Simpson publicity upsets many blacks

July 03, 1994|By Ann LoLordo | Ann LoLordo,Sun Staff Writer

LOS ANGELES -- At the Boulevard Cafe -- not far from the Coliseum where O. J. Simpson defined the famous Trojan ground game -- the verdict is in. And prosecutors have barely begun to present their case against the sportscaster and football Hall of Famer charged with two murders.

Here, at the northern border of the black neighborhoods that spill southeast to Watts, the table talk in this court of public opinion reflects many of the sentiments voiced by some blacks in Los Angeles last week.

Nearly all felt that pretrial publicity has seriously jeopardized Mr. Simpson's chances of getting a fair trial, and many questioned the solidity of the evidence against him.

* "You can't believe he did this -- flew to Chicago and then came back," says Naomi Buckins, sipping morning coffee at the popular eatery where she breakfasts most Fridays. "With his money, he could've got his own plane and left this raggedy old country. Why did he come back? Did the police even ask that?"

* ". . . the way the people were killed," Sharon Barkley says quietly of the stabbings of Nicole Brown Simpson and her friend Ronald L. Goldman two miles from Mr. Simpson's Brentwood mansion. "It's not the hand of a black man. I'm not trying to be prejudiced. I could see if he beat her or shot her."

* "The media convicted him [already]," says a man wearing a "Cut the Juice Loose" T-shirt in between bites of his biscuits. "Instead of having sympathy for the man -- his wife has been murdered -- the press jumped on him with all fours. . . . If that had been Wayne Gretzsky's wife, would they have done the same to him? I don't think so," he says, asking that his name not be used because he works for the Los Angeles County criminal justice system holding Mr. Simpson.

From doctors' offices to street corners, from talk shows to newspapers, many African-Americans here say little about their doubts of his claim to innocence. Instead, they focus on the presumption of innocence -- suggesting that the press, police and prosecutors haven't treated him fairly.

O. J. Simpson left his poor, inner-city roots behind with his crazy-legged run across the gridiron to celebrity, and some here in black neighborhoods candidly suggest he left his interest in the black community behind, too.

Nonetheless they feel he is a part of their community and talk of a certain allegiance to him.

Many African-Americans here worry about the downfall of a successful black and the negative racial message it may send.

"I don't think the black community should be judged by what an athlete does," says Celes King III, the owner of a large bail bond company in Los Angeles. "O. J.'s matter is O. J.'s matter as far as the question of the deaths."

And more subtle is the way the issue of race is expressed in other ways: For some, the Simpson case is a chance to rail against a system they say undermines black men. Some resent Mr. Simpson's apparent preference for dating white women, while others contend that the case would have mattered less if the former Mrs. Simpson had been a black woman.

'Cut the Juice Loose'

The support for Mr. Simpson expressed by all races in homemade signs and banners appearing along Los Angeles freeways in that now-famous ride home before his arrest is still evident in black neighborhoods.

Youths peddle T-shirts showing Mr. Simpson's face and the slogan, "Cut the Juice Loose -- Not Guilty."

In one particularly volatile venue, a local black radio talk show host invites activist Dick Gregory to field calls from listeners angry about the relentless pursuit of the former running back and the misinformation swirling around the case.

"KLGH . . . Good morning, you are on the 'Front Page.' Where are you calling from?" disc jockey Carl Nelson says to introduce the callers to his pre-dawn radio show.

A caller asks Mr. Gregory what he thinks of the case against Mr. Simpson, and the activist launches into a long-winded speech involving the CIA.

"Black folk, when you can be duped, when you can be told, here's a man so dumb he leaves so much blood from the murder scene at his house. . . . All the cops in the world, they can't find the murder weapon. . . . Would you wear a ski cap in L.A.? . . . Everything is too pat," he says.

Not everyone, however, is as certain about Mr. Simpson's plight. For some, the case of the People vs. Orenthal James Simpson raises questions and conflicts.

"Though all the evidence [so far] is pointing to him . . . we don't really know what all the evidence is," says Adrianne Oberton as ** she purchases $20 worth of "Pray for O. J." T-shirts. "I feel bad for Nicole and Ron Goldman and their families. If he did it, then I think there's something wrong with him and he needs help."

And while Ms. Oberton's cousin Darren Warrick, visiting from Philadelphia, mourns the loss of two lives, he too is caught up in the spectacle surrounding the murders.

"I can't wait to go to his house . . . to videotape it," he says.

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