Outcome elates and angers Los Angeles' divided citizens 'It's who you ask. Where you're from. What part of the city you go to'

The O. J. Simpson Verdict

October 04, 1995|By Will Englund | Will Englund,SUN NATIONAL STAFF

LOS ANGELES -- A television beckoned through the window of a nondescript downtown hamburger restaurant yesterday morning, and soon a crowd of secretaries, construction workers, couriers and students had found themselves inside, lured away from business, awaiting the verdict in pure, serious silence.

Fascination and dread were the watchwords of the day.

"The whole trial's been amazing," said Troy Jenkins, 34, who works for a courier service. 'It's like a movie. Look at this place; it's packed."

Mr. Jenkins talked about "the pressure on a city" that comes from a case like this. Blacks, whites, Hispanics, Asians -- people pretend to get along, he said, and then something like the Rodney King beating comes along, or now the O.J. Simpson murder trial.

"The city's so divided," he said. "It's who you ask. Where you're from. What part of the city you go to. It's so emotional for me, being black and living here."

It was 10:10 a.m., and the restaurant was absolutely still. The verdicts were about to be read. "I'm nervous, I am," Mr. Jenkins said.

And then, as the two acquittals were read out, he gasped. "Oh!" he cried, and gasped again. Tears spilled down his cheeks.

"The reason I'm so emotional is because it's been like that in this city," he said.

Been like that -- riots, police beatings, politically charged trials, even an earthquake. It just seems it never stops in Los Angeles.

Suddenly the television screen showed jubilant Simpson supporters outside the courthouse, cheering in glee and waving their signs.

"There's nothing to cheer about -- nothing," said Mr. Jenkins angrily, even though he had also hoped for Mr. Simpson's acquittal. "This isn't going to solve anything. The problems we have are still here. We're still quivering over race. I just cry inside. It's sad. It's sick. And still, it rings in my head: Two people are dead."

"Get real," he said. "Two people are dead."

But for every troubled onlooker like Mr. Jenkins, there were plenty of others yesterday who happily got in the show, L.A.-style.

Lisa Gomez, 20, and her twin brother Joe were watching TV at home in Monterey Park in East Los Angeles, and decided they just had to be in on the celebration.

They joined a snaking, outsized caravan to Mr. Simpson's house in Brentwood, about 12 miles west of the courthouse that has been the focus of attention for nine months.

Mr. Simpson himself was whisked out there, accompanied by dozens of lock-jawed motorcycle police in close formation, vans full of friends and family, a few limousines. Helicopters thunked overhead.

For miles around, anyone could see where Sunset Boulevard was by the swarms of choppers along its length.

("These helicopters!" shrieked Michele Durrett, a waitress at a cafe on nearby San Vicente Boulevard. "I'm getting flashbacks and I wasn't even in 'Nam.")

The Gomez twins joined a group of others on the corner of Sunset and Rockingham Avenue, in a neighborhood of fine estates and bougainvillea. They whooped and hollered as if O.J. had just scored a winning touchdown.

A car pulled up and a young woman shouted, "He's a murderer!"

"Why don't you go home," Mr. Gomez shouted back.

"You can't do anything about it now," taunted a friend, Jessica Smothers, 19.

The car pulled away to loud cheering.

The police had blocked off all the neighborhood streets. Gawkers inched along Sunset Boulevard. O.J. had upstaged the whole city.

Mayor Richard Riordan hurried back from a trip to Japan. Scalpers sulked over at Dodger Stadium as tickets for last night's opening of the National League playoffs went begging.

The radio shows were nothing but O.J., with callers spewing, unsurprisingly, major amounts of outrage over the verdict.

"I'm so upset I don't even want to go shopping," one caller moaned.

Down the hill from Mr. Simpson's house, on San Vicente Boulevard, Doug Dutton was trying to work through in his own mind the whole question of celebrity versus reality.

"Los Angeles is a town of celebrity," he said. If a football player in Florida beat his wife, or a tailback in Nebraska, that would be big news there, but nothing compared with the way the culture of hype in Los Angeles transforms such an incident.

Mr. Dutton was standing in his bookstore, which is just across the street from Mezzaluna, the exquisite pizza restaurant where Nicole Brown Simpson had her last meal and where yesterday PTC the maitre d' was giving pearly toned interviews to wandering TV crews.

"If you're talking about race, celebrity, money, black versus white, the whole women's issue here -- everything is stood on its head," he said. "This is not a question of a poor black man being railroaded. It's so anomalous. Maybe it could happen only here."

A customer interrupted. "I'm looking for a CD that would be kind of a mixture of like, Gregorian chants and, like, Rolling Stones," she said.

Life picked up again, even in Brentwood.

Downtown, Willie Blair was cleaning up the plaza in front of the YMCA, where the sun was bouncing off glass office towers in a way that made the whole city seem as if it were lit by spotlights.

Mr. Blair, who is black, said that during the aftermath of the police beating of Rodney King, "even I was scared to walk the streets."

The Simpson trial "has brought out a lot into the open about the police department," he said. "Definitely, that's good, but it leaves a lot of doubt in your mind about society as a whole. It is just heartbreaking."

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