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The Race Card By: David Horowitz
FrontPageMagazine.com | Monday, June 14, 1999


by Peter Collier and David Horowitz

(Republication of an article that originally appeared in Heterodoxy, October 1995.) 

WHEN IT WAS REVEALED that Lionel Cryer, the male juror who flashed O. J. Simpson a black-power salute right after the verdict in the criminal trial, was once a member of the Black Panther Party, the Simpson case finally found its context. That black fist called up a host of Sixties memories, among them the ghostly voice of criminal-hero Eldridge Cleaver, who taunted the white world in his autobiography, Soul on Ice: "I'm perfectly aware that I'm in prison, that I'm a Negro, that I've been a rapist. . . . My answer to all such things lurking in their split-level heads, crouching behind their squinting bombardier eyes is that the blood of Vietnamese peasants has paid off all my debts." By the same corrupt reasoning, it is not hard to imagine O.J., his consciousness now raised to new heights by his new political advisers, thinking, if not saying, that Mark Fuhrman has paid off all his.

In the complex background of the Simpson criminal trial stands, in addition to Cleaver's hallucinatory voice and the gestural politics it spoke for, another trial that took place nearly thirty years ago and troubled the American criminal-justice system even more profoundly—and permanently—than O.J.'s did. The defendant then was Cleaver's co-conspirator, Black Panther leader Huey Newton, charged with murdering a white policeman in Oakland. There was no question that Newton had been present at the scene or that he had threatened to kill a policeman in the past. There was a compelling timeline, a wealth of physical and forensic evidence, and even a black eyewitness to the crime. But as framed by Newton's attorney, Charles Garry, the issue was not whether Newton did it, but whether "the system" had conspired to put yet another proud black male in jeopardy. In putting the system on trial instead of the defendant, Garry joined up with the zeitgeist and invented the wheel that would be rolled adroitly by a generation of legal demagogues from William Kunstler to Leonard Weinglass. Garry's innovation and the radical racial themes he imported into the criminal-justice system were part of an inheritance that ultimately passed also to Johnnie Cochran.

A young attorney with wide-lapel, lime-green suits, and a luxuriant Afro, Johnnie Cochran was a sometime prosecutor, political fixer, and aspiring member of the Tom Bradley machine in Los Angeles during the seventies, By his own testimony, one event changed him forever—his decision to take on the case of Elmer "Geronimo" Pratt, a black Vietnam vet who returned home from the war with a knowledge of munitions and explosives and became the head of the Black Panther Party's underground "army."

In a case that would have almost eerie resonance with the Simpson affair twenty-six years later, Pratt apparently murdered a white couple in 1968 on a Los Angeles tennis court. Cochran entered the case and offered a defense based on the assertion that his client had been set up by FBI agents who had maliciously corrupted evidence and suborned witnesses. The theory did not play as well as it would one generation later when racial paranoia was more widespread and Cochran had a richer, more mediagenic client and a more immediately vulnerable enemy in the Los Angeles Police Department. Pratt was convicted, but the experience stayed with Cochran. He says that shortly after joining the defense team, he told O.J. about what had happened to Geronimo and pledged, "I will not let this happen to you."

Cochran could say this with some confidence because his own "life experience" (a term he told Oprah Winfrey he preferred to race) told him how deeply the radical thinking of the Sixties had penetrated Southern California's black community, where racism—as his own meteoric career attests—is less onerous than at any other time in American history but is nonetheless an explanation invoked with an almost addictive fervor for any adverse behavior or social outcome affecting black people. A beneficiary of the changes of the last thirty years, Cochran saw how they could be used in the O.J. defense in a way that was not possible when he took the case of Geronimo Pratt.

Cochran learned, for instance, from Huey Newton, who had always insisted on white attorneys and juries. Newton knew that he could impress whites by his self-constructed political myth of the outlaw rebel, a man in "primitive revolt" against the social oppression exemplified by the guardians of that injustice, the racist police. This tactic was very successful. But he feared a jury of his black peers because he knew they would recognize him for the street hustler he was. Johnnie Cochran did not want O.J. to have a jury of his peers either. Brentwood millionaires would not buy the defense he planned to use to get his client off He needed a panel representative of the black community, which he felt was now ready to believe the myth he planned to create—the myth of his client as a crossover artist who had taken his act into the white world but who had ultimately been rejected there, for all his charisma, because when push came to shove race overwhelmed even the power that comes from wealth and celebrity. Cochran was betting on the polarization and radicalization that had overtaken the black community in the last thirty years and so destroyed its center of gravity that it believed without question the notion that racism in America was worse than ever.

