By Erika Pontarelli and Stephen Singer
Tuesday’s acquittal of O.J. Simpson on murder charges prompted strong reactions on the streets of Northwest Washington, but sympathies weren’t always divided along racial lines.
Some blacks and whites said they supported the verdict and that justice had been served, while others of both races said the justice system had failed.
Alonzo Williams, 47, a homeless man and D.C. native, said the trial was fair and that the prosecution failed to prove Simpson’s whereabouts at the time of the murders of his ex-wife, Nicole Brown Simpson, and her friend, Ronald Goldman.
“As far as I am concerned, there’s only one eyewitness who actually saw who killed those people and that animal cannot talk,” said Williams, who is black. “[Mrs. Simpson’s] dog was the only eyewitness.”
Kevin Summers, 17, who recently moved to Washington from Pittsburgh, agreed the jury reached the right verdict. “I think it was well justified,” he said, adding he believed evidence against Simpson was planted.
Summers, who is white, said Simpson should receive financial assistance to cover his legal fees because of the trial’s length.
Silver Spring resident Michelle Christmas, 26, stopped in a park on Dupont Circle, said she did not expect the jury to acquit Simpson.
“Obviously he was guilty,” said Christmas, a Venezuelan native. “Or, if he wasn’t guilty, he was involved.”
Bill Peters, 47, of Falls Church, Va., said he expected the jury to find Simpson guilty of second-degree murder.
“Certainly it helps to have a lot of money for defense,” said Peters, who is white.
Many people brought up the importance of race, class and Simpson’s wealth when discussing the trial’s outcome.
The verdict “has nothing to do with him being black and she’s [Nicole Brown Simpson] white,” said Howard University graduate student Jill Normington. “It’s because he’s O.J. and he has a public persona and people already knew who he was.”
But Robin Oatis, a graduate student at Howard University, said race was a factor from the beginning of the trial.
“The fact that he was black and she was a white woman played on white fear,” she said. “If both had been black the case wouldn’t have gotten so much attention.”
Washington resident Anne Vanderberry, 72, a retired secretary, said she was concerned about the repercussions of emphasizing race in the trial.
“To me, [race] should not have been brought into it,” Vanderberry said. “My concern is that it may divide the races even more after the trial.”
Mark Sargent, associate dean of the University of Maryland School of Law in Baltimore, said he was more concerned about the influence of money.
Echoing an observation raised by Peters, Sargent said: “If you have the resources in money or notoriety, you can buy all the reasonable doubts you need. You can generate reasonable doubt about even the strongest prosecution case.”
He called the trial “a disaster for the rule of law and respect for law in this country.”
But Katheryn Russell, an assistant professor of criminology at the University of Maryland at College Park, saw the verdict differently.
A guilty verdict “could have said the status quo is OK, with racist cops talking on tape about” racist practices within the Los Angeles police department, Russell said.
However, she said, the case will be haunted by the belief among “a large number of people” that Simpson “got away with murder.”
Russell added that it is “difficult for whites to understand why blacks support him.”
She said, for instance, testimony about police harassment and unlawful searches of African Americans would have greater weight for many blacks than a suspect’s lack of an alibi.
Capital News Service reporter Kera Ritter contributed to this report.