Why O.J.'s Saga Lives and Trayvon's Died

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Twenty years ago this week, former football great O.J. Simpson savagely attacked and killed his ex-wife Nicole Brown and her friend Ron Goldman. The double murder and subsequent trial generated a small library of videos and books, the most recent of the latter being Kim Goldman’s, Can’t Forgive: My 20-Year Battle with O.J. Simpson. I just finished Goldman’s insightful memoir yesterday. I must have read at least ten other books on the case.

A year ago this week, the trial of George Zimmerman for the murder of Trayvon Martin began in Sanford, Florida. Although not as sensational as Simpson’s, Zimmerman’s trial was arguably the most publicized and easily the most politically charged in the twenty years since. Yet to date, there have only been two books on the case, my own If I Had A Son: Race, Guns, and the Railroading of George Zimmerman and the painfully orthodox Suspicion Nation by NBC’s Lisa Bloom, neither of which got any attention. To my knowledge, there has not been a single, thoughtful, long-form essay from any major magazine, left, right, or center. The video front has been just as quiet, and I think I know why this is so.

In the past, the individuals who manned the New York-Hollywood axis and the university outposts in between — the cultural left –tended to champion the cause of the accused. For nearly a century, from Sacco and Vanzetti to Alger Hiss to Hurricane Carter to Leonard Peltier to Mumia Abu Jamal, they would swarm a specific crime to sell the American public on the innocence of the guilty, even the conspicuously guilty.

This practice aligned with the progressives’ self-image. Historically, they imagined themselves as the Henry Fonda character in the 1957 film classic, Twelve Angry Men. In his screenplay notes, liberal author Reginald Rose describes that character as “a man who sees all sides of every question and constantly seeks the truth. A man of strength tempered with compassion. Above all, he is a man who wants justice to be done and will fight to see that it is.”

In the movie, this juror alone champions the cause of a young Hispanic man accused of murder until he can persuade his fellows to acquit. “We may be wrong,” the Fonda juror concedes. “We may be trying to return a guilty man to the community. No one can really know. But we have reasonable doubt, and this is a safeguard that has enormous value in our system.”

That was fantasy. If movie liberals defend the accused out of the goodness of their hearts, real ones defend the accused to embarrass the system and shame America. In her memoir, The Never-Ending Wrong, Pulitzer Prize winning author Katherine Ann Porter tells how she first came to understand this. The occasion was the impending 1927 execution of Italian anarchists and convicted murderers, Sacco and Vanzetti.As the final hours ticked down, Porter stood vigil with others artists and writers in Boston.

Ever the innocent liberal, Porter approached her group leader, a “fanatical little woman” and a dogmatic Communist, and expressed her hope that Sacco and Vanzetti could still be saved. The response of this female comrade is noteworthy largely for its candor: “Saved?” she snarled. “Who wants them saved? What earthly good would they do us alive?”

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