Las Vegas Judge Jackie Glass said something before she sentenced O.J. Simpson to what could amount to 33 years in the gray bar hotel for leading a stupid but dangerous robbery. Mention was made of a bail bond hearing at which she could not fail to wonder aloud if the defrocked football hero was arrogant or stupid or both. Glass reached the conclusion that he was both by the end of the trial.
Before putting that steel boot of time up Simpson's backside, the judge reminded everyone in the court and the media that at the start of the trial she had told the jury that if they were there to avenge the murder of Nicole Brown Simpson, they were in the wrong place and on the wrong team.
Judge Jackie Glass could not fail to wonder aloud if the defrocked hero was arrogant or stupid or both. Glass reached the conclusion that he was both by the end of the trial.
As a judge who had made decisions in hundreds of cases over her six years on the bench, Glass said that she had great respect for the legal system and was respectful of what the jury had decided in the Simpson murder trial thirteen years earlier, which meant that what was about to happen had nothing to do with "payback." She was not concerned with whom he was but whom he was not.
He was not innocent.
Then a sonic boom of a sort was heard, the kind that has shaken the cranium and bounced the brain of every criminal as serious prison time was given for each count of his wrongdoing.
This was not a case in which we had to hear all sorts of prognostications about how the supposed racial divide had revealed itself in high profile once again. Could that have been because black and white people were too busy either celebrating Barack Obama's victory or trying to bring a case before the Supreme Court charging that he was not an American and could not be sworn in? Hardly. This was not a case as serious as every murder case is. It was not about two people being butchered in an expensive neighborhood, a woman almost decapitated and a young man stabbed repeatedly after putting up a strong and desperate but failing battle to save his own life.
There was no pure redneck cop who had shredded the prosecution's case while also proving the media's remarkable, perhaps racist, irresponsibility. You read right. Racist is what I wrote. During that time I talked with a number of district attorneys and judges who made it clear—which the media never did—that juries, regardless of race, fail to convict when they have lost faith in the representatives of the court. Representatives like Mark Fuhrman, who was heard on a tape saying "n***r" so often one would have thought he was a rapper.
Simpson's lawyers were also able to appeal to the deep paranoia about technology and its abuses and its incompetent uses—one that had been steadily building since Frankenstein.
Racism is, of course, a cultural conspiracy and so is the race hustle sort of a conspiracy itself, with one rabble rousing and manipulative airhead after another hissing, popping, squeaking, and bubbling out what can only be called intellectual flatulence. Then there is the public's panting desire to observe the hideous spectacle of our celebrity culture as it sinks into the world of murder in wealthy places among famous people.
Simpson had become famous for inventing a style of football carrying. It was a rapid stutter step that some black jocks called the “cha cha," meaning a new rhythm that was very deceptive and threw off men trying to tackle him. As a college halfback and a professional he achieved great fame. When he became a professional, Simpson gave post-game interviews to which he brought the players who had done the blocking that made possible some of his stupendous runs. He seemed gracious and willing to share the spotlight, with effortless charm delivered in his memorable baritone voice.
Simpson became part of our nation's advertising iconography when he carried a brief case for Hertz as he raced through an airport, cheered on by white people, which led complaining Negroes to question his willingness to be used in an almost stereoptypic sense. Run, n***r, run: the white man knows you're faster than a bullet from a gun. Well now. Fame and what it offers used to be a little more bothersome to black people back then because of all of the barely veiled envy and the flat out bitchery that could be outdone by no other group. Which led many to joke, "My people, my people." Or, "There your people go again."
As an actor Simpson was no great shakes and some of his slapstick comedies included more than a hint of the overdone looks and mannerisms that went back to the good old days of minstrelsy. It may have only been the tendency to try and convert something of high, specific power into a generalized figure of low comedy, like the dancing bear or the elephant in a top hat. Keep that source of remarkable strength all quiet on the buffoon front.
As Simpson was brought to trial and more came out, we began to realize that whether or not he had murdered two people, he was just another petulant and overgrown child in the counterfeit Garden of Eden made possible by wealth and celebrity. This was a garden in which more than a few snakes tried to tempt whomever was available to eat from the tree of decadence, dope, fast foods, expensive cars, and whatever else made their heads swim as it floated their boats. Gee whiz, O.J., couldn't you have just been boring like most athletes and almost all celebrities? Did you have to be a wife beater, too? Did you have to betray black women by leaving a "sister" and marrying a blonde? as Creole pundit Jack E. White charged in a racist Time magazine article.
So much incompetence was revealed on the part of the Los Angeles Police Department, the District Attorney's office, and the crime labs that Simpson got off, or seemed to get off. There was a lot of heavy breathing from white people in the media, a lot of sanctimonious posturing from black and white, plenty of bitter jam to spread on our morning toast. One could start off the day pissed because a murderer had gotten off and all of those irresponsible and insensitive black fools had been ecstatic about it. Or one could say fuck those white people, they need to learn how to lose some of the time. Besides who could believe anything that bunch of racist or incompetent bozos brought to court. They can all kiss my ass. Oh, yeah.
In Las Vegas, not even race hustlers could figure out how to make O.J. Simpson a victim. He proved himself in all ways and from every possible angle an exceedingly dumb Negro. After realizing that millions of white Americans were convinced that he was guilty of butchering two people, only an arrogant and stupid fool would ever put himself in harm's way of the law again. Smart criminals know that. Simpson was different. His arrogance and stupidity are not very individual and not very original. They are common to most criminals by whom he will soon be surrounded for perhaps three decades. As they say, water finds its own level.
Stanley Crouch's culture pieces have appeared in Harper's, The New York Times, Vogue, Downbeat, The New Yorker, and more. He has served as artistic consultant for jazz programming at Lincoln Center since 1987, and is a founder Jazz at Lincoln Center. In June 2006 his first major collection of jazz criticism, Considering Genius: Jazz Writings, was published. He is presently completing a book about the Barack Obama presidential campaign.