Tuesday, May 1, 2018

Just Another Sidewalk in Brentwood?

Several weeks ago in Los Angeles, inside the ninth-floor courtroom of Judge Lance Ito, there was a weird silence as a bailiff prepared to screen a video of a Brentwood sidewalk on the morning of June 13, 1994.

The sidewalk at 875 South Bundy Drive is now a cultural totem, the most famous crime scene in America. As the reporters in the courtroom wait for the video to begin, they scribble the precise time and date in their notebooks: February 23, 1.38pm.

There are no windows in Judge Ito's courtroom, no sense of the outside world; the tension is unrelieved as the lights go dim. "Let's take it from the top," Ito says.

We hear static and then, on a large screen behind the jurors' box, there is the first image of daylight: stalks of purple agapanthus blowing on a sunny day in June, Nicole Brown Simpson's summer perennial border. Blue Lilies of the Nile, creeping phlox.

At his seat at the defense table on the left side of the court, O.J. Simpson fidgets, then looks down at his feet.

Above us, visible through the scrim of agapanthus, are the bodies of Nicole Brown Simpson and Ronald Goldman, shrouded in yellow tarps. The edges of the tarps flutter.

I resist the temptation to write in my notebook that it is an ordinary day in court - as if any day in "the Simpson matter" could be routine - but on the afternoon's calendar there is a defense motion, a "housekeeping procedure" to examine this particular video, taken by a Channel 5 camera man, of several police officers moving heavily through their duties on the morning of June 13.

This not a minor piece of business: It is a major contention of the defense that the L.A.P.D. botched the investigation, smeared the invisible footprints, mixed up the DNA.

In anticipation of the viewing of the crime scene, the reporters and the family in the courtroom are unusually fraught.

One of the more startling aspects of The State of California v. Simpson has been our realization of the capricious nature of the video camera; it can be anywhere at any time, wielded by a wandering parent at a Brentwood middle-school parking lot after a ballet recital or held casually by a TV camera man on South Bundy Drive on the morning after the murders and later subpoenaed to be viewed inside a courtroom while more than 15 million people watch.

The Channel 5 camera pans to the street. Across from Nicole's condominium, an older couple stands and stares at the crime scene, the yellow tape. The woman is plump and wears a shirt of flamingo pink; her husband stands with his arm around her. 

The camera tracks back to the yellow tarps, which remain visible through a filter of waving flowers of purple, white, and blue. Up on the screen there are suddenly many legs walking the few steps and pushing open a beige gate, the beige gate.

A man in a blue jumpsuit appears; when he turns, the sign on his back is visible: CORONER.

Marcia Clark is on her feet, furious at the implications of the tape: "Just because it is good enough for Channel  doesn't mean it is good enough for this jury. I think there is a big difference between what you can show on a news show and what we can do in a court of law."

Marie Brenner ~ Beyond the Courtroom
Vogue Magazine (May 1995)

Wednesday, April 18, 2018

Words Matter! I Told You To Be Silent!

Words matter. O.J. Simpson's defense team asked Judge Lance A. Ito to order the prosecution to say domestic discord rather than domestic violence or even spousal abuse--already euphemisms for wife-beating--and to disallow the words battered wife and stalker.

Ito refused to alter reality by altering language but some media complied--for example, "Rivera Live," where domestic discord became a new term of art. The lawyer who successfully defended William Kennedy Smith on a rape charge also used that term systematically.

Where is the victim's voice? Where are her words?

"I'm scared," Nicole Brown told her mother a few months before she was killed. "I go to the gas station, he's there. I go to the Payless Shoe Store, and he's there. I'm driving, and he's behind me."

Nicole's ordinary words of fear, despair and terror told to friends, and concrete descriptions of physical attacks recorded in her diary, are being kept from the jury.

Insignificant when she was alive--because they didn't save her--the victim's words remain insignificant in death: excluded from the trial of her accused murderer, called "hearsay" and not admissible in a legal system that has consistently protected or ignored the beating and sexual abuse of women by men, especially by husbands.

