Slow Speed Chase to Nowhere
Today is the twenty-sixth anniversary of O. J. Simpson’s slow speed chase through Southern California after the brutal murders of his ex-wife, Nicole Brown, and her friend Ron Goldman. Ninety-five million people watched the chase. Domino’s Pizza reported its highest single-day sales as Americans settled in on their couches to watch. Sales of Ford Broncos went up by 25 percent that year. I watched that night too, on my couch, eating pizza.
In a 2004 Vanity Fair article, Lily Anolik called this “the pilot episode of the first reality TV show.” This ‘episode’ also introduced the Kardashian family to the world. (In case you don’t remember, Robert Kardashian was Simpson’s earnest friend and sometime lawyer.) During Simpson’s criminal trial, TV cameras were allowed in the courtroom, a ruling that altered the TV-news landscape forever.
The Kardashians are still reality television stars, and the inherent racism and police brutality during the mid-nineties hasn't changed either. On the night of the Simpson chase, Southern Californians had fresh and vivid memories of the four highway patrolmen who savagely beat Rodney King in 1992, their acquittal of assault charges by an all-white jury, and the resulting riots.
The media coverage of the criminal trial was inescapable from June of 1994 to the verdict on October 3, 1995. It was the background noise, the constant soundtrack, and it acts as framework for my novel, “The Lockhart Women” coming next year from She Writes Press.
My novel is not about O. J. Simpson, it’s about a family coming apart. Brenda Lockhart is watching the chase on television at a party with her husband’s post office friends when he tells he’s leaving her for an older and (in Brenda’s judgmental opinion) much less attractive woman. Brenda is devastated, finds herself with too much time on her hands, and quickly becomes addicted to the media frenzy surrounding the murder investigations and resulting trials. She looks like Nicole Brown, met Simpson once, and is a big fan. He’s handsome. He starred in all those commercials. She can’t believe he would kill his wife.
I was fascinated by people caught up in the Simpson trial—the ones who made those Juice is Loose signs and stood on the freeway during the chase. The ones who drove up to Brentwood to see Simpson’s house, sat in Judge Ito’s courtroom for months, and stood in the parking lot on the day of the verdict. When the jury came back four hours after closing arguments, the world stopped to hear the verdict. Even the justices of the U.S. Supreme Court quietly passed a note about Simpson’s innocence to each other during oral arguments.
I hope you won’t blame my character Brenda for wanting to believe Simpson was innocent. He was a beloved celebrity athlete with endorsements from Hertz rent a car and roles in "The Naked Gun." To this day, everyone usually refers to him by his nickname. We are a nation of celebrity worshippers and we make heroes out of those who are not. For example, John Wayne, Robert E. Lee, Michael Jackson. Los Angeles juries also have a history of not being able to convict celebrities of serious crimes. For example, Robert Blake, R Kelly, Michael Jackson.
Vincent Bugliosi makes some compelling points in “Outrage, The Five Reasons Why O. J. Simpson Got Away With Murder.”
The Los Angeles District Attorney’s office arrogant disregard for the predominately African American jury’s long history with LAPD’s brutal racism
The police department’s bungling of critical evidence and blood samples
The media hungry Judge Ito, who should have recused himself because of past history with his wife, and the infamous racist, Mark Fuhrman
The infamous racist, Mark Fuhrman
The sexist media's irrelevant and distracting focus on lead prosecutor Marcia Clark’s single motherhood, hair, and skirt length
Despite the racism, sexism, arrogance, blunders, and poor judgement, the “Not Guilty verdict” shocked white Americans especially, (although not my character Brenda. I can’t wait for you to meet her.) Most white Americans, like me, assumed Simpson would be convicted because that’s what white people do; we assume.
Simpson went to prison, eventually, for a botched armed robbery. He served nine years and is a free man now, still very much in the public eye. Within one week of joining Twitter in 2019, he had more than 750,000 followers. Mark Fuhrman is currently a commentator on police violence for Fox News. Marcia Clark has written a crime fiction series and four best-selling legal thrillers. And most recently, Ford Motor Company has announced the release of a brand-new Bronco on July 9, 2020. Simpson’s birthday in case you didn’t know.
Not much has changed.