Johnnie Cochran And The Excuses Made In Defense Of Black Men
I am obsessed with “The People v. O.J. Simpson.” Every Tuesday night, I wait with baited breath for the most recent episode. And then I spend the rest of the week, researching to see what was and wasn’t factual. I have discussions about the bits of information the show has exposed. I theorize about what I would be thinking at this present moment as a juror, I watch video interviews from the key players, wondering how they went about their lives after the trial of the century ended.
I think what’s so fascinating about the series is the way public perception, mine and society’s, has changed over the years. In the 90’s, I was a kid, in elementary school. Still, the details of the trial everybody seemed to be watching were inescapable. And so I was cognizant enough to know that the people around me, wanted O.J. to get off, whether they believed he killed Ron and Nicole or not. And they loved Johnnie Cochran. They hung on his every word, eating up his expressive arguments. They remarked on his smoothness, his way with words, his coolness under pressure. They chuckled and then recited his catch phrases ad nauseam.
But they never talked about his past with domestic violence. They never talked about the fact that he had a mistress, a White woman, who he was living with, in another house during his first marriage. No one ever mentioned that he had a child with this woman, a son who she named Johnnie after his brilliant father.
It was “The People v. O.J. Simpson” that brought that fact back to the light. And for the third or fourth time since the series premiered, I thought about what I would have thought of Johnnie Cochran as an adult watching this case, because right now, he’s not exactly a hero for me.
I don’t have a disdain for the lawyering profession, but there is something unsettling about a person who would knowingly defend someone who they believe is guilty, as I believe Johnnie knew O.J. was. People will say, it’s his job as if that excuses the behavior. It doesn’t. Many of us have jobs. And if our superiors told us to do something that was immoral, no one would applaud us for following instructions. There has to be a higher code of ethnics than doing what is necessary to keep a job.
But now, knowing what we know about the late Cochran, doing what it takes to stay hirable and employed were the least of his flaws. Last night, “The People v. O.J. Simpson” talked about Cochran’s past with domestic violence, with his first wife, his ex wife, Barbara Jean Berry as the victim. Married in 1959, she accused Cochran of abuse on multiple occasions. In her motion to receive a restraining order against Cochran she wrote, “‘On April 29, 1967, my husband violently pushed me against the wall, held me there and grabbed me by my chin. He has slapped me in the past, torn a dress off me [and] threatened on numerous occasions to beat me up.”
Ten years later, after the couple reconciled, she filed divorce papers again stating that “without any reasonable cause, provocation or justification physically struck, beat and inflicted severe injury up on the person of the Petitioner’. “
When the Los Angeles Times asked Cochran about the allegations he said, “’I have never touched her or hit her, and we are very good friends to this day,’ Cochran said at the time.
‘Those are 20-year-old statements for legal reasons. She knows they are not true and will be happy to talk to you about it.’”
When they did call her and speak to her about it, she said she didn’t want to discuss it.
Later, in her book Life After Johnnie Cochran: Why I left the sweetest-talking, most successful black lawyer in L.A. she wrote that Cochran and his father pressured her to deny the abuse claims and said that Johnnie called her after reporters first questioned him, saying if she denied the claims she would never want for anything if she would tell the reporter he was a wonderful guy. She said if she had done so, she would have made more money than the sale of her book which she ultimately released months later. Poignantly though, she said of Johnnie and Simpson.
“He and Simpson were mirror images of each other in their apparent disdain for women.”
But it wasn’t just the abuse. There was also Johnnie’s 28-year affair with a woman named Patricia. She later bestowed the last name Cochran on herself. Berry called her ex husband a bigamist as he was supporting this woman with $4,000 a month and had fathered her child, who she named Johnnie.
I would be remiss if I didn’t mention that Patricia is a White woman. And I’m not a hater to interracial relationships; but for Cochran to be fighting against the White establishment all the time, for Johnnie to “blacken” up O.J.’s house to appeal to the Black jurors he approved, it’s…interesting to say the least.
And interestingly enough, when we discuss Cochran’s legacy, the abuse, the manipulation, the side family never really come up. He was just a great trial lawyer who was an advocate for Black people.
Let’s be honest though, Black men specifically, Michael Jackson, Todd Bridges, Jim Brown and Diddy.
And there is the rub. The only reason Johnnie’s flaws are minimized and he was so highly regarded back in 90’s was because he was a champion for Black men. And the Black community will ride for anyone who defends Black manhood, even at the expense of Black women. And while I might have fallen for that okey doke as a young girl, not yet well versed on the manifestations of misognoir, today, in my matured mind, I just can’t.
I would like to think that as a more evolved society, knowing more about feminism, male privilege and witnessing the ways Black women have been relegated to a position of inferiority, even within our own communities, we would recognize the signs. We would know better and do better. But I don’t know if that’s entirely true.
And it’s still happening today. Specifically with Monique Pressley in her defense of Bill Cosby. Interestingly enough, she’s called “Johnnie Cochran in a skirt.” And while we don’t know about her personal life like we know about Johnnie’s, her morality is questionable to me too because she’s so willing to hold up Cosby, a Black man who has abused her own community: women, Black and White alike. But again, when discussions of her arise, we applaud her smooth talking. People love the way she shuts down reporters, with an insincere smile, not considering the fact that she may very well be selling her soul to do so.
This is the genius of “The People v. O.J. Simpson” for as much as it’s a show about a case that happened over 20 years ago, it still manages to say quite a bit about our current societal climate.