Football star OJ Simpson has died. He became famous for a murder trial that showed divisions between blacks and whites.

OJ Simpson exits a limousine in court surrounded by police officers.

It wasn't murder that sent OJ Simpson to prison, but an attempted robbery. He was tried here in 2008. Photo: sportfotodienst/imago

My relationship with former football player Orenthal James (OJ) Simpson dates back to the 1970s. I grew up in the Hudson Valley and became a fan of watching him break down opposing defenses and run down the field for the Buffalo Bills.

My admiration was the reason why in 1973 or 1974, when I must have been ten years old, I set out alone to the Saratoga County Fair, which was held a few blocks from my parents' house. Simpson was supposed to hand out autographs there. I was at the front of the line, which was getting longer and longer.

Then OJ appeared. He is 1.85 meters tall and handsome. He emerged from a small aluminum trailer wearing a 1970s sports suit in the whitest white. He signed autographs under a pavilion, I got one and watched him for a while.

Completely different perception

At some point, for no apparent reason, the crowd broke up and people stormed the pavilion. OJ jumped over the railing, landed gracefully, ran towards the trailer and disappeared inside. The crowd ran towards the trailer and started swinging it! With OJ and everyone who was in it! Finally the police showed up and dispersed the crowd.

According to a CBS poll, 78 percent of blacks believed Simpson had been framed by racist police. This shocked and amazed the white population. 75 percent of those surveyed believed Simpson was guilty.

For a long time after that, I didn't think about the incident, or OJ Simpson or American football, until Simpson's murder trial hit the news in 1994. Prosecutors alleged that Simpson stabbed his ex-wife Nicole Brown already. his friend Ron Goldman. I stayed attentive; It was hard not to, even from Europe. What I didn't expect was for something profound and disturbing to be revealed about America: namely, the very different perceptions of black and white Americans regarding law enforcement and the country's criminal justice system.

According to a CBS poll, 78 percent of blacks believed Simpson had been framed by racist police. This shocked and astonished the white population; 75 percent of those surveyed believed Simpson was guilty. As a liberal, middle-class white man, he knew full well that racism runs deep in America and that African Americans have been victims of racist police forces for years.

From the lynchings that occurred during the 60s to the Rubin Carter case. Carter spent years in prison for a murder he did not commit. And of course, Rodney King's brutal attack was caught on camera in 1991. Everyone could see that King was severely mistreated by white Los Angeles Police Department officers.

But still, I thought during the trial, the evidence against Simpson would be overwhelming. Finally, there was consistent blood, hair and fibers that linked Simpson to the murders. Bloody footprints the size of his and a glove exactly like the one his murdered ex-wife bought and wore at televised football games were found at the Los Angeles crime scene. Another glove stained with his and the victims' blood was found in Simpson's home.

Racist police violence

But African Americans' distrust of the system was so great and their experiences with the police had been so terrible that they were convinced that Simpson had been framed: another black man persecuted by the system because of the color of his skin. He opened my eyes to how black Americans see things through a completely different lens than white Americans, including my family and friends.

Never before in the United States has the deep cultural division between whites and African Americans been so evident. Even today, even though 30 years have passed, the OJ case remains very important for the understanding of the United States. Smartphone video after smartphone video of racist police violence against African Americans documents the phenomenon. The most famous case: the 2020 murder of George Floyd at the hands of a white Minneapolis police officer. These cases have further deepened the division.

And that's one of the reasons President Biden is having such a difficult time in the election. African Americans do not want to give their vote to a white man just because the other is an even worse option. Polls show Biden's approval rating among Black voters has fallen nearly 20 points since the beginning of 2023. But the Biden administration knows it needs 90 percent of the Black vote to win.

It boasts that Biden appointed a Black woman to the Supreme Court and adopted policies to reduce inequality between white and Black Americans, such as supporting Black-owned businesses, expanding access to housing, improving educational opportunities and regulations to eliminate inequalities in health care and education.

But African Americans see it differently. The murder trial reminded me of the angry crowd I saw running after Simpson in the early 1970s. I couldn't imagine that white football fans interested in an autograph would launch a racist attack on a star player out of the blue. Afro-American. But maybe it's because I'm white.

Of English by Ann-Kathrin Leclère

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