The O. J. Simpson Trials: Rhetoric, Media, and the Law

By Janice Schuetz; Lin S. Lilley | Go to book overview

4
Detective Mark Fuhrman:
The Race Card

Janice Schuetz

THE ISSUE OF RACE CREATED DRAMATIC CONFLICT in the criminal trial of O. J. Simpson and contributed to the telelitigated drama and performance of the attorneys and witnesses involved with it. The testimony of Detective Mark Fuhrman made race a central issue in the trial. Eric Dyson ( 1996b) emphasizes that "when the not guilty verdicts in the O. J. Simpson double-murder cases were handed down, the compass of race went haywire.... The case has rudely reminded us of a gigantic and numbing racial divide" (p. 12). Most spectators of the trial also agree that the defense did use race as a predominant counter‐ theory in their case. Bugliosi ( 1996) concludes, "There is no question that Mark Fuhrman, was defamed, vilified, maligned, and slandered far more at the trial than Simpson, who was accused of a brutal and gruesome double murder" (p. 133).

The sources of racial issues in this case are multiple. Prosecutor Christopher Darden claims that the focus originated with Defense Attorney Johnnie Cochran who used race from the beginning ( Darden, 1996, p. 162). Others argue that it was not until the cross-examination of Fuhrman, when Judge Lance Ito allowed the so-called n-word into the testimony, that the content of the trial shifted from the legal indictments to the social issue of race (Fuhrman, 1997). Still others assert that the racial nature of the case began with the selection and composition of the jury (Toobin, 1996). Whatever the case, race had an important role in the trial and the posttrial discussions of the case. Dyson ( 1996a) notes that "the 'race card' invariably related to Johnnie Cochran's introduction of race as a factor in Simpson's trial. It referred especially to the

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