They clustered around an Emerson television set so old it barely picked up a local station and the color picture had turned to an insipid black and white. There were six of them -- all black, in their 20s and barbers at the AfriCentrics Braiders and Barber Salon on Howard Street.
They hovered in suspense just before the court clerk in the O.J. Simpson case read the verdict that brought an end to the Trial From Hell. With the words "Not guilty," the place erupted. One leaped into the air. Some exchanged high fives while others dashed through the door onto Howard Street to share their vicarious victory with the world. It was a celebration akin to the ones blacks staged after a Joe Louis victory, only more grotesque and sordid, given the circumstances.
I polled each of them before the verdict was announced. To the man, they believed in O.J.'s innocence. They believed in it as fervently as Muslims believe Muhammad is the last prophet, as Christians believe Christ rose from the dead and as Jews believe in the Day of Atonement. Their feelings may have been summed up by Curtis Boulware, the manager of the shop.
"I believe he couldn't have did it," Boulware said. "Not just one person without being seen."
For Rico Perez, the ultimate evidence was those gloves that didn't fit. And, of course, all alluded to the Mark Fuhrman factor -- so named for the perjuring, racist detective who may well have been the reason Simpson walked.
"The 'Fuhrman lie' will now become part of the language," Boulware wryly observed.
It will on one side -- the black side -- of the racial divide. Polls showed African-Americans believed overwhelmingly in Simpson's innocence; whites in his guilt. Blacks believed defense lawyers' claims that evidence was planted and Simpson was framed. Whites scoffed at the notion.
Is one side of the racial divide living in a fantasy world? Not necessarily. Just different ones. Neil Ambach of Glen Burnie wrote and asked me ". . . with no evidence of anyone else committing the crime, then why is it that the Afro-American community doesn't believe that O.J. Simpson is guilty?"
It's a damned good question, and the answer is simple. For African-Americans the frame-up defense is a perfectly logical one. In August, six Philadelphia police officers pleaded guilty to charges of robbing and framing people. Forty-two convictions had to be overturned and another 1,000 convictions are under review.
Mark Fuhrman, in those now infamous tapes that showed him making the KKK look like a liberal pacifist organization, boasted of planting evidence and framing black suspects. For African-Americans, the charge of a police frame-up is a perfectly valid one