The Fuhrman Tapes

September 01, 1995

It was obvious almost from the beginning that asking persons whether they believed O. J. Simpson was guilty or innocent of killing his ex-wife, Nicole, was tantamount to holding a national referendum on the credibility of America's police.

Polls show African Americans are more ready to believe police would lie to get a conviction and thus more willing to believe Mr. Simpson may have been framed. Into this maelstrom of conflicting black and white beliefs enters Mark Fuhrman, whose name now nears Bull Connor in epitomizing abuse of police power. He is everything young African American men -- already disproportionately found in our prisons -- are taught to fear.

The kinds of racist remarks the former Los Angeles officer made to a screenwriter are at the root of the disillusionment in this nation's criminal justice system that many African Americans feel.

The Fuhrman tapes -- linked to episodes such as the videotaped beating of black motorist Rodney King by officers who were initially found innocent -- reinforce the same attitudes among African Americans that in part led to the re-election of a mayor caught using cocaine and the hero's parade given a boxer convicted of rape. To many, Marion Barry, Mike Tyson and, yes, perhaps O. J. Simpson are victims of a system rife with Mark Fuhrmans.

We believe most police officers abide by the law as well as enforce it. But at least 30 of America's 50 largest cities have since 1986 instituted some type of citizen board to review complaints about police abuse. That shows the nation's confidence in its police has been shaken.

The riots following the initial acquittal of the officers who beat Rodney King spurred Los Angeles to put its police department under a microscope to see what could be done to prevent anything like that from happening again.

The Fuhrman tapes, many of them recorded long after that review, suggest that Los Angeles still has not done enough even though its present police chief is an African American. A police force can be effective only if the people believe it is fair and protects the rights of all Americans in the enforcement of the law. The departments must police themselves.

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