Warning -- this is long, and it's about the OJ verdict, so delete now if
you have no patience for it . . . can't say I'd blame you.  Until a few
hours ago, I would have, too.

        Hi, folks.  Not sure why I'm doing this, except to reassure myself
that there _are_ people who didn't spend the last couple of hours glued to
communications devices and talking in the hallways and shaking their
heads or jumping up & down . . . as some of you may know, the O.J.
verdict is in.  Not guilty on all counts.  Anthony, even Quebec is
starting to look pretty good to me at the moment . . .

        I have to say that for me this is one of the most embarrassing,
shameful moments of American public life.  And I think part of what's
motivating me to write is the unfailing conviction that the rest of the
world will see us & our judicial system as a bunch of clowns at the
circus . . . a perception that I share, in large measure.  It's not easy
having a mandatory ringside seat at a circus.

        But I want to tell people what it was like around here for the past
hour, because . . . well, if I'm honest, at least partly because I want
to say, no, no, we're not _all_ like that! -- and partly because the
situation is a lot more complex, perplexing, and upsetting than it seems
at first.  So . . .

        When the news came, I was in class.  My students were all visibly
excited and anxious to hear; at the beginning of class someone announced
that she had a Walkperson and could deliver the news as soon as the
envelope was opened.  I started everyone inkshedding -- but
about ten minutes in, spontaneous conversations about the verdict started
breaking out.  After the (abortive) inkshedding, the student with the
radio took a poll:  11 people thought the verdict would be innocent, 10
thought it would be guilty.  Almost to a person, the people who thought
the verdict was guilty were white.  And, almost to a person, the people
who thought the verdict was innocent were minorities -- students of Arab

        After the inkshedding, people met in groups for a while, and then
were free to leave, as they had to make photocopies for the next class.
All of the people who thought innocent left; the room, then, was filled
with white people who were hoping for a guilty verdict.

        Waiting for the verdict felt like a scene from some 30's newsreel
. . . everyone stood anxiously around the woman with the radio, whose
face would change with every announcement that she heard.  Every time her
expression changed, the room fell silent.  "Ito's in the courtroom now."
"He's calling in the jurors."  Finally the verdict came.  Her mouth and
eyes turned into perfect round Os.  "Not guilty on all counts."  The room
erupted into shouts of dismay.  Disconsolately, people talked for a
while, then gathered up their things, and walked out.  "I knew it."
"He's got too much money."  "I can't believe it."

        On the way back to my office I passed a young black [sorry if I'm
politically incorrect, here] woman, who was using the pay phone.  She was
just receiving the news -- and literally jumping and whooping for joy.  I
couldn't believe it.  I just couldn't even fathom what was going through
her head.

        I came into our writing center and talked to two of the tutors,
who were of the opinion that the jury just wanted to go home, they'd just
gotten tired of the case.  In a few minutes, that woman who'd been on the
phone came in.  We started talking about the trial, and I asked her,
essentially, how she could _possibly_ think that OJ didn't do it.  Her
answers surprised me.  I mean, they're the standard answers you hear --
but here was a living, breathing person who believed them.  She thought,
basically, that Mark Furman, the detective in the case who'd been
responsible for collecting the evidence, was a racist psychotic capable
of anything.  She thought that perhaps Nicole Simpson had arranged to pay
him money in return for whatever happened in 1989 (And I don't _know_
what happened; I really haven't been following this thing.)  She thought
that because the LA Police Department was, as a whole, so racist in its
treatment of blacks that what _really_ happened was anybody's guess.  The
story of the verdict, as far as I could tell, seemed to her to be that if
you're a powerful black man, you can escape the systematic, unnoticed,
and unpunished injustices of the criminal justice system.  I could see
why that story was compelling.

        I might even find it so, if it weren't for the fact that _I've_
been hearing the story as one of domestic violence, which often goes
unpunished.  Or if it weren't for the fact that I was hearing it as a
story of money and prestige enabling someone to buy his way out of
anything.  Those were the stories my white, liberal colleagues who were
gathered, shell-shocked, in the hallways were telling.  And I listened to
those stories, but the black woman's words were ringing in my ears, and I
had . . . how shall I say . . . a reasonable doubt about what all of this

        Then I talked to a lawyer.  He'd been living in LA, and had
practiced law there for several years.  He underscored what the young
woman had said to me:  that the racism in that police department -- and
in white LA -- is pervasive beyond belief to outsiders.  As I listened to
_him_ talking, I became aware that Johnny Cochrane, one of OJ's lawyers,
was not the fool I'd thought he'd been.  I thought he was forever going
off on tangents (especially about Furman's racism, which didn't seem to
have much to do with two dead bodies, as far as I could see.)  Now I see
that Johnny Cochrane's rhetorical situation didn't really involve white
America at all -- it involved the twelve people on the jury, nine of whom
were black.  He'd understood that from the beginning, of course (why
he makes so much money and I don't, along with the fact that I can't
throw a football); he didn't care what the media made of him.  And at that
moment I clearly saw what I don't usually see -- that although we live
in the same place, and although it often seems otherwise, my minority
students, colleagues, neighbors and I inhabit _completely_ different
worlds.  What must it be like to believe that OJ's innocent?  What
_other_ beliefs & attitudes, ones more closely tied to my classroom and
the events there, are implicit in that belief?  At this moment, I can't
even imagine.

        Well, the other thing the laywer I spoke with said was that hearing
the verdict was sort of like being in an accident or finding out you have a
serious disease, in that we're hearing it now, and we have reactions, but
the effects will be felt for a long, long time.  One effect for me this
afternoon is to wonder if I'm really ever bridging any gaps in the
classroom, or if, rather, what looks like understanding to me feels to my
students like adopting protective coloring.  I wonder what really is the
point of literacy, if my students and I see the same point, if the point
is even anything I can stomach.

        Well.  I've tried your patience long enough.  My students tell me
that one reason people write is to get their views heard; in that spirit,
I want to beg indulgence.  It's easy to take the fantastic charade of a
fiasco that was this trial and turn a simple moral out of it.  Resist the
impulse.  Please.


Marcy Bauman
Writing Program
University of Michigan-Dearborn
4901 Evergreen Rd.
Dearborn, MI 48128

email:  [log in to unmask]