Nicole called a battered women's shelter five days before her death. The jury will not have to listen--but we must.

Evidence of the attacks on her by Simpson that were witnessed in public will be allowed at trial. But most of what a batterer does is in private. The worst beatings, the sustained acts of sadism, have no witnesses.

Only she knows. To refuse to listen to Nicole Brown Simpson is to refuse to know.

The law, including the FBI, and social scientists used to maintain that wife-beating did not exist in the United States. But in recent years, the FBI acknowledged that wife-beating is this country's most commonly committed violent crime.

Such a change happens this way. First, there is a terrible and intimidating silence--it can last centuries. Inside that silence, men have a legal or a tacit right to beat their wives.

Then, with the support of a strong political movement, victims of the abuse speak out about what has been done to them and by whom. They break the silence. One day, enough victims have spoken--sometimes in words, sometimes by running away or seeking refuge or striking back or killing in self-defense--that they can be counted and studied: Social scientists find a pattern of injury and experts describe it.

The words of experts matter. They are listened to respectfully, are often paid to give evidence in legal cases. Meanwhile, the voice of the victim still has no social standing or legal significance. She still has no credibility such that each of us--and the law--is compelled to help her.

We blame her, as the batterer did. We ask why she stayed, though we, of course, were not prepared to stand between her and the batterer so that she could leave.

And if, after she is dead, we tell the police that we heard the accused murderer beat her in 1977, and saw her with black eyes--as Nicole's neighbors did--we will not be allowed to testify, which may be the only justice in this, since it has taken us 17 years to bother to speak at all.

I was a battered wife; I had such neighbors.

Every battered woman learns early on not to expect help. A battered woman confides in someone, when she does, to leave a trail. She overcomes her fear of triggering violence in the batterer if he finds out that she has spoken in order to leave a verbal marker somewhere, with someone. She thinks the other person's word will be believed later.

Every battered woman faces death more than once, and each time the chance is real: The batterer decides. Eventually, she's fractured inside by the continuing degradation and her emotional world is a landscape of desperation.

Of course, she smiles in public and is a good wife.

He insists--and so do we.

The desperation is part fear--fear of pain, fear of dying--and part isolation, a brutal aloneness, because everything has failed--every call for help to anyone, every assumption about love, every hope for self-respect and even a shred of dignity.

What dignity is there, after all, in confessing, as Nicole did in her diary, that O.J. started beating her on a street in New York and, in their hotel room, "continued to beat me for hours as I kept crawling for the door."

He kept hitting her while sexually using her, which is rape--because no meaningful consent is possible or plausible in the context of this violence.

Every battered woman's life has in it many rapes like this one. Sometimes, one complies without the overt violence but in fear of it. Or sometimes, one initiates sex to try to stop or head off a beating.

Of course, there are also the so-called good times--when romance overcomes the memory of violence. Both the violation and the complicity make one deeply ashamed. The shame is corrosive. Whatever the batterer left, it attacks. Why would one tell? How can one face it?

Those of us who are not jurors have a moral obligation to listen to Nicole Simpson's words: to how O.J. Simpson locked her in a wine closet after beating her and watched TV while she begged him to let her out; to how, in a different hotel room, "O.J. threw me against the walls . . . and on the floor. Put bruises on my arm and back. The window scared me. Thought he'd throw me out."

We need to hear how he "threw a fit, chased me, grabbed me, threw me into walls. Threw all my clothes out of the window into the street three floors below. Bruised me."

We need to hear how he stalked her after their divorce. "Everywhere I go," she told a friend, "he shows up. I really think he is going to kill me."

We need, especially, to hear her call to a battered women's shelter five days before her murder. In ruling that call inadmissible, Ito said: "To the man or woman on the street, the relevance and probative value of such evidence is both obvious and compelling . . . . However, the laws and appellate-court decisions that must be applied . . . held otherwise."

The man and woman on the street need to hear what was obvious to her: The foreknowledge that death was stalking her.

We need to believe Nicole's words to know the meaning of terror--it isn't a movie of the week--and to face the treason we committed against her life by abandoning her.

When I was being beaten by a shrewd and dangerous man 25 years ago, I was buried alive in silence. I didn't know that such horror had ever happened to anyone else. The silence was unbreachable and unbearable.

Imagine Nicole being buried alive, then dead, in noise--our pro-woman, pro-equality noise; or our pro-family, pro-law-and-order noise.

For what it's worth--to Nicole nothing--the shame of battery is all ours.

Andrea Dworkin Los Angeles Times (January 1995)

He's Going to Kill Me - Believe Me!

"Shipp, I'm a fugitive. Nicole and I had a little argument last night." 

OJ asked me to check with West LA Division cops to see if there was a warrant for his arrest. He said, "Ron, I'm going to need you to help me get back in Nicole's good graces."

Shocked as to what he was saying to me over the phone, I couldn't help but think of all the rumors I heard about him beating up Marguerite Simpson, his first wife.

I reflected back on one day when I was teaching my domestic violence class at the Academy, and I mentioned several celebrities whose names were part of our lesson plan. One of the officers asked me, "Hey, Shipp, how come your friend OJ isn't on the list?"

My answer to that officer was, "OJ is not a batterer."

I left West LA Station at four o'clock in the afternoon and arrived at Rockingham ten minutes later. I pushed the buzzer to the intercom and with no words said, the electronic gate slowly opened. Nicole walked out of the front door with a smile on her face. I followed her to the television/entertainment room, and she sat down on the couch. I sat across from her.

She looked at me with an expression that I had never seen on her face. It was the look of a frightened, sad little girl. She didn't have to say a word. I was looking at the makeup that barely covered up the bruises on her face.

She whimpered, "Ron, he did it to me this time, and I don't want to be married to him anymore." She began crying. For a moment, I sat there and stared at her. I didn't know what to say or do. I had never seen her cry, and she totally caught me off guard.

Seeing the wife of a man that I loved and admire battered, crying, and looking to me for help left me speechless.

I awkwardly reached out and hugged her. She buried her head on the right side of my chest, crying uncontrollably. I found it difficult to speak. After about thirty seconds, she became rigid and pulled away from me. She looked at me, smiled and apologized. Nicole removed a pack of Marlboros from her white shorts and lit up a cigarette.

She told me that OJ called her and asked if he could home. She said she did not want him to come back. I told her about what OJ said to me the day before, that it was an isolated incident and that he me to help him get back with her.

"Isolated incident? Is that what he told you?" she responded. She jumped up off the couch and said she had something to show me and headed upstairs.

A couple of minutes later she came back down, carrying a manila envelope. "I want to show you something, but you have to swear you'll never tell anybody about them." I promised her that I wouldn't tell a soul. "I've never shown these to anybody," she confided, handing me abut half a dozen photographs, one at a time. They were close-ups of various parts of her body, deeply bruised, black and blue.

Ron, I took these and said to myself, if he ever hit me again, I would give these to the National Enquirer. I want him to hurt the way he hurt me."

I finally believed OJ was a batterer.

Nicole continued to tell me that OJ had also pulled a gun on her. Once again, I observed the frightened, sad little girl expression on her face as she spoke. Her voice was trembling as she said, "Ron, I'm scared, I truly believe he's going to kill me."

I looked in her eyes, saying, "Nicole, no way OJ Simpson is going to kill you. OJ will never lay a hand on you again." I grabbed her hand and walked with her to OJ's trophy case.

"Nicole, see that Heisman Trophy, the NFL rushing title trophy, pictures with President Nixon, President Ford, and his collections of historical memorabilia? That's priceless. I don't think OJ Simpson would give all this up to kill you."

"Ron you don't know him," she whimpered.

The Heart Behind The Badge
Ron Shipp