Teachers look back on OJ trial

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PHOTO BY: Douglas Palmer

Lauren Hannani staff writer

Twenty-one years after the murder case blasted through every family’s television set, the O.J. Simpson trial is being revisited in the new show “The People v. OJ Simpson: American Crime Story.”

Although current high school students were not around to witness the historic event at the time, teachers have vivid memories of their experiences while the case was a part of everyday conversation in America.

“I remember I traveled to Europe that summer, the summer of 1995. I remember thinking, ‘Finally, I can get out of America because everyone is just talking about the O.J. trial, and it’ll be nice to get to a place where it’s not on the news all the time,’” history teacher Pete Van Rossum said. “And then I come into my aunt and uncle’s house [in Holland] and they’re sitting around the TV watching the O.J trial.”

Other teachers were able to physically see the event unfold in front of their eyes.

“It was summer, and my friends and I were driving west on Sunset. There was terrible traffic, and we couldn’t figure out why; it was much, much different than usual,” history teacher Catherine Pincu said. “We saw the Bronco and all the cars that were following it, and we saw a helicopter, and we were like, ‘What is going on? Why are they chasing him when he’s going so slow?’ It made no sense, and we weren’t listening to the news, so we had no idea what was going on.”

While the case was becoming such a heated topic, the idea that this trial was more than a typical murder case was pretty clear around the world.

“It was as if today, George Clooney was involved in murdering somebody. It’d be a big deal, and I think that made people initially attracted to it. It was such a public spectacle,” Van Rossum said. “The chase on the freeway happened right in the middle of the NBA Finals, and I remember watching the basketball game and half of the screen was O.J. being chased by the cops. So it was one of those events that became really remarkable because you had an entire nation essentially watching this guy run away from the cops.”

Although the OJ case was an unusual one since it centered around a well-known celebrity, the outcome was much more surprising for people to hear.

“It was on TV every day forever, and most people assumed that he was guilty. Everyone was sure that he was going to be convicted,” Pincu said. “A guy who lived in my parents’ street was one of the news reporters that was covering the case, and he said, ‘There was no way they could possibly prove him innocent. He is guilty, and everyone knows he is guilty.’”

As people began to pick sides and form strong opinions about the subject, the country was influenced by the OJ case as well.

“The thing that was so remarkable was how it divided the country. People really got into their positions, and I think that’s one of the things that O.J. Simpson’s legal team took advantage of,” Van Rossum said. “It was much more than a trial about a guy who killed his wife; it was really about racism in America and a view of what justice is and what it should look like.”

Even though the trial is still talked about today, teachers have a slightly different perspective on the topic than students do.

“What’s crazy to me is that when the case was on trial, you always heard about F. Lee Bailey and Robert Shapiro,” Pincu said. “You didn’t hear about Robert Kardashian, and I feel like the students’ connection is that ‘Oh, that’s Kim Kardashian’s dad. He was on the dream team defense team.’ But we didn’t know who any of those people were; the Kardashians were not anywhere on the map, so I feel like it’s funny how that connection exists today.”

In fact, students do relate to this Kardashian connection when they hear about the trial.

“[Robert Kardashian] does bring more of my attention to the trial. It makes it more interesting. That plays into its fame,” junior Marcell Lengyel said.

However, some students are more familiar with the trial and the fame that the case gained throughout the years.

“All I know about the OJ trials is that it was the most followed trial in the history of US criminal trials. It was not just a trial about a murder but it was a question on race and whether a black man could get a fair trial,” sophomore Maya Luong said.

“The People v. O.J. Simpson,” which follows the murder trial of OJ Simpson, can be watched on Fox on Tuesdays at 10 p.m.

“I think it’s great that there’s a show highlighting the issue that is still very relevant today and raises awareness about the topic,” Luong said.

No matter how much time passes by, the topic of O.J. and his publicized murder trial will always remain a part of history.

“We’ve had 20 years to kind of sit on it and process it, so it’ll be interesting how they play it out because it was so heavily covered at the time,” Van Rossum said. “But as time passes, people treat historical things differently, and it’ll be interesting to see what 20 years of distance from this event will affect how they portray it.”

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