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Half of Americans Disagree With Verdict : Reaction: High-voltage joy, angry denouncements.

October 04, 1995|JOHN L. MITCHELL and JEFF LEEDS | TIMES STAFF WRITER

For a tingling instant, the city stopped--its freeways nearly empty, sidewalks clear, the day's business put on hold as people gathered silently before their televisions.

Then out came all the emotions generated during a trial that mesmerized the world, a high-voltage discharge of jubilation and outrage, relief and sorrow. No urban violence accompanied Tuesday's not guilty verdicts in the O.J. Simpson trial, but there were plenty of screams, songs, raised fists and tears.

In hair salons and coffee shops, hotel lobbies and living rooms, hundreds of thousands celebrated while others fumed and lashed out. There were spontaneous loud cheers for the movie star and former football hero--the unwitting symbol of black America--now set free. And there were angry denouncements of a justice system that came up empty, a climax that leaves two deaths unexplained and a killer--somewhere--on the loose.

Sense of Cynicism

It was a day of stunning contrasts, most of them shaped by the same entrenched racial issues that have bedeviled Los Angeles for so long--issues that steadily gained prominence during each passing week of the trial, overshadowing many other elements of the case. A heavy sense of cynicism invaded even the thoughts of some who were glad to see Simpson go home.

"That's how it should be 'cause white folks been doing stuff to black folks for all these years," said Andrew Brown, 21, a student at L.A. Southwest College, a predominantly black and Latino campus in South-Central Los Angeles.

"I don't care if he did it or not," Brown said. "There's been a lot of injustices done to the black community. So what if he did it and got away with it? Hey, that's life. He had the money to get the good lawyers."

Benny Davis, 54, a clothing store owner at Florence Avenue and Crenshaw Boulevard, had much the same reaction, saying he has had friends framed by the system.

"Yeah, he did it," Davis said of Simpson and the murders. "He did it and got away clean. It's about time a brother got away with something around here."

In many white communities, there were similar levels of cynicism, but usually far less sympathy for Simpson. At Corbin Bowl in Tarzana, the noise of crashing pins quieted to only the hum of machinery and air conditioning as the verdicts were read. A disgusted Lois Scherer of Encino harked back to the famed slow-speed freeway chase and said she wished that Simpson, allegedly gun in hand, had ended the drama then.

"I'm sorry that a year ago June 17 he didn't just go ahead and kill himself," Scherer said. "It would have saved us all a lot of money. This is just sick. I'm embarrassed to be from Los Angeles."

At Residuals bar in Studio City, an actors' hangout festooned with a plastic dummy of Simpson used in the "Naked Gun" movies, producer Cal Brady said he was nauseated.

"The last time I was this shocked by a verdict and thought it was this wrong was the original Rodney King decision," he said. "What's going on in this town . . . is that we're using our legal system as a manifestation of our racism--and it wrecks [that] legal system."

A crowd of early morning drinkers convened at Hennessey's, a Laguna Beach watering hole where O.J. and Nicole used to go for dinner. A pre-verdict pool was running 75% in favor of conviction.

"The prosecution blew the case," said band manager John Hughes, 34, just one of many patrons who voiced anger and disgust.

Verdict Cheered

There were segments of the populace that believed steadfastly in Simpson's innocence; those men and women rejoiced over his hard-won freedom.

At the Jolly Jug restaurant in El Monte, where cooks emerged from the kitchen to watch the verdicts alongside customers having breakfast, there were whoops of excitement.

"I'm ecstatic," said Ken Bonner, 32, a car salesman. "The defense proved that a lot of sinister things went on."

At the headquarters of Danny Bakewell's Brotherhood Crusade in South-Central, there was substantial support for the theory that key evidence against Simpson was planted by former LAPD Detective Mark Fuhrman and possibly others. About 50 African American community leaders cheered, cried and hugged one another after hearing the verdicts.

"It's a justice system that for a change has worked," said Conrad Mohammed, minister for the Nation of Islam Mosque 27 of Los Angeles. "The jury believed that that racist character [Fuhrman] laid that evidence."

Silence fell as the Rev. T. Larry Kirkland of the Brookings AME Church in Los Angeles offered a prayer of thanks, saying, "We thank you for this day of victory. We thank you for justice. The people have won. We won."

But in some quarters, sentiments for Simpson ran counter to the lingering uncertainties about who committed the crimes.

In a hushed, high-ceiling room of the Gospel Memorial Church in Long Beach, five black ministers were forced to deal with those emotions. When the acquittals were read, they leaped to their feet and slapped hands in high fives; and yet their joy came with misgivings, too.

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