OJ Simpson and Casey Anthony: Court of Public Opinion, Race and the Media
In the most sensationalized case since the O. J. Simpson murder trial, Casey Anthony sat in a courtroom on Tuesday, July 5, 2011 and was cleared of murdering her 2 year old daughter Caylee Anthony. I followed the verdict via Twitter simply because it’s convenient and I enjoy the 140 character thoughts. Just like everyone else in the nation, I had my own opinions of Casey Anthony, her demeanor, her bizarre behavior after her child was reported missing and how I thought that this case would play out. I was also reminded of a day, a little over 15 years ago, when I had similar thoughts, premonitions and opinions about O. J. Simpson and the then “Trial of the Century”.
On October 3, 1995, Orenthal James Simpson was cleared of murdering Nicole Brown Simpson and Ron Goldman. There was a severe racial divide in the reactions. Being a college freshman at a predominantly white university allowed me a rare view into the anger of White America when the verdict was announced. There was yelling, screaming, cursing, crying, racial slurs and denouncements of the legal system. Everyone absolutely knew that O. J. Simpson was guilty of murder and by everyone, I mean most White people. Black America felt very differently. There was joy, hugs, tears, feelings of vindication because O. J. Simpson, the Black athlete, was not convicted of killing his White wife and her boyfriend. Every single one of those reactions were for the wrong reasons. As I read the tweets about the Casey Anthony not guilty verdict, I knew that it was a matter of time before someone brought race into the discussion and I wasn’t disappointed. For the sake of not creating drama, I won’t use names but someone tweeted, “If Casey Anthony were Black this verdict would have been different”. Here we go again.
I consider myself enlightened. I understand how the justice system works. I don’t judge people based on race, religion, creed, sexual orientation, tattoos, language spoken, height, eye color, favorite sports team….well….maybe that but that’s not the point. I try my best to not judge but with the emergence of social media and instant access to everyone’s very thoughts, feelings and opinions, I am beginning to feel as if I’m in the minority. In both the O. J. Simpson case and the Casey Anthony case, both defendants were tried and convicted in the court of public opinion. Both were guilty until proven innocent. In both cases, O.J. and Casey’s skin color seemed to be the biggest pieces of evidence for those that wanted a guilty verdict. Nothing else mattered. The debacle that the Los Angeles Police Department created by not following proper procedures, the tampering with of evidence by Los Angeles personnel, the circumstantial evidence, and conversely, the matching hair, blood and gloves found in both Nicole and O.J.’s homes and cars, that mishandling of the blood samples likely saved O. J. of being convicted and matching bloody footprints could not contend with supporting “our own”.
Casey Anthony was (un)lucky enough to be tried in the age of social media. Not only could the support or anger of the masses be discussed at lunch, watercoolers and cell phones but it was Facebooked, Tweeted, Tumblrd, Touted, texted and instant messaged. That’s in addition to the constant, biased media coverage…..Nancy Grace anyone? Can you imagine what it would have been like had social media existed during the O. J. Simpson trial? More than 15 years later, there is still such anger surrounding the O. J. Simpson verdict and the Casey Anthony trial is similar enough that when Kim Kardashian tweeted, “WHAT!!!???!!! CASEY ANTHONY FOUND NOT GUILTY!!!! I am speechless!!!” one of her followers replied with, “So was Nicole Brown Simpson’s family when your dad got OJ off”. I can’t even follow that with a snide comment.
At the end of the day, we must trust that our legal system functions as intended. We must accept the decisions that juries are tasked with making and move on. Most importantly we must be intelligent and progressive enough to form opinions without race being the primary factor. It’s my hope for our future.