Sunday, April 27, 2008

Reverend Al Sharpton, OJ Simpson, and American Justice

By John W. Lillpop

On October 3, 1995, OJ Simpson was acquitted of murder. His guilt had seemed so obvious, to some. The verdict shocked and angered scores of millions of Americans.

In the minds of millions of Americans, Judge Lance Ito had presided over a miscarriage of justice that allowed a brutal killer to escape punishment for heinous crimes.

Many continue to believe that OJ Simpson killed Nicole Simpson and Ronald Goldman, both white, and should have been executed or imprisoned for life, instead of being set free.

Reverend Al Sharpton was not among those who lamented Simpson's acquittal.

In fact, no religious or political leader lead angry protesters through the streets to demand that Los Angeles be shut down because of the trial result.

Fast forward to April 25, 2008, where Queens Supreme Court Justice Arthur Cooperman ruled that three police officers were not guilty of murder in the case involving a black man, Sean Bell.

In this case, Reverend Al Sharpton decided that the verdict was unacceptable. The Reverend had this to say:

"We strategically know how to stop the city so people stand still and realize that you do not have the right to shoot down unarmed, innocent civilians," Sharpton told an overflow crowd of several hundred people at his National Action Network office in the historically black Manhattan neighborhood. "This city is going to deal with the blood of Sean Bell."

Of course, the reverend offered no specific details about why the verdict was wrong--except, presumably, for the fact that Sean Bell was black. That hardly seems reason enough to shut down a major world city.

I might agree with Sharpton if he had offered logical, concrete arguments. If there was legal malfeasance and racist manipulation in this complicated case, perhaps New York should be shut down.

However, there is another side to this story and the facts used by the court to reach the verdict.

Specifically, Judge Cooperman noted the unreliability of prosecution witnesses, through their renunciations and inconsistent statements, past criminal convictions and motivation to lie on the stand. The judge said "These factors played a significant part in the people's ability to prosecute their case and had the effect of eviscerating the credibility of the people's witnesses.... at times the testimony just didn't make sense."

Judge Cooperman also said:

"A trial is defined as a formal examination of the facts of a case by a court of law to decide the validity of a charge. It is also defined in the dictionary as a hardship, and, in many ways, this trial was a hardship."

The big question: Does a "formal examination of the facts of a case by a court of law" have any meaning to Reverend Sharpton or the millions of Americans who continue to believe that OJ Simpson escaped justice?

The bigger question: Are people who disagree with a verdict entitled to shut down a city based on that disagreement, however biased it may be?

The Really big question: Is it too late to shut down Los Angeles?