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Attorney’s Chutzpah Alters Complexion of Simpson Case

Only the tenacious or foolhardy are willing to venture into uncensored public discourse about race in America. Doing it has proved to be a good way to get your block knocked off, either physically or verbally.

So, it is with much irony on this, the week of Martin Luther King Jr.'s birthday, that Christopher Darden, a black deputy district attorney in Los Angeles, has dared do what others were unwilling to: openly discuss the racial considerations caught up in the O.J. Simpson murder trial.

In the months since Simpson was arrested, many others have danced right up to the edge: Simpson’s attorneys complained during jury selection that the prosecution was questioning prospective black jurors differently than non-blacks. And, of course, there is their ongoing intimation that police detective Mark Fuhrman’s anti-black remarks of years ago discredit him as the officer who found a crucial piece of evidence at the crime scene.

From the other side, some have questioned why the district attorney didn’t try the case in West Los Angeles instead of Downtown, with the point being that fewer African Americans would have been in the jury pool. And, the D.A. did add Darden to the prosecution team after Johnnie Cochran Jr., also black, became more prominent on Simpson’s defense team.

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For the hopelessly naive like me who have always seen this as a celebrity murder case without racial overtones, it’s been tedious to listen to all the racial innuendo.

We need not worry about innuendo anymore.

Deputy D.A. Darden let ‘er rip Friday while arguing that Fuhrman’s alleged use of the “N-word” shouldn’t be repeated in front of the jury. Rather than worry about the niceties of legalese, Darden said the word is so offensive to black jurors as to “blind” them to other evidence and their deliberations into a test of racial loyalty.

“It’s the prosecution’s position,” Darden told Judge Lance Ito, “that if you allow (the defense) to use this word and play this race card, not only does the direction and focus of the case change, but the entire complexion of the case changes. It’s a race case then. It’s white versus black . . . us versus them, us versus the system.”

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Cochran professed outrage at Darden’s remarks. He said it was insulting to blacks on the jury to suggest they couldn’t put Fuhrman’s remarks into the context of the case and weigh all the evidence fairly.

On the pure merits of their positions, I side with Cochran.

But for sheer panache, I tip my hat to Darden. Not so much for his eloquence or logic, but for his willingness to tackle a race issue head on.

Cochran, while perhaps genuinely outraged, must not have seen the spate of TV call-in shows or read all the opinion polls that everyone else has since Simpson’s arrest. If he had, he’d know that Darden is merely tapping into what a majority of black America has said: They think Simpson is innocent and, quite possibly, framed.

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As recently as last week on Geraldo Rivera’s daytime show, an audience predominantly African American was asked to applaud if it thought Simpson had been set up. Rivera estimated that more than 80% of the audience applauded. More than one audience member referred to treatment of blacks in America as the basis for their opinion. One woman said Simpson’s arrest is just the latest attempt to strip African American citizens of their role models, likening it at one point to the people who killed Michael Jordan’s father because it was a way to get Michael himself out of the national scene. When a black commentator on the show challenged those positions as ridiculous, the audience hooted at him.

That’s the kind of thinking that Darden went after in court Friday. He may be wrong about how this particular jury would react to Fuhrman’s remarks, but it’s disingenuous for Cochran to act as though a majority of black Americans has an open mind about Simpson’s guilt or innocence. If that were so, the defense wouldn’t be so thrilled to have eight African Americans on the jury.

Obviously, Darden is the only member of the prosecution team who could have said what he said. Can you imagine the outcry if Marcia Clark or any other white member of the team had said it? And, sure, we all could have lived without him saying it, but I say, why not?

Bottom line: Darden pulled a couple of rhetorical boners in his remarks, but in a crazy way he added some temporary credibility to what has been one of the unspoken themes of the Simpson trial.

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Dana Parsons’ column appears Wednesday, Friday and Sunday.


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