Found guilty of ignoring battered women

October 09, 1995|By MIKE LITTWIN

TEN WOMEN set wife-battering O.J. free.

Add it up for yourself. There were 10 women on the 12-person jury. They looked at pictures of Nicole Brown Simpson's bruised face, heard the frantic 911 calls, listened to what the prosecutors vividly called a plea from the grave and said, in effect, that none of it mattered.

Wife-beater O.J. Simpson, the jurors concluded, was not a wife killer.

In fact, female juror Brenda Moran, in her postmortem, went so far as to say the prosecution's emphasis on domestic violence was "a waste of time."

That's nearly as chilling as the 911 calls themselves.

OK, Moran is also black. If you believe O.J. did it -- I'm still waiting for Simpson to begin his search for the "real" killers -- you might also believe this was a case in which race affiliation overcome gender affiliation. It has been said enough times, and by more than enough pop psychologists, that black women feel protective of the embattled black male.

That may be true, so far as it goes. It isn't just black women, though, who give wife-beaters and their kind a break. It's white women, too. And black men and white men.

In the jury room, nobody even argued the domestic-violence case. Of course, they didn't have the time.

As Katha Pollitt, my favorite feminist author, put it, "In this society, juries will put themselves through incredible contortions acquit or deal very leniently with men who assault or kill the women in their lives."

She should have mentioned this to Marcia Clark about a year ago. According to Donald Vinson, who helped the prosecutors pick the jury, Clark was convinced that black women jurors would relate to Nicole's story.

This seems reasonable. We all brings our biases -- meaning, our belief system -- to the table, or wherever else we happen to be. When the jurors said that race wasn't a factor, they meant it. I don't think anybody said, even to himself: "Hey, I'm black. O.J.'s black. So I'm letting him off."

But if you don't trust cops to begin with. And you learn that one cop is racist. And a lawyer tells you a story, however improbable, of a conspiracy that Oliver Stone would reject as too fantastic, you can convince yourself that O.J. was framed. If you're black and you hear even a part of the Fuhrman tapes, it must be hard to hear anything else.

Clark thought that the women would also see the case through a woman's experience, though. They might understand how hard it is to leave a bad relationship. They might know better than men that women who leave their battering husbands are often in more jeopardy than those who stay. Women, you'd think, would see this case through a different prism.

Instead, the women on the jury apparently saw it just as the men did. As for women at large, we'll never know because pollsters didn't think it important enough to know if women saw this case differently from men.

Pollitt, like many feminists, is being asked to explain why domestic violence doesn't seem to be an issue that engages us. When the case first broke, Gloria Allred said it would "be to the domestic abuse issue what Anita Hill was to sexual harassment." Turn on your talk shows. Listen to the silence on domestic violence. You could hear a bloody knife drop.

"I always thought O.J. wouldn't be convicted," Pollitt said by phone from her New York apartment. "I won a five-dollar bet. I knew it, for sure, when dismissed juror Michael Knox said: OK, he's a wife beater, but that doesn't tell us anything; in a normal life, there are always ups and downs with wives and girlfriends.

"That's how he saw it -- as normal life."

And the women jurors? Why didn't they see it differently?

"Women live in this culture, too," Pollitt said. "Men aren't from Mars. Women aren't from Venus. We're both from Earth where men are the majority culture.

"Women are very critical of other women, and often very protective of men."

And so wife-beater O.J. can be seen by the jury, and millions of others, as a nice guy, who couldn't do such a thing. In some sectors, he is something like a hero. Of course, so is Mike Tyson.

Nice-guy O.J. wants the kids back. If he gets custody, what would that tell you?

How about this: Beating and stalking your children's mother apparently doesn't preclude you from being considered a good father.

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