September 24, 1995
From "CNN Presents" and Correspondent Art Harris
The inner-city explodes in anger after a majority white jury acquits four Los Angeles cops of beating Rodney King. The riots leave 53 dead, thousands injured, a billion dollars in damage -- and a wall of distrust between the police and the black community. A badge of shame that makes L.A. cops witnesses for O.J. Simpson's defense team.
"Do you use the word nigger in describing people?" asked defense attorney F. Lee Bailey.
"No sir," replied Los Angeles police detective Mark Furhman.
The defense figures that if the Los Angeles black community distrusts the police, the majority black jury just might distrust the evidence police gathered against Simpson.
"Some of them may have had some sons or nephews or brothers, fathers, who were brutalized by the police. People don't forget those things very quickly," says John Mack of the Los Angeles Urban League. (122K AIFF sound or 122K WAV sound)
Simpson defense lawyers want jurors to react to police the same way some in South Central Los Angeles still do. (122K AIFF sound or 122K WAV sound)
Before the so-called Fuhrman tapes surfaced, relations with the cops were better; but the tapes rekindled distrust, making it anybody's guess how the defense's race card will play with a majority black jury.
Police say that since the Rodney King riots, L.A. cops have been listening harder to the people they protect. But while many officers have tried to ease suspicions about the police, people who live in L.A. aren't quite ready to bury the past.
"Some of the police department is racist; there are racists," resident Odell Hollie said.
That lingering distrust may explain why a majority black jury could buy the defense conspiracy theory that white cops framed O.J. Simpson.
Even before the Fuhrman tapes played out, CNN polls showed blacks and whites look at the Simpson case through a different lens. Six out of 10 blacks think he's innocent. Three out of four whites think he's guilty. Then the Fuhrman tapes exploded the myth of racial harmony restored, of an inner-city willing to forgive and forget.
"We have been listening to the word nigger defame us for years," said Danny Bakewell with Neighborhood, Brotherhood Crusade. "We refuse to be denied justice in any court in America."
The tapes revive anger and fear, that seem to play right into the hands the defense has been dealing. "The Fuhrman tapes are to the criminal justice system in American, what Watergate was to the political system," said defense attorney Johnnie Cochran. (92K AIFF sound or 92K WAV sound)
It's impossible to measure the impact the tapes will have on the jury. But some black leaders who remember the Rodney King riots, worry about whipping up racial fury, and the defense team putting their client above harmony in their home town.
"Even as many of us will find ourselves angry, particularly with the African-American community behind this kind of racist garbage, it's important for us to understand that at least the playing field for O.J. Simpson in this courtroom has been more equal than others," said Mack.
Defense lawyers are painting Simpson as another black victim of the white justice system. But he's an unlikely symbol of the racial divide between black and white America. As a celebrity with high-priced lawyers in his corner, Simpson is more a symbol of the divide between rich and poor, and how money can help buy justice. For O.J. Simpson the clock is running down in the biggest game of his life. If he's convicted, expect the appeal of the century, which could drag on for years. If the jury is deadlocked, count on another trial. And if acquitted, Simpson could pocket millions of dollars from a pay-per-view special that serves up his side of the story.
Copyright © 1995 Cable News Network, Inc.
ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.