Bill Maher Says Black People Celebrated O.J. Acquittal as ‘Payback’

Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images
Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

Bill Maher, master of shallow provocation, is back at it again.

On Friday night’s Real Time with Bill Maher, in light of O.J. Simpson’s recent cancer death, Maher and fellow luminary Piers Morgan discussed the moment in 1995 when the former football player was acquitted of murdering his ex-wife Nicole Brown Simpson and her friend Ron Goldman. The conversation was about as enlightening as one might expect.

Morgan expressed his fascination with how many people “were prepared to accept that [Simpson] probably got away with it but thought it was one in the eye back in the justice system.” He called the acquittal a “travesty of justice.”

But as Maher informed Morgan in his Deep Thinking Voice, “That’s not what it was… I don’t think people ever really interpreted that the right way. I think Black folks knew very well that he did it, and I don’t blame them one bit for cheering him on.”

Maher went on to make a point that many, many writers have laid out before: For generations before the Simpson trial, Black Americans had faced rampant, racist injustices both within and outside the U.S. criminal justice system. Within that context, Simpson’s acquittal became something far bigger than an individual outcome.

As Charles J. Ogletree Jr.—professor at Harvard Law School and Director of Harvard's Houston Institute for Race & Justice—told PBS’s Frontline in 2005, “the African American community has accepted [Simpson] not as an athlete or a hero, but as someone in the criminal justice system who, like them, would have been railroaded, they would say, if he had not had a Johnnie Cochran there to rescue him.”

Maher acknowledged that Simpson—who pleaded no contest to spousal abuse in 1989, four months after police records indicate he’d beaten Brown Simpson so badly that she required treatment in a hospital— was “not exactly the best recipient” of this moral corrective. (“I mean, of course.”)

Still, the late-night host said, “You can’t have two different complete histories in America and then expect people to have the same reaction to something like that. Yes, it was a miscarriage of justice, but for white people to be that upset about the one time, the one time a Black guy gets off, I thought that was the gross part of it.”

One thing Maher and Morgan did agree on, however, was their belief that Simpson had, in fact, murdered Brown Simpson and Goldman. As Maher put it, “Of course he did it! There’s no doubt that he did it. Piers, her blood was in his sock.”

Still, Maher said, the outcome of that trial was “payback”—the same word that a juror from the case used while speaking with ESPN’s O.J.: Made in America, when she linked the acquittal to the Rodney King beating.

“On a very larger scale, that’s happening in America and will happen for decades to come,” Maher said. “Because the legacy of our despicable racial past doesn’t go away in a generation. It takes a very long time.”

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