Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Simpson Trial Aberration of Justice System

Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Simpson Trial Aberration of Justice System

Article excerpt

AFTER A YEAR of overblown existence, the O.J. Simpson trial has generated overblown conclusions about its meaning. Maybe we're too eager to distill wisdom from a soap opera.

Here are some of the contradictory conclusions:

A common black view: Finally, black Americans got justice from the racist criminal justice system.

A common white view: The not guilty verdict was a form of affirmative action for a guilty black man.

The constitutionalist's view: The jury system worked whether or not the verdict was correct.

The jury-reform view: The jury system is broken and needs fixing.

Each conclusion is based on more than a kernel of truth; each has flaws.

The night before the verdict, I overheard a black colleague explaining why he thought Simpson was not guilty. Earlier that month, a policeman had stopped him, apparently because he was black and, therefore, suspicious. A couple of weeks earlier his daughter had been stopped.

My colleague's everyday experience is shared by many blacks. Despite the ideal of equality, the American criminal justice system sometimes hasn't been fair to blacks.

And that's not just ancient history. It was only nine years ago that the Supreme Court ruled that prosecutors couldn't remove blacks from juries. Even today, some prosecutors continue to do it but think up "non-racial" justifications. A St. Louis County prosecutor recently gave this reason: "I don't like the way they looked, with the way the hair is cut."

The judge in St. Louis County who heard this case - by the way, all state court judges in the county are white - said that was enough of a non-racial reason, and the U.S. Supreme Court agreed.

As strong as the argument about racism is, it only feeds into the response of many in the white community. The Simpson verdict wasn't based on the facts, they say. The verdict was a political statement of a mostly black jury on the historical bias of the justice system. Some whites view this as a kind of affirmative action for the criminal defendant who may not qualify for acquittal on his own merits but is acquitted because of his group membership.

This analogy seems like a stretch. …

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