The historic O.J. Simpson verdict handed down 22 years ago today that prompted a chorus of Black rejoicing across the country now evokes a different tune. While the murder acquittal itself remains completely relevant, O.J. himself does not. The still-polarizing-but-way-less-so accused killer still draws attention, but it’s more because of the side-show he’s become and exponentially less about potential police corruption and social justice, two topics that are at the forefront of the country’s most pressing issues.
Rather, a separate, longer lasting legacy of the case has centered on Johnnie Cochran’s brilliant legal maneuverings that outsmarted the nation’s criminal justice system and managed to free someone who appears to be increasingly sociopathic at best and homicidal at worst. And that may be precisely why most Black people no longer believe O.J. was innocent of killing his estranged wife Nicole Brown Simpson and her acquaintance Ron Goldman in the Brentwood section of Los Angeles.
In fact, Black people were actually cheering on Cochran, who would have turned 80 on Monday, and not O.J. when the verdict was read, The Undefeated reminded readers.
“With all due respect to you, Brother Simpson, we didn’t clap when the acquittal of Simpson came for O.J.,” the Rev. Al Sharpton said at Cochran’s funeral in 2005. “We were clapping for Johnnie. We were clapping because for decades our brothers, our cousins, our uncles had to stand in the well with no one to stand up for them. And finally a black man came and said, ‘If it don’t fit, you must acquit.’”
Cochran was able to get some leverage in court when he “flipped the case from a murder case to a race case,” Christopher Darden, the former Los Angeles prosecutor who tried the case against O.J., told NBC News this past summer. “And that’s all a lot of people saw.”