The system bad been put on trial continually since 1967, most recently in the riot following the Rodney King verdict, and Cochran saw that it could be put on trial again in what, on the surface, was a less promising case even than Geronimo Pratt's. He knew the race card would trump the prosecution's full house of evidence. "Send a message," he urged the jury by the time he came to his summation—not "Seek the truth" or "Make justice prevail," but do the right thing and "send a message" to the system and to the LAPD, which is the system's most visible and most disgusting symbol. And Lionel Cryer's black-power salute showed that the message—"It's payback time"—had gotten through. That this message hit home outside the courtroom could be seen in the representative reaction of Benny Davis, a black store owner in Los Angeles, who said after the verdict was announced, "Yeah, he did it. About time a brother got away with something around here."

If it is true, as Robert Shapiro says, that the race card was dealt from the bottom of the deck all during the proceedings that freed his client, it is also clear that the race card was played long before the trial began and Mark Fuhrman became the shadow defendant. From the outset, white officials in the Los Angeles County district attorney's office behaved like the character in The Manchurian Candidate who enters a state of mesmerized suggestibility whenever a Soviet control agent gets out a deck of cards. In the movie it was the Queen of Hearts that triggers this response, but in the Simpson trial it was the race card.

It was the threat of black riots like those that followed the Simi Valley trial of the policemen who beat Rodney King that caused District Attorney Gil Carcetti to file the Simpson case downtown—a world apart from Brentwood and O.J.'s life. This fateful decision, which more than anything else determined the outcome of the case, was followed by Garcetti's capitulation to a pretrial delegation of black leaders (including Johnnie Cochran) that demanded that the death penalty, itself a presumed symbol of institutional racism, not be invoked.

The race card was on the table in the District Attorney's office when the prosecution left ten of its peremptory challenges unused and impaneled a jury with members who had been revealed during voir dire to be clearly sympathetic to Simpson. It is not hard to imagine what race cards were played when eleven jurors of color in the deliberation room finally confronted a sixty-one-year-old white woman who was a potential holdout.

This woman's daughter said afterward that her mother tearfully told her she thought O.J. was guilty and then added, "But Fuhrman!" And indeed Mark Fuhrman was like Voltaire's God: If he hadn't existed, Johnnie Cochran would have had to create him. If it is true that Fuhrman is a despicable racist with violent intentions, these intentions are probably no more violent than those expressed by O.J. in his repeated assaults against his ex-wife Nicole. The infamous tapes suggest how Fuhrman would deal with gangsters, crackheads, and lowlifes in South Central Los Angeles, but they do not predict very well how he would deal with a well-connected black millionaire sports legend in Brentwood. And in fact, when Fuhrman showed up at the Rockingham estate during one of O.J.'s earlier rampages against Nicole, he cut Simpson slack instead of taking him in, as he should have. Thus, for all the soundbites and fury about Fuhrman's racism, one might say that so far the only proven victim of his less than admirable behavior as a cop has been Nicole Brown Simpson.

Fuhrman's kid-glove treatment of O.J. was a preview of the red carpet initially rolled out for him by the LAPD itself after the murders. At a time when it was supposed to be planning a strategy to "get" him, the police failed to identify Simpson as an immediate suspect and then left him free and unwatched—after notifying him of his arrest!—so that he could attempt an escape. Fuhrman might indeed bum all blacks if given half a chance. But the idea that he and his pals could have conceived an on-the-spot conspiracy to frame Simpson—a plot then ratified by the highest levels of the LAPD in the few minutes allotted—is about as credible as the notion that AIDS is a white plot against black Americans, that the government has a secret program that intentionally funnels crack into the ghetto, or any of the other lurid conspiracy theories that spread like a plague in the radicalized black subculture.

