Justice for the Rich Isn't Justice for All : Simpson won acquittal because he played the money card, not the race card.

Robert Scheer is a Times contributing editor. He can be reached via e-mail at <76327.1675@compuserve.com>

Enough already. How much longer must we indulge this cacophony of outrage complaining that O.J. Simpson got away with murder? Maybe he did and maybe he didn't; he wouldn't be the first. But under our system of law, Simpson must be presumed innocent since he was not proved guilty. It is highly irresponsible for the Los Angeles district attorney, the governor and many other "leaders" to wantonly besmirch this sacred principle of our legal system.

Claiming to speak for the victims, they have encouraged the mob condemning the "black" jury's judgment. This conveniently ignores the fact that three of the jurors who voted for acquittal were not black. Was their judgment obscured by osmosis?

Anyway, how does fanning the fires of racism serve the memory of Nicole Brown, who was clearly the opposite of a racist? She married a black man and bore his children. When those children grow up, will they too be thought unfit to serve on a jury?

To be in a minority in this country means that throughout your life you will be judged by whites--in school, on the job and in the courts. Take the case of Girvies Davis, executed May 17 in Illinois. I didn't notice any outcry that this black man was brought before a white judge by a white prosecutor and convicted by an all-white jury for the killing of a white man. That situation was far closer to the norm than the Simpson trial. For once, the tables were turned, and it has become an excuse for public hysteria.

Simpson won by playing the money card, not the race card. Blacks don't have power; rich people do, and O.J. Simpson is one of the few who managed to cross that line. Being able to afford an army of top evidence experts is what made the difference in this case.

"The real problem here is that the American justice system . . . was not designed for a defendant with $4 million or $5 million to spend to create reasonable doubt," said Justice J. Anthony Kline of the California state Court of Appeal. Wrong. The system was always rigged to favor rich defendants, but we are only now forced to notice that disturbing fact because a rare black celebrity defendant showed up with the money to play.

Blacks accused of murder are typically impoverished, their defense is meager, and that's why they account for 40% of the people who are sentenced to death. Killing a white person is still the best route to Death Row; 85% of those who received the death penalty since 1977 were convicted of killing white people. Only 11% had killed a black person, even though almost half of the homicide victims were African Americans.

To listen to the babble on talk radio, you would think that blacks are coddled by the criminal-justice system. Were that the case, one out of three black men in their 20s would not now be under that system's control. As the Sentencing Project reported last week, the main cause of the startling increase in the incarceration of blacks is the inequitable prosecution of drug cases: "African Americans constitute 13% of monthly drug users, but represent 35% of arrests for drug possession, 55% of convictions and 74% of prison sentences."

The jails have come to be packed with black males because the drug laws impose a sentence 100 times harsher for the possession of crack cocaine, used mainly in the black ghettos, than the sentence imposed for powdered cocaine, the drug of choice in the white suburbs. That's playing the race card with a vengeance.

Racial prejudice continuously taints the actions of police, prosecutors and judges, and that ugly truth emerged in the O.J. Simpson trial. It was not Johnnie Cochran who first played the race card; it was the prosecution. They dared to offer as a star witness someone known to them to be a fanatical racist who bragged of pulverizing citizens and fabricating evidence. Now Mark Fuhrman is dismissed as a crackpot, but at the time he was a totally convincing witness who drew rave reviews from the media and trial's legal camp followers.

How many other cops have lied on the stand? How many defendants are now serving time because their lawyers lacked the resources to challenge the credibility of the prosecution's "expert" witnesses and the "evidence" they collected?

Cochran is no hero. I assume that, like most successful criminal lawyers, he is a hired gun devoid of scruples when it comes to getting his client off. But maybe that's just what you need to keep prosecutors straight. Too bad only the rich can afford him.

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