When witness Kathleen Bell, her voice shaking with emotion, told of hearing Mark Fuhrman utter one of his racial epithets, the 22-year-old white woman in the second row of the jury looked as though she’d never heard anything so vile.
She frowned. Her brow furrowed. Her usually placid face turned troubled. Her eyes didn’t leave Bell as the witness, a woman of her own race and time, remembered Fuhrman saying that, if he had his way, all African Americans--he used another word--"would be gathered together and burned.”
It would not be surprising that the testimony would shock this particular juror in the O.J. Simpson murder trial. During jury selection, when asked to describe the extent of racial discrimination against blacks, she replied: “Not too serious.”
The juror’s hometown, Burbank, has remained isolated from many of the Southland’s more obvious racial tensions. It is predominantly white, with African Americans making up just 1.6% of the city’s 93,643 residents in the 1990 census.
The pundits have talked a lot about black rage influencing the predominantly African American jury. But on Tuesday morning, watching the woman, it seemed that the prosecution may be facing another threat--white outrage against former Detective Mark Fuhrman.
White outrage against Fuhrman would provide a new twist to the Simpson case, one not previously discussed. Instead the media have been preoccupied with the reaction of the African American jurors in the trial of the black athletic hero. But when Bell began to testify, it was clear there was another angle to the story.
Bell told how she’d met Fuhrman by chance. While working as a Century 21 real estate agent, she occasionally would drop into a nearby Marine recruiting office. Fuhrman, an ex-Marine, dropped in, too. She thought the tall Fuhrman would be a good match for one of her friends, a tall woman. They began talking. She happened to mention Marcus Allen, an African American football running back. That set Fuhrman off into a diatribe that was familiar to Nazi Germany--but not to Bell.
Her voice quavered as she told about her reaction. “I got kind of teary-eyed and I left,” she said.
Her account was the first time the jurors had heard someone testify that Fuhrman had used the word “nigger” and advocated black genocide.
The jurors have become skilled at looking impassive. But this time, their hands gave them away. They made notes with quick, energetic motions, their ballpoint pens pressing hard on their stenographer pads.
The African Americans, as expected, looked furious. A 71-year-old black woman watched with her lips pursed in anger. Another black woman looked disgusted. A third African American woman stared at the witness, resting her chin on hand, never leaving that position during Bell’s testimony.
The reaction of the non-African Americans was the same.
The young Burbank woman seemed the most troubled. But a young white woman alternate followed every word, taking more notes than she usually does. A 60-year-old white woman and a 32-year-old Latino man next to her looked as though they were watching a tennis match, heads moving back and forth between witness Bell and defense attorney F. Lee Bailey, who was questioning her.
The jurors’ reaction was the same when the next witness, Natalie Singer, another white woman, remembered Fuhrman telling her and a friend that “the only good nigger is a dead nigger.”
I talked to chief defense attorney Johnnie L. Cochran Jr. afterward.
He felt Bell was a powerful witness and he, too, had noticed the shocked reaction of the white juror from Burbank. The testimony was so effective, he said, that he was thinking about cutting down some of the defense’s other testimony.
The prosecution, too, conceded the effectiveness of the witnesses. Deputy Dist. Atty. Christopher A. Darden said the Simpson team has “clearly established” that Fuhrman is a racist. “We have not disputed it. . . . Everything they wanted to accomplish is done.”
Nobody knows how Tuesday’s testimony will affect the outcome of the trial. As the prosecution frequently says, O.J. Simpson, not Mark Fuhrman, is on trial, and the jury will consider a substantial amount of evidence implicating the defendant.
But while Fuhrman is not on trial, the emotions in the courtroom Tuesday seemed to indicate that his racism will be factored into the thought processes of all the jurors, white, black and Latino.