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Race relations are now on trial

by Phil Burgess, Unabridged from the Rocky Mountain News, October 10, 1995

Should defense attorney Johnnie Cochran have played the “race card” in winning the acquittal of O.J. Simpson? Did O.J. literally get away with murder?

These kinds of questions suggest that national media mavens seem, once again, to have missed the story, and the implications are far-reaching and ominous.

One is the rise of black racism. From the symbolism of Cochran’s decision to use black Muslin body guards to the reality of the “Million Man March” on Washington scheduled for Oct. 16, it is increasingly clear that Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan is emerging as the most compelling force shaping the black American agenda. Despite the virtues of Farrakhan’s basic message — discipline, sacrifice, temperance, personal responsibility, collective work and modest lifestyle — Farrakhan is also a demagogue who preaches white hatred and anti-Semitism, advocates black separatism, and thinks intermarriage or “race mixing,” as he calls it, should be banned by law. Farrakhan’s views are collected and well documents by the Anti-Defamation League, a Jewish civil rights organization.

A second, and related, implication is an apparent shift of power in the black community. Just as conservative black leaders — such as author and commentator Thomas Sowell and community leader Robert Woodson (both of whom also advance a discipline, sacrifice, temperance, and personal responsibility message ) — were beginning to challenge black establishment leaders who rose to leadership out of the 1960s’ civil rights movement (people like Jesse Jackson and Washington, D.C. mayor Marion Berry), these contending leadership groups are now being eclipsed by the direct action of Cochran and Farrakhan.

A third implication is the undermining of the rule of the law. I’m referring here to Cochran’s decision in the closing arguments to invite — no, to implore — the jury to exercise their considerable power to “send a message” to the LAPD. I’m not referring here to the “race card.” I’m referring to the fact that “sending a message” has nothing to do with our Constitution and laws.

Cochran’s is a political, not a legal or judicial message, even though it was delivered shamelessly in a court. “Send them a message” has not been heard so loudly since it was used as a political taunt by white segregationist George Wallace in his 1968 presidential campaign. In our system, courts should be used to find justice under the law. Where there is no law, there can be no justice. When officers of the court like attorney Cochran undermine the law and then go on national TV to receive accolades for brilliance, we should not wonder why young people don’t respect the law. The shame of racist LAPD officer Mark Fuhrman who, like Farrakhan, especially hates interracial couples, must be shared by Cochran who substituted politics for law and disgracefully debauched and corrupted our system of laws and judicial procedures.

There are many other implications, and very few are encouraging. The shameful conduct of elites (especially lawyers and the media) and civil servants during the O.J. trial quickened another dangerous episode of erosion of confidence in our institutions of government (in this case, the LAPD and the judicial system) and marked a huge step backwards in race relations in America. Americans of all races deserve better from our failed establishment.

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