Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Los Angeles has the bounty of receiving a lot of tourists and visitors.  Recently, I was giving a tour to some of my non-Angeleno friends, and we were driving around the city.  I pointed out a grainy, 20-year-old image of O.J. Simpson’s white 1993 Ford Bronco, on a billboard above La Brea and First.  There were no words written on the billboard.    

“The famous Bronco!” I exclaimed.

“I don’t get it,” my friend said, quizzically.    

“It is from the car chase…” I began to explain.

“Didn’t people die that day?” he interrupted. 

“Well, in a sense, yes.  Two people.  But this happened after they died.  O.J. was going to be arrested and he decided to run from the police…”

“Why is that up there?  He is a murderer!”

“If the glove doesn’t fit you must acquit, and the glove didn’t fit!  It is supposed to be art?”

I couldn’t explain it anymore.  Los Angeles can be playfully unforgiving at times.  People like to mark time with tragedies.  People die, buildings collapse, earthquakes rattle, floods devour, and we remember where we were when we first saw it, or heard about it, or felt it. 

In the early 1990s, in Los Angeles we experienced our tragedies through the vantage point of a camcorder, a helicopter, or a courtroom, all played out on tv.  I used to come home every day after school and watch the O.J. trial.  I was in gym class when a small portable radio was brought in; the students huddled around, waiting for news of the verdict.      

Now there is another famous trial that I am following – that of Dzhokhar Tsarnaev.  The trial began on January 5, 2015 and there are more than a dozen journalists live-tweeting the court proceedings from Boston.  I read through their tweets daily, trying to understand what happened, and why.  The prosecution is still putting up their case, but I am more interested in seeing how the defense is presented.  And I inevitably wonder to myself, if I was a juror, would I find Tsarnaev guilty, and whether, after his conviction, I would sentence him to death?  In law school, we are conditioned to believe that the death penalty is not just.  But, sometimes, it is the right of society to impose punishments on criminals for the purpose of protecting and serving the interests of the people and the society as a whole.  It is clear that Tsarnaev and his brother planned and carried out the bombings that killed three people and wounded hundreds more.  Would executing him be productive in preventing future similar acts? 

Recently, I listened to Serial, a podcast about Adnan Syed, who in 2000 was convicted of killing his ex-girlfriend.  Syed was given life imprisonment.  Has that punishment rehabilitated him?  If O.J. was convicted of murder would that have deterred the Adnans and Dzhokhars of our world from committing such heinous and violent acts? 

Whenever I drive by the billboard I think about all these questions.  It is a testament to the power of art when such a photo is able to evoke such reflection and thought.  No words, just LA iconography.

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