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NEWS ANALYSIS : Families' Anger Erupts Outside the Courtroom


When Johnnie L. Cochran Jr. compared Mark Fuhrman to Adolf Hitler on Thursday, Fred Goldman clenched his fists, twisted in his seat, and began to mutter angrily and audibly in a courtroom where the only sound had been the passionate final argument of O.J. Simpson's lead attorney.

At the first opportunity, Goldman bolted out the door and down nine floors to the microphone in the grubby, echoing lobby of the Criminal Courts Building. It all happened so quickly that only four or five of the hundreds of journalists in and around the building had time to make their own way downstairs to listen. But once he strode to the microphone, a nation heard what he had to say.

Cochran, Ronald Lyle Goldman's grieving father spat, is "a disgusting human being" who "ought to be put away." Fred Goldman, who is Jewish, went on to assail Cochran for accepting as bodyguards members of the Nation of Islam, followers of Louis Farrakhan, whose speeches and writings often have been criticized as anti-Semitic.

But to Simpson's family, which responded with its own televised news conference later, Cochran was the defender not only of their wrongly accused son and brother, but also of fundamental American liberties.

"It's wrong, even when you're hurting, for someone to get up and personally attack our lawyers and say that they're liars," said the defendant's sister, Shirley Baker.

She said the family had accepted help from the Nation of Islam because they had been denied the secure parking and escorts the county has provided the Goldman and Brown families.

Modern America is a complicated place and what it witnessed Thursday was not so much just another angry outburst in our ongoing national quarrel over race, but the collision between two strains of what is perhaps our most communal powerful force--victimhood. The only unchallenged moral authority in contemporary American society is the moral authority of victims. Thursday, both sides--Cochran, the indefatigable opponent of racism, and Goldman, the father of a murdered son--spoke in the righteous confidence all victims now enjoy.

And this being America, people around them started choosing sides.

"I heard the city rip apart," said defense lawyer Gigi Gordon.

Cochran had begun the day by renewing his attack on discredited former LAPD Detective Mark Fuhrman, whom he called "a lying, perjuring, genocidal racist." He also renewed his contention that the Simpson jurors bear the responsibility of sending a message beyond the courthouse walls. "Stop this cover-up! Stop this cover-up!" Cochran said. "If you don't stop it, then who? Do you think the Police Department is going to stop it? Do you think the D.A.'s office is going to stop it? It has to be stopped by you."

As he moved to a climax, Cochran drew a comparison between Fuhrman and the Nazi dictator. "There was another man not too long ago in the world who had those same views, who wanted to burn people, who had racist views and ultimately had power over people in his country," the defense attorney mused. "People didn't care. People said he is just crazy. He is just a half-baked painter. They didn't do anything about it. This man, this scourge, became one of the worst people in the history of this world, Adolf Hitler, because people didn't care or didn't try to stop him. . . . And so Fuhrman, Fuhrman wants to take all black people now and burn them or bomb them. That is genocidal racism."

Later, Fred Goldman, his voice and body shaking with anger, lashed back. Cochran, he said, is "someone who shoves racism in front of everything, someone who compares a person who speaks racist comments to Hitler, a person who murdered millions of people."

"This man is the worst kind of human being imaginable," Goldman said. "He compares racism of its worst kind in this world to what's going on in this case."

Cochran, Goldman said, has no right to raise racism when he is being protected by Farrakhan's followers. "He's talking about racism, and he talks about hate," Goldman said. "Who does he connect himself with?"

As Goldman spoke, his wife, Patti, placed her hand on his arm, in an apparent effort to stop him. But he shrugged her off.

"We have seen racism at its absolute worst in our country," Goldman said. "We have seen a man who perhaps is the worst kind of racist himself, someone who shoves racism in front of everything."

Goldman's comments prompted Simpson's relatives to speak up.

"We feel sorry for the Goldman family, because I see his family in court daily, and I know they hurt," Simpson's sister Shirley said, as she stood with her sister Carmelita Simpson-Durio, their mother, Eunice Simpson, and Simpson's adult children, Jason and Arnelle.

But, Durio said, "It's very shocking that once Johnnie gets up and starts telling what we feel happens that this has rocked somebody's world. I think it's time for everybody to wake up and realize that we are in a real world and we have dealt with racism all our lives, every single day."

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