Last week news broke that former NFL superstar and Hollywood actor O.J. Simpson, “The Juice,” died at the age of 76 of prostate cancer. If you were around the ages of 8 to 10 years old on June 17, 1994, and watched the incredible award-winning primetime lineup “TGIF” on the ABC network, you may recall how the antics of Steve Urkel were preempted by a white Ford Bronco on a Los Angeles highway. If you were an NBA fan, the NBA Finals featuring the New York Knicks and the Houston Rockets was shrunken to the bottom right or left of the television screen while live footage of a slew of police cruisers trailing the Bronco in a weird sort of car chase took up the entire screen. Parents were puzzled as to what could be so important that “Family Matters” had to be interrupted. NBA fans were furious that Game Six of the NBA Finals was minimized to show a slow-motion car chase.

All that emotion was forgotten when the occupants of the Bronco were revealed. The vehicle was being driven by AC Cowlings, and in the rear was his friend and former teammate O.J. Simpson, who was threatening to shoot himself in the head. It was at that point that America locked into what would become the most all-consuming murder mystery and subsequent trial of the 20th century.

At the time of the discovery of the murders in Brentwood, Los Angeles, it was reported that O.J. Simpson was in Chicago on business. The police were not saying that he was a suspect or a person of interest. But once O.J. Simpson landed at LAX hours after being informed of the murders, the story changed from Simpson being a grieving ex-husband, concerned about the wellbeing of his two children who were in the home at the time of the incident, to him being the prime…and ONLY suspect. Handcuffed at the airport.

There is no need to rehash what was billed as “the trial of the century” even though the trial itself would establish many cultural gems and names that would reverberate into 2024. First you have the phrase made famous by Simpson attorney Johnnie Cochran, who became larger than life after the trial: “If it doesn’t fit, you must acquit.” Then you had ordinary people who became pseudo-celebrities: former L.A. police detective Mark Fuhrman, Nicole Brown Simpson’s friend Faye Resnick, O.J. guest-house resident Kato Kaelin, and Simpson “dream team” counsel leader and close friend Robert Kardashian, father of the billionaire Kardashian clan, whose daughter Kim would become infamous in her own way several years later. The Simpson trial and acquittal was a flashpoint and history lesson of white supremacy in the justice system upended by a wealthy Black man who could afford to successfully defend himself. We all remembered how Los Angeles burned during the 1992 uprising after the Rodney King verdict, when the jury of all-white citizens blatantly refused to convict the white police officers who were caught on video beating the daylights out of King on a dark city street. Black America wondered how it was possible that such a crime caught on video could lead jurors to ignore the obvious.

This was the backdrop for the O.J. Simpson trial. Black America wanted a fair trial with a fair outcome. The Los Angeles Police Department found itself again in the spotlight with bungled investigative evidence, allegations of evidence planting, racism and other oddities that helped to spearhead the doom of the L.A. District Attorney team of Marcia Clark and Chris Darden. Simpson’s acquittal was in part due to the inadequacies and racial fallacies of the Police Department. When people remember O.J. Simpson, they opine that he got away with the gruesome murders of his ex-wife and her friend. The truth of the matter was that Cochran and the “dream team” were able to show up the inefficiencies and racism of the department, which sowed the seeds of serious doubt in jurors and thoroughly tainted any evidence that was presented.

Why does no one want to acknowledge that fact? When news coverage revealed the great racial divide of the Simpson verdict, why is it that white America never did a deep dive into why Black America cheered the acquittal, instead of attempting to vilified us, calling us cold-hearted and disrespectful?

Some say that an all-Black jury, who appeared to be unsavvy, uneducated and bored during the nine-month trial, had their minds already set to acquit Simpson. But could this not be said about the all-white Mississippi jury that acquitted Roy Bryant and JW Milam of the murder of Emmett Till after exactly 67 minutes of deliberation and five days of testimony?

As we mull over the life of Orenthal James Simpson and extend our deepest sympathies to his family and children, it is important that a balanced perspective be found, one that could not be found during his lifetime. The murders of Nicole Brown Simpson and Ron Goldman are forever linked to O.J. in our collective memory. But who can forget Simpson being enshrined in the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1985 after 11 seasons in the NFL; leaping over suitcases in an airport for Hertz Rental; drinking TreeSweet Orange Juice in television commercials or in the pages of Ebony and Jet magazines? How can you separate a stellar legacy from infamy?