We all remember, or most of us remember, where we were during the 1994 O.J. Simpson Ford Bronco chase. It was the first time many witnessed such broad media coverage of a real-life spectacle. The coverage and drama of the chase, splashed across television screens nationwide, transfixed the general public as it watched Simpson, a football star and film actor, fleeing from police and threatening suicide. The Bronco chase was the beginning of a media feeding frenzy that would continue throughout People v. O.J. Simpson in 1995. Lasting approximately nine months, the trial was the general
public’s first taste of reality television.
Solomon Jones, on-air host at WURD, moderated the March 15 Chancellor’s Forum titled “From O.J. to Bill Cosby: Race, Law and Media in the 21st Century.” He was joined by panelists with combined legal and media backgrounds including Sayde J. Ladov, past Chancellor and partner at Dolchin, Slotkin & Todd, P.C.; Nikki Johnson-Huston, The Law Offices of Nikki Johnson-Huston; Christine Flowers, associate at Joseph M. Rollo & Associates, P.C. and columnist with the Philadelphia Daily News; and Kevin V. Mincey, partner at Mincey & Fitzpatrick, LLC. The panel was co-presented by The
Barristers’ Association of Philadelphia.
What were these cases really about? The panelists discussed Simpson in terms of the intersection of the role of the media, the performance of the prosecution, jury nullification, race, fame and an American icon of color. In discussing the Cosby scandal, panelists primarily explored the gender gap, the statute of limitations and race.
Panelists generally agreed that Simpson was about race from the outset. Although Flowers remembered shock when the verdict was read and states that she viewed Simpson initially as an issue about an American hero, and not necessarily just race. Mincey disagreed, saying that race was an issue from the start, and once the Bronco chase commenced the case became about race and Simpson’s perceived guilt in the murder of his ex-wife and his ex-wife’s friend.
Huston explained that the case began at a time of a perfect storm, following the police brutality and beating of Rodney King in Los Angeles in 1991 and the ensuing riots the following year. People of color were fed up with the Los Angeles Police Department.
Simpson stood out because the entire trial was open to public scrutiny. With cameras being allowed in the courtroom, the public saw it all. Ladov said that “the pundit class appeared to be educating the prosecutors and seemed to know more than the prosecutors,” and because of the media attention Mincey believed “the case was over-tried.”
Ladov criticized the prosecution’s lack of preparation. She questioned why the prosecution ever let Mark Fuhrman on the stand. “Sometimes evidence is only as good as the manner presented,” she said.
Flowers began the Cosby discussion, stating her view that the attention surrounding the Cosby allegations was primarily about gender, not about race. Flowers discussed the statute of limitations and her view that the statute of limitations should be adhered to. She said that many women have come forward years after the alleged rapes committed by Cosby, and that there exists a difference of opinion as to validity of memories in these cases after many years had passed.
Both the Cosby scandal and Simpson involved a famous person of color accused of a heinous crime. Both men presented images and brands that were destroyed by the nature of the crimes they were accused of committing. Cosby’s legacy, like Simpson’s, has been ruined. Murals have been erased and, as the panelists discussed, his reputation has been destroyed. However, while both Cosby and Simpson are men of color, there is a divergence because of the nature of the
crime and as Flowers said, the possible role that gender played. Whatever your views of these high- profile cases, though, the issues remain prevalent in our society and continue to persist.
Maureen M. Farrell (firstname.lastname@example.org), principal of the Law Offices of Maureen M. Farrell, is an associate
editor of the Philadelphia Bar Reporter.
This article originally appeared in Philadelphia Bar Reporter, May 2016.