Johnnie Cochran's playing of the race card in O. J. Simpson's criminal trial helped accentuate the condescension and double standards that have come to distinguish discussions of race in America. Fuhrman's romance with the word "nigger" was treated as if it were the worst thing that had ever been said in contemporary American history. In point of fact, of course, slurs exist across the racial board While Fuhrman's use of the N-word has stigmatized him and made him a hunted as well as a haunted man, for instance, the Reverend Jesse Jackson used the H-word (hymie, as in Jew, which is a word Jackson has occasionally uttered in public discourse in such a way as to make it clear he is forcing himself to omit the modifying adjective dirty), and yet he remains covered with honors, perhaps the most respected figure in the African-American community.

There was also something fishy about the way the Los Angeles police were stigmatized in this trial. By the time the verdict was delivered, they were being routinely discussed as if they were the Gestapo, not only by the defense, but also by the media and the man in the street. In fact, far from being an Aryan monolith capable of implementing genocidal conspiracies on a moment's notice, the LAPD is 43 percent nonwhite, with a black chief and a black commissioner. In 1994, the LAPD took one million calls, gave out 400,000 traffic tickets, and made 150,000 arrests. All this activity generated 139 complaints of "officer discourtesy" and 168 complaints of "excessive force"; of these, only 22 and 8, respectively, were found upon examination to have merit.

Johnnie Cochran's fantasies of living in a police state obscured the fact that in Los Angeles and other major cities in America, the issue is not lawless white cops but remorseless black criminals. It is not racism that has trapped one out of three young black men in the criminal-justice system. It is not racism that makes black males, about six percent of the population, commit almost 50 percent of all violent crimes. If racism were to blame, blacks would not be the chief victims of black criminality, three times as likely to be robbed as whites, and seven times as likely to be murdered, In Los Angeles County there are 1,142 street gangs, which account for much of the city's violence. There are many poor whites in Southern California. But of these gangs, 1,132—99 percent—are nonwhite. These young men of color control South Central like homicidal warlords, murdering people because they come from the wrong block, wear the wrong colors, or, like the three-year-old white girl whose family made a wrong turn in their car, are the wrong color.

At schools like the University of California at Los Angeles scrawling an obscenity on the door of a student of color is routinely denounced as a "hate crime." The measurable and open hostility of black criminals to whites is the dirty little secret rarely discussed, but registered strongly in this chilling statistic: In 1994 there were 100 black females raped by white men, but 20,000 white females raped by black men, according to Dinesh D'Souza in his book The End of Racism.

Domestic violence, rape's distant cousin, is an important issue in this country—some 50 percent of female homicide victims are killed by past or present husbands and boyfriends. But it was apparently not an issue for the Simpson jurors, one of whom, the egregious Brenda Moran, played a subtle race card of her own in a post-trial news conference when she contemptuously dismissed as "a waste of time" the prosecution's effort to show that O.J.'s battering of Nicole provided a motive for the murder.

This statement and the visceral disgust with which it was delivered were so extreme as to invite speculation. Was this a black woman's rage at those iconic blonde goddesses like Nicole who are said to steal away black men like Simpson and Johnnie Cochran? Or was it the scorn of an African-American woman who comes from a community where domestic violence is both routine and truly violent and who knows, therefore, what real battering is all about?

The Simpson affair has been treated as a great celebrity case in the tradition of the trials of Dr. Sam Shepard and Bruno Hauptmann, who was convicted of kidnapping the Lindbergh baby. This it certainly was. But it was far more a political trial whose antecedents are Charles Garry's defense of Huey Newton and William Kunstler's defense of Larry Davis, the drug king who shot nine policemen attempting to arrest him but was acquitted because Kunstler convinced the jury that the police had been out to "get" yet another black man who was only acting in "self-defense."

The real story in the Simpson case was not the defendant or even the defense attorney, but the jury itself. What were regarded as extremist slogans in the sixties (All black males are victims! All prisoners are political prisoners!) became the jury's key intellectual assumptions. The jury closest in spirit to the one that decided the O.J. case was the one that judged Lemrick Nelson, a black man who murdered a Hasidic Jew in Crown Heights in 1992. In this case, Yankel Rosenbaum was run down by a crowd of blacks chanting "Kill the Jew!" The killer was caught with the murder weapon and the blood of Rosenbaum on his person; he was identified by the dying man and confessed to his captors in jail. But taking the Garry–Kunsfler–Cochran line of defense, his lawyers argued that Lemrick Nelson was the victim of a police conspiracy and frame-up. A jury of nine blacks and three Puerto Ricans acquitted him. Afterward, in their version of Lionel Cryer's black-power salute, the jurors gave a party for the murderer to celebrate his release.

The Simpson jury could be sequestered from the public, but not from the resentment and blame that have spread through the black community like addictive substances in recent years. Nor could it be sequestered from the developing phenomenon of black racism, which feeds off paranoia and irrationality. It was no accident that the Los Angeles courtroom was filled with subliminal reminders of the tension between black radicals and the Jews who were their strongest allies in the heyday of the civil-rights movement. Reminders of that inflamed relationship, which has come to be a barometer measuring the decline of race relations in America, were present in the appearance of anti-Semitic Fruit of Islam soldiers who functioned as Cochran's praetorian guard; in the fact that a Jew was one of the victims, and that the verdict was read on the eve of Yom Kippur; in the bizarre neologism genocidal racist Cochran used to describe Fuhrman; and in Cochran's cynical comparison of Fuhrman and Hitler, which took Holocaust revisionism to a new low.

By the time the verdict was read, Louis Farrakhan had become a ghostly presence in this trial. Initially, Farrakhan had scornfully dismissed O.J. as one of those black men who become trivial and inauthentic in their lapdog attempts to be accepted by the white world. (The buffoonish Simpson had once joked weakly that he could never embrace Islam because he liked bacon too much.) Yet, by the end of the trial, Farrakhan, acting through Johnnie Cochran, had in effect offered the defendant a safety net and a place to go when the white world of celebrity rejected him.

Transfigured by the racial solidarity that is now the highest good in the black community, the presumably sadder but wiser Simpson will now realize where he truly belongs. He will become a brother returned to the fold, a civil-rights martyr, someone who might well show up as a celebrity figure at some future event like the Million Man March held in 1995.

And indeed, like the Simpson verdict itself, Farrakhan's march provides the mirror for a civil-rights establishment so debased by radical strategies, double standards, and shameless appeals to white guilt that it has become an exercise in self-parody. (When Johnnie Cochran appeared before the Congressional Black Caucus and compared the Simpson trial to the Dred Scott case and the Brown v. Board of Education decision, there was not even a murmur of dissent.) Over the last three decades the moral voices of the black community were first muted and then drowned out, as dissent from the desperate search for psychological and fiscal entitlements that is now euphemistically referred to as the "civil-rights agenda" was ruthlessly crushed. In the wake of the trial, writer Richard Rodriguez commented sadly that the two hundred years of moral capital stored up by the civil-rights movement had been squandered to acquit O.J. He is only partially correct. That capital has actually been wasted incrementally all along the long march down the mountain—from the summit Martin Luther King Jr. achieved into the fever swamps of today—as racial hate-mongers like Farrakhan and charlatans like Al Sharpton have replaced King and Medgar Evers; as lying delinquents like Tawana Brawley (who falsely claimed to have been abducted and abused by whites) have replaced true victims like Emmett Till (a black teenager brutally murdered in Mississippi in the fifties by whites who believed be had whistled at a white woman); as figures like the ever corrupt Marion Barry, the felon Rodney King, the thug Damian Williams, the cop-killer Mumia Abu-Jamal, and now O. J. Simpson himself have all been embraced as heroes of the struggle as worthy of admiration as Rosa Parks. This inability to discriminate right from wrong and heroes from perpetrators suggests that what now calls itself the civil-rights movement has not only lost its moorings and its morality, but in some sense has lost its mind as well.

The system that Huey Newton put on trial nearly three decades ago has been attacked so often in the intervening years that its immunity has been destroyed and it is now prey to every exotic racial agenda that comes along. In the case of O. J. Simpson, black radicals got the payback they've been asking for since the days of Huey Newton. But its cost will continue to be paid—by all of us-in the years ahead. All during the year before the verdict, black leaders kept saying that O.J. couldn't get a fair trial. The tragedy of the outcome is that they were right.


David Horowitz is the founder of The David Horowitz Freedom Center and author of the new book, One Party Classroom.


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