success of white America."

For many black Americans, Simpson is a high-profile surrogate in the ongoing battle to address their grievances with the nation. It is a time, for many, of souring race relations, of cutbacks in social programs, of political and court assaults on hard-won civil rights gains. And so Simpson's acquittal represents for some a psychological victory.

"The verdict is clearly a reaffirmation of black public opinion," said Democratic pollster Ron Lester, citing surveys throughout the trial indicating that blacks overwhelmingly believed he was innocent.

"It kind of confirms that there truly can be justice in America, and that is counter to what most blacks generally believe about the criminal justice system."

Yet, Simpson was no ordinary black defendant. He had money to defend himself, status to demand special treatment. And he hardly had the profile to become a civil rights cause celebre.

"It really wasn't about O.J.," said Elaine Williams, a black barber in the Crenshaw district in Los Angeles. "It was about everything that has happened over the years to black people in Los Angeles."

She echoed the sentiments of other residents of that neighborhood, and indeed, other blacks across the nation.

As to the question of guilt or innocence, "I think people fell on both sides of the issue," said Rep. Donald Payne, D-N.J., chairman of the Congressional Black Caucus. "I don't think that all blacks necessarily felt he was innocent. . . . I'm not celebrating. It's still a tragedy. Two lives were lost. …

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