The Commodification of Justice -- And Other Questions

LeoCasey at LeoCasey at
Wed Oct 4 12:24:40 MDT 1995

Jerry is correct, I believe, to point out that one very important dynamic of
the OJ case and verdict is the "commodification" of justice, in which the
wealthy can commit crimes and then buy freedom. This is a long story, with
recent chapters in cases such as the Willian Kennedy Smith date rape trial.

But I find a reductionist tendency in Jerry's postings which would seem to
reduce the entire case to this one commodification dynamic. I think that
there a number of other cross-cutting issues here, and it is a mistake to
ignore them.

1. Contrary to the OJ defense, there is an important dynamic of gender
oppression at work. The fact that the crimes involved the culmination of
domestic violence made it more possible, in the context of a misogynist
society which minimizes such actions, to ignore them.

2. Contrary to the prosecution, there is an important dynamic of racial
oppression at work. So long as the rankest of racists are sheltered and given
free rein with the police forces of the our inner cities, and so long as the
life experiences of those who live in the inner city includes multiple
experiences of physical abuse and violence and frames, there is no reason for
a jury which includes such folks to believe evidence given to them by clearly
suspect police. The police in the OJ case were caught in a series of manifest
lies, starting with their prevericating explanation for their
unconstitutional search of OJ's house and concluding with Fuhrman's complete
misrepresentation of himself, and the prosecution, in its business as usual,
 presented what it new to be a lie as the truth. For a jury of people of
color (and for those who understand their life experiences), this was a
"mountain of reasonable doubt" which matched the "mountain of evidence."

3. Finally, as Patricia Williams so aptly put it on last night's
McNeil-Lehrer, there is a process here of the "spectacularization" of justice
-- as it becomes that post-modern televised spectacle,  the man who is
himself a product of television has a status and a power unknown to the
ordinary defendant.

The relationship of the African-American community to this process is as
complicated and complex as the trial itself. Part of what is happening is a
response to the racial oppression raised by the trial; part of what is
happening is, alas, an expression of the power of the spectacle, of faith in
heros constructed in the discourse of television, and of the failure to take
domestic violence seriously. There is even a segment within the community who
would rather see a black media icon go free than a guilty man be punished.
Unfortunately, I suspect that there will be a backlash of sorts, especially
insofar as the media frames the jury's verdict in the context of my last
point of analysis, and that issues of racial justice, from affirmative action
to the criminal justice system's treatment of the overwhelming majority of
poor black defendants, will be harmed.

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