From O.J. Simpson to Stanford sex-assault case, two wrongs don’t produce a right

Assuming O.J. Simpson was guilty of double murder, as most of white America thinks, was it rough justice for a largely black jury to acquit him because the Los Angeles cops had a sorry record of brutalizing blacks, most memorably the vicious beating of Rodney King a few years earlier?

Was Simpson’s defense team justified in heavily playing the race card because of America’s long history of racial injustice?

I ask these questions partly because I’m watching ESPN’s fascinating documentary “O.J.: Made in America.” I haven’t seen the final installments of the five-part documentary, but one thematic line is clear: the stain of two murders and years of police brutality can be cleansed with an acquittal.

The other reason for my questions is that I’m intrigued by a Sacramento Bee columnist’s contention that a white Stanford athlete convicted of sexual assault was properly given a slap on the wrist by a white, Stanford-educated judge because the California prison system is one of “medieval brutalization.”

“Privileged or poor, weak or strong, regardless of race, creed or color, it’s the rule, not the exception, for young men to come away from a stint in jail or prison broken and traumatized,” says writer Shawn Hubler.

Hubler’s argument, then, is that the wrong of a sexual assault on campus is offset by the wrongs of our prison system, so therefore it’s right to go easy on this criminal.

Hmm, where does this logic take us? Should no one be imprisoned until all prison abuse is ended? Should young murderers be spared a prison term because they might become broken and traumatized men? Should rapists be free to walk in the community of law-abiding citizens as proof of our commitment to a fair society?

We live in an imperfect world where we often must choose between the lesser of two evils. We’re not alchemists who can produce good from evil while turning a blind eye to the rights of  innocent victims and our own self-protection.

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