Something tragic happened to Johnnie Cochran on the road to becoming today's Clarence Darrow. He forgot the very foundations he had so carefully laid with the jury. He forgot about the truth.
Make no mistake, Cochran was right to cry "foul" and thunder against the hypocrisy of allowing Mark Fuhrman, who would "burn all the niggers," to be believed as the dispenser of justice, as the do-gooder public servant who found the glove. Cochran served not only his client but also the entire community by fighting hard to secure the tapes that unmasked Fuhrman for what he is: an unrepentant hater, a disgrace to his badge and a person who must be held accountable before the law for his perjury. But in his eagerness to win, Cochran crossed the line when he compared Fuhrman to Adolf Hitler. His action demeaned the Holocaust, caused pain to its victims and showed insensitivity to the Goldman family and to his own co-counsels who are Jewish and not in a position to break ranks now and comment.
Was it worth it just to raise the brow of a single juror? Cochran must surely know that you can't compare Fuhrman with the Nazi leader who conquered Europe and gassed millions of men, women and children in death camps? Can't Fuhrman just be a despicable bigot without climbing to the top of the rogues' chart? Or is the quest for victory so consuming that anything is permissible in order to achieve it?
I thought of this scenario during Cochran's summation: a team of prosecutors being escorted into Judge Lance Ito's courtroom by a group of skinhead bodyguards. I could just see Cochran rising with all his eloquence, reminding Ito that this court must not only dispense justice, but must be perceived as dispensing justice. "What kind of a court is this," he asks, looking at the prosecution table, "when the custodians of truth come here on the arms of the practitioners of hate? How can we remain silent and indifferent to such an outrageous act?
"Judge," he says, "There is a conspiracy afoot here against my client. Such behavior is a slap in the face to the entire community and is grounds for an immediate mistrial."
The scenario ended there, just in time to see Louis Farrakhan's neatly dressed Nation of Islam guards escorting Cochran into the courthouse. Not a word of outrage was expressed.
I remembered some of Farrakhan's hateful words: "Here the Jews don't like Farrakhan so they call him 'Hitler.' Well, that's a good name; Hitler was a very great man." In the same speech, he called Judaism a "gutter religion."
The next time Cochran is accompanied to court by the Nation of Islam, perhaps it would be appropriate to recall his quote to the jury: "If you are untruthful in small things, you shouldn't be believed in big things."
One final thought: Cochran spoke for all of us when he said that there is life after the O.J. Simpson trial. The lawyers and the judge will go on to other cases and new challenges. All of us who live here need to remember that we have only one city, one home, one community in which we must live together as neighbors and friends. Let each of us, despite our differences, do all we can to make the future less hateful, more respectful and tolerant of one another.