The Fuhrman Tapes Get National Attention On 'ACS'

by Caitlin Flynn

From the moment O.J. Simpson tried on the blood-stained glove and it didn't fit, it became clear that the prosecution faced an uphill battle. But, an arguably worse blow was yet to come — on the March 29 episode of The People v. O.J. Simpson: American Crime Story, the Fuhrman Tapes surfaced and put another nail in the coffin of the state's case. As we saw in the episode "Manna from Heaven," the jury only heard two sentences from the 13 hours of taped interviews in which Fuhrman (the detective who discovered the glove) repeatedly used racial slurs, including the n-word, and bragged about alleged instances of police brutality. Although the sequestered jurors wouldn't hear these details until after the trial, the Fuhrman Tapes received national attention at the time.

When only two sentences from the tapes were ruled admissible, Simpson's defense team was shown to be furious. They declared it time to "call up every network" and make sure it was publicized that "our criminal justice system is corrupt." In August 1995, The Los Angeles Times described the Fuhrman Tapes as "the hottest commodities in the tabloid world this week." Since the Simpson trial occurred at a time when racial tensions were high, the media and the public were eager to hear the remarks made by the LAPD detective. Later that month, prior to Ito's ruling on their admissibility, The Chicago Tribune reported that the tapes had been leaked to reporters. Their impact went far beyond the Simpson case and the paper described it as "a public relations disaster for Los Angeles officials trying to convince the public that the city's police force is ridding itself of racism and brutality."

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The LAPD had struggled to restore its reputation after the infamous 1991 Rodney King beating (which was featured in American Crime Story's premiere episode) and the Fuhrman tapes provided hard evidence that a cop who'd used racist language remained on the police force. Fuhrman's lawyer was quick to describe his client's comments as "bluff and bluster," but the Chicago Tribune reported that "people are asking how someone with such a mindset could remain on the force and be assigned to the highest-profile murder case in the city's history." The paper quoted Frank Villalobos, a Boyle Heights activist: "It's appalling, the things that came out of that guy's mouth... If that's what he's thinking, he shouldn't be on the force. They've got to do something about their bad people."

In American Crime Story, Cochran is shown telling his wife that he felt as though he failed when only two sentences were ruled admissible. On the show, she reminds him that "[Simpson] is an imperfect vessel, but you got your word out there." Although it's impossible to know if this exchange actually occurred, the sentiment is probably accurate — Cochran's mission was to do everything he could to ensure that the justice system didn't fail the African-American community.

Although the nation certainly had a right to hear the words of Furhman, a public servant, it came at a painful cost for the families of Nicole Brown Simpson and Ron Goldman. As we saw in "Manna from Heaven," the Goldman family was understandably furious when the focus shifted away from the two murder victims. After the tapes were played in open court, CNN reported on the statements of Fred Goldman, the father of Ron Goldman. He accused the defense of using the tapes in an effort to "put on a show" and deflect attention away from Simpson and his alleged crimes:

We came to this court seven months ago expecting a fair trial. My son had a right to it, his family had a right to it, Nicole and her family had a right to it. Instead, we get this crap spewed in front of the cameras for two hours. For what purpose? I'd love to know what the judge had in mind. I think his words made it real clear. This was for public dissemination, for the public to hear, not the jury, for him to make a decision. This was for the public. I didn't know this was a public-- this was a trial in which the public made the decision. I thought it was one in which the jury made the decisions. I don't understand why the hell we had to listen to two hours of this hate. It's disgusting, every word that was said.
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Goldman's emotional statement can be viewed here:

Although it was important for Furhman's use of the n-word to be exposed, Goldman's response was completely understandable. The focus of a murder trial certainly should be on the victims and it was a terrible misfortune that Fuhrman was involved in the investigation at all. It's impossible to imagine the pain experienced by the families of Goldman and Brown Simpson when they realized the devastating impact Fuhrman would have on the trial.