O.J. trial exposed blatant racism inside U.S. police departments
And murder of Laquan McDonald shows nothing has changed 20 years later
According to Chicago police, on the night of Oct. 20, 2014, 17 year-old Laquan McDonald had a knife in his hand and swung it in “an “aggressive, exaggerated manner” as he moved toward them.
In the nearly 400 pages of reports submitted by the officers, police claim that Jason Van Dyke fired his weapon because he feared for his life. And not only did he move back several times trying to maintain a safe distance from the menacing McDonald but that Van Dyke repeatedly asked him to drop the weapon.
Police said that even after McDonald was shot, the teen tried to stand back up while pointing the knife at them, forcing Van Dyke to fire again, not only in defense of his life but to protect the other officers as well.
Then the dash cam video was released and we learned very little in those 400 pages was actually true. We see that McDonald was walking away from officers, not lunging at them. We see Van Dyke was out of his car for six seconds before he began firing and that he hit McDonald with 16 shots in 15 seconds. Nine bullets hit the teen in the back, some while he was lying on the pavement.
In short, Van Dyke murdered McDonald and the other officers at the scene wrote hundreds of pages of lies just to cover for him.
You don’t need to look back 50 years — when officers used dogs and batons to attack peaceful marchers — to identify reasons that many in the black community distrust the police. You don’t need to go back 35 years when officers in New Orleans terrorized blacks with its “booking and bagging” practice when suspects were beaten with telephone books and bags placed over their heads. To understand the rift between the black community and the police, you don’t have to rewind 20 years to analyze the video of Rodney King being beaten or the trial — and riots — that followed.
There are plenty of examples happening in real time, of police officers manufacturing reasons to arrest, imprison and even murder black people. McDonald’s senseless death at the hands of Van Dyke is not the norm. But how police officers protected Van Dyke is.
Just as much of white America gasped in disbelief at how some in the black community celebrated O.J. Simpson’s acquittal, many in the black community gasped at the number of white people who thought the reaction was about Simpson.
Detective Mark Furhman — the man who found the bloody glove and other pieces of evidence — is on a recording dropping the N-word more than 40 times and talking casually about planting evidence and falsifying reports to imprison black men. He pleads the Fifth when asked if he planted evidence in the Simpson case. And for some reason there are people who believe none of this is supposed to matter.
Furhman’s unsavoriness does not make Simpson innocent or even likable, and I for one do not find him to be either. But Furhman — who was on the police force for 20 years before he was forced to retire after committing perjury — speaks to the level of comfort some had and continue to have with corruption among our officers. We have been trained to always give first responders the benefit of the doubt because of the hazards of the job, sometimes requiring that we might have to ignore the laws of physics to expunge any wrongdoing.
For example in 2014, Louisiana State Police said Victor White III died in the back of a cruiser because he shot himself in the back while his hands were cuffed behind him. The coroner said the bullet entered through his chest and the gunpowder residue found near the wound was not consistent with that of a close-range injury. And yet, despite his face being bruised and hands not tested for gunpowder, the coroner still ruled his death a suicide.
The trial of the century may have started with the question “Did O.J. do it?” but for many in the black community it became “Just how many lives has Mark Furhman ruined?” For two decades, this man was allowed to patrol the streets with a badge in one hand and racism in the other. He is on tape saying “We were tight. I mean we could have murdered people and got away with it. We were tight. We all knew what to say.”
And some white people thought the response was about Simpson.
Just as some white people believe the phrase “black lives matter” somehow means “white lives do not” because they are unable or unwilling to look at someone else’s circumstances.
Study after study has found that blacks receive longer prison sentences than their white counterparts for similar crimes. Former New York mayor Michael Bloomberg passionately defended the policy of stop-and-frisk — which targeted minorities — despite its evidence showing whites were more likely to carry guns and drugs. (https://www.law.upenn.edu/live/news/2170-new-study-by-professor-david-s-abrams-confirms#.V2LAxFd2Okg)
To not question the credibility of Furhman’s account of the crime scene would be to ignore a century of unfair treatment by the criminal justice system, the recent history of racism by the Los Angeles Police Department and the arrogance of a prosecution team to put a known racist detective on the stand in an attempt to prove a black man guilty. Again none of this means Simpson’s hands are clean, only that the dirty hands of a corrupt police force tainted the evidence. There’s a rotten apple in every bunch. Those apples should be removed, not protected.
Think about it: If it wasn’t for the tapes, Furhman may have stayed on the force another 20 years.
If it wasn’t for the video, the officers who beat Rodney King and/or falsified the report afterward may all have stayed on the force with him.
The only reason that Van Dyke was charged with murdering McDonald in 2014 was because a court forced the city to make the dash cam video public. This week a judge ruled emails between city officials about McDonald must be made public and a special prosecutor will be assigned. Unfortunately the officers who lied about what happened that night have yet to be charged.
This is why O.J. Simpson may be the name attached to the story but his fate was not what mattered most to the black community. Everything changed when Furhman took the stand and yet, when you look at what happened in Chicago 20 years later, it feels as if nothing has changed at all.