American Crime Story: The People Vs. O.J. Simpson concluded on Tuesday night. Based on the murders of Nicole Brown and Ron Goldman, the show brought the O.J. Simpson saga from 1994-1995 back to life. During this time, Jack Markell was making a name for himself in the business world. The parallels between Johnnie Cochran’s defense of O.J. and Delaware Governor Jack Markell’s defense of high-stakes testing are uncanny.
To be very clear, there is no doubt in my mind O.J. Simpson killed Nicole Brown and Ron Goldman. DNA evidence proved that conclusively with the blood found in his Bronco and in various areas around the Brentwood Estate. The reason he was found not guilty was because the trial turned into a racial matter instead of a criminal one. Even defense attorney Robert Shapiro admitted to playing the “race card” in the trial. During the show, it became obvious that defense attorney Johnnie Cochran insisted on turning the already explosive murder trial into a black vs. white thing. What didn’t help the defense at all was the very racist views of former Los Angeles detective Mark Furman and questions that arose concerning the bungling or planting of evidence by the Los Angeles Police Department.
For the past twenty years, Delaware has embarked on one standardized test after another. The purpose behind these tests, at least from the viewpoint of education “reformers”, is to close the equity gaps between minorities and their white peers. As parents in Delaware decided to opt their children out of taking these tests, Governor Jack Markell continued to point out this divide. With big money and high-profile names supporting him, Markell sold the “need” for the Smarter Balanced Assessment through a false defense for at-risk students along with intimidating threats by the US Department of Education.
Both Markell and Cochran seemed to think bringing race into a controversial issue was a smart idea to defend something bad. O.J. Simpson, once again in my opinion, brutally killed his ex-wife and her boyfriend. High-stakes standardized tests serve no other purpose than to give faulty data to corporations to further perpetuate the cycle of showing these “gaps” between minorities and their peers.
When things got tough during the O.J. trial, Cochran turned to civil rights groups to show the divide between white and black people. This galvanized the trial into two camps. Most white people felt O.J. was guilty but most African-Americans felt he was either innocent or didn’t care if he did it and felt a verdict of not guilty was warranted based on past injustices against African-Americans. As the show vividly displayed when the verdict of not guilty was read, white people gasped and African-Americans cheered. It didn’t seem to matter what the scientific and forensic evidence in the trial showed. It became a race issue.
When things got tough during the House Bill 50 opt out legislation last year, Markell and his friends at the Rodel Foundation turned to civil rights groups to show the divide between white and black students. The News Journal displayed an ad showing Delaware civil rights groups urging the Delaware General Assembly not to pass HB50. When the bill passed in both houses of the General Assembly, Markell vetoed the bill and sought out public comment from members of Delaware civil rights groups to support the Smarter Balanced Assessment and rail against the opt out movement.
Cochran felt the O.J. trial was symptomatic of the problems African-Americans faced in the USA. He believed far too many African-American faced arrest and imprisonment simply for the color of their skin. He was right, but Cochran refused to believe his client was even possible of the murders. As a result, his fierce advocacy for the true violations of civil rights of African-Americans blinded him to the preponderance of evidence which should have supported a guilty verdict. His job was to defend his client, but the trial became a race issue because of how he conducted himself and he used the mistakes of the L.A. Police to highlight the racial divide. Granted, Mark Furman and his very racist views didn’t help the prosecution, but race became the issue, not the murders of two people.
Many reports have come out about the very faulty state assessments in America. Based on the Common Core standards, these tests are given once a year to students and the thresholds for the scores allow x amount of students to be proficient and the majority to be not proficient. Clear and graphic data has shown these tests are more an indication of socio-economic levels in society than true academic progress. This data, which has produced vast amounts of profit for testing companies and “education research” foundations and non-profits, is abused by those who want to increase the divide between at-risk students and their peers. Politicians like Governor Markell are on the side of these companies, not the students, and especially not African-Americans. Their agendas and testing schemes have disrupted education to such a degree that ordinary parents have chosen to pull their children out of these unnecessary and burdensome tests.
Both Cochran and Markell used the issues of the day to further matters that truly were not about race. Cochran wanted a not guilty verdict for OJ Simpson and Markell wants a guilty verdict for schools with low-income students and high amounts of at-risk students. By bringing race into their arguments, they have not advanced the cause for what they say. They both caused the divide to widen. In the end, OJ Simpson wound up being found guilty in a civil trial against him and is now serving time in prison for kidnapping and theft. In the end, parents are still opting out of the Smarter Balanced Assessment and many in the African-American community are beginning to question if these tests truly are useful.
Over twenty years later, many in the African-American community believe OJ Simpson committed the murders. As OJ sits in a Nevada prison, pending parole next year, the true victims of his actions are the two people whose murderer was never found guilty by a jury. As well, OJ’s children will forever live with the facts and the doubts in their minds about the results of what happened on June 12th, 1994. Johnnie Cochran passed in 1995. He will always be remembered for getting the not guilty verdict for his client, OJ Simpson. Sadly, he won’t be remembered for advancing the true civil rights issues that continue to plague so many in the African-American community.
Meanwhile, as estimates come in of over 300,000 students opted out of the state assessment in New York and an unknown amount here in Delaware, the media is once again torn on the usefulness of these high-stakes tests. Governor Markell has been very quiet on the issue this year, perhaps learning from the mistakes he made last year by reacting to the opt out movement in Delaware. The true victims in this high-stakes education game are the children in 3rd to 8th grade, forced to either take a test that bears no worthwhile results to further their academic progress or be opted out by their parents with some schools fighting the parents tooth and nail over their decision. As well, the parents who are forced to fight schools, the teachers who would much rather instruct students meaningfully instead of wasting all this time over a silly test, and the school administrators who feel the need to fight parents because of threats of funding cuts and false labels against their schools. Standardized testing has done nothing to stop the very dangerous school-to-prison pipeline in Delaware. If anything, it caused an increase as more at-risk students felt like failures based on the results of the very faulty tests and their self-confidence eroded to such a degree that they felt school was not a valid option. Is it any wonder crime and violence increased in Wilmington the same years high-stakes testing increased? Where is that study?
Cochran and Markell, two men of power, twenty years and 2,700 miles apart from each other, both used race to bring the wrong conclusion to bad events. Their actions didn’t make things better. They only made them worse. History will eventually show the truth in both matters. Race should never be used to support bad ideas. Civil rights groups should not defend a man who openly admitted to beating his wife, was accused of killing her and her boyfriend, ran from the police, and then made a mockery of the very same community that defended him. Civil rights groups should not use children in agendas to advance their cause, especially when they are receiving vast amounts of money from the very same foundations and companies that support the high-stakes testing environment that is putting labels on their communities. It is deceptive and doesn’t help the ones they should be advocating for.
The injustices perpetrated against the African-American community are wrong. No man or woman or child should be labeled or judged based on the color of their skin. By showing false divides, we are not helping them, we are harming them.