Nicole Simpson, famous in death

Sun Journal

October 15, 1995|By Will Englund | Will Englund,SUN NATIONAL STAFF

LOS ANGELES -- The police have put up green fencing along the sidewalk at the northwest corner of Bundy Drive and Dorothy Street to keep people from spilling out into traffic, and for the time being they've prohibited parking altogether on adjoining blocks. It doesn't discourage anyone.

If anything, it only helps to make the house on the corner that much more special, to enhance the feeling among those who steadfastly come here that they have found their way to a shrine.

Nicole Brown Simpson, who was murdered here alongside her friend, Ronald L. Goldman, has accomplished in death what she never did in life -- she has a niche in the psyche of Los Angeles.

And now her house has become one more of the places to see, one more of the touchstones. Grauman's Chinese Theater, the La Brea tar pits, the Queen Mary, the boardwalk in Venice, the big Hollywood sign: These are the sights the tourists come to.

Ms. Simpson's house is attracting its own modest crowds, but it's not quite like the others.

Nobody's promoting it, for one thing. It's a nondescript, pink stucco house in a neighborhood of comfortable but nondescript houses. And, although tourists stop by, most of the people who come here -- those who lay flowers and rail against the verdict that set O. J. Simpson free -- are locals.

They are driven by more than curiosity, lured by more than notoriety. This otherwise anonymous house in Brentwood has become a shrine to a peculiar resentment that seems to haunt Los Angeles.

"It's anger over money and power," said John Tinyes, a 23-year-old with a modish stub of a beard. "It's really not about her anymore."

To some people in Los Angeles and around the country, Ms. Simpson has become a symbol of the price of domestic abuse. But that's not what brings people here to the house. To listen to those who come here is to get a sense of the bitter disgust that seems to flourish under the perpetually sunny skies.

To the angry people who come here, Los Angeles held out a promise and it all went wrong. And now they have fastened onto Nicole Brown Simpson as an emblem of that disappointment.

In the 80 years or so that Los Angeles has recognizably been a city, it has been a place of --ed dreams. Millions of migrants flocked here, in the expectation that this would be someplace -- different.

The unhappiness that so many found seemed all the crueler because of that. Los Angeles was supposed to be a new life -- it was the last chance at a new life -- but it didn't deliver for very many.

Kurt Graves lives in Santa Monica, and in some way the protracted attention given to the Simpson case broke a barrier for him. Something fit into place for him, and now he seems to personify anger itself.

He strides briskly up the sidewalk to the house on Bundy, a bouquet of yellow flowers in his hand. He places it inside the yellow police barrier, on the walk a few feet from where Ms. Simpson died. A wrapper around the bouquet reads, "Death for O. J. Justice for Ron & Nicole."

Mr. Graves is bitter, his eyes intense, his voice husky and slightly raised as if he's speaking to an audience. He says there must be some changes. The system doesn't work. He talks contemptuously about the riots that followed the 1992 acquittal of four police officers in the videotaped beating of Rodney King.

Those riots were a symptom in part of deep resentments within the African-American community. Now, their memory has become a focus of white resentment.

Los Angeles, it sometimes seems, is a mosaic of resentments. For some groups -- Latinos, Asians -- the bitterness didn't happen to intersect with the Simpson case. For others it did. For all, one thought seems to be uppermost: Everybody gets a break except for us.

Throughout Los Angeles, a large number of white people are angered by Mr. Simpson's acquittal and say that it just shows how a rich man can buy justice. A large number of black people are angered by the reaction of whites and say it's really racism at work.

Actually, many of the people who come to the house on Bundy find it galling that a man who's rich and black has won acquittal in this case.

A lot of whites here declare -- unpersuasively -- that they never used to be racists but events over the past few years have changed that. More accurately, perhaps, the King and Simpson cases have gouged through the pretenses by which people like to lead their lives.

"You know, it has become a racial issue, and I'm so angry, because it shouldn't be," said a woman, a French immigrant, who identified herself only as Anne-Marie. "I came here when there was segregation. And now we're back there. It's setting us back 40 years."

She, too, had brought a bouquet to the house on Bundy, a bunch of pink roses. Attached was a note that read, "I cry for you and your families."

She tried to explain why she was moved to act. After all, there were 856 murders in Los Angeles in 1994. What set this one apart?

"She was a beautiful white woman," Anne-Marie replied, "and he was black."

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