Here’s what Black people knew in 1995 and still do in 2018: Orenthal James “O. J.” Simpson was most likely involved in the murder of his wife, Nicole Brown Simpson and her friend/possible lover Ron Goldman even though he was found not guilty in the court of law.
Of course, bad karma and poor decisions would later put Simpson behind bars for robbery and kidnapping stemming from a 2007 confrontation in a casino hotel room where Simpson was accused of stealing hundreds of items of sports memorabilia. The crime would only further tarnish his once successful sports and showbiz career.
Now, 20 years after the controversial murder trial and a 2017 release from prison, Simpson is once again a free man, but the media is still obsessed with reminding America of this flawed case and troubled soul.
In 2016, we got “The People v. O. J. Simpson: American Crime Story,” the Emmy winning mini-series rehashing the trial based on “O.J.: Made in America,” an Oscar winning documentary. This weekend, FOX aired a two-hour special, “O.J. Simpson: The Lost Confession,” a retelling of the events around the murders of Brown and Goldman that was taped over a decade ago.
A never before seen 2006 tell-all interview with former NFL superstar gives America yet another chance to figure out “if” he did it. Since Simpson never took the witness stand at his own trial, television producers thought it would be a great idea to put him in the court of public opinion again (because America loves putting Black men in double jeopardy, even when it’s not legally applicable.) In a nutshell, this show further showed how O.J. is an abusive and narcissistic lost cause who took pleasure in giving several of “hypothetical” ways he could have brutally killed the mother of his children.
Outside of the credible insight from defense attorney Chris Darden and journalist Soledad O’Brien (both of whom provided more context behind the motivation of the murder and some new details on the investigation), I learned nothing new about the trial. All this special did was fan the flames on current conversations around race in the criminal justice system.
For one, let’s be clear, the O.J. Simpson trial is not an example of how the criminal justice system truly works to exonerate innocent Black people. Last night, some white folks on social media used this trial as a scapegoat to dismiss real issues impacting Black lives. Simpson’s case isn’t an example of racial justice in action, but an example of how class, sexism, and the cult of celebrity actually create greater flaws within the criminal justice system. There is no doubt in my mind that if Simpson wasn’t a wealthy, well-known man, he would have been found guilty. Simpson’s “not guilty” verdict is an outlier to the countless times many Black people have been convicted with less evidence attached to a crime.
So, why are we forced to keep talking about this? What makes a Black man who most likely got away with murder more significant than the countless white men who have publically been acquitted for actually killing unarmed Black children? No matter how many times O.J. “confesses” or “hypothetically” admits to a double murder, that shouldn’t equate or deflect from the current calls for criminal justice reform happening today in 2018—not 1995.
Rather than continually rehashing a closed case, our collective time would be better spent looking into cases that are still unsolved. We don’t need to be reminded of how horrible O.J. Simpson is in order to open old racist wombs that now play themselves out on social media during the Trump era. What we need to do now is refocus on what remains true—despite Simpson’s trial, there are countless innocent Black people who are not famous, rich, powerful, or connected, and for those reasons, they need our unwavering support and activism.
Ernest Owens is the Editor of Philadelphia magazine’s G Philly and CEO of Ernest Media Empire, LLC. The award-winning journalist has written for USA Today, NBC News, BET, HuffPost and several other major publications. Follow him on Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram and ernestowens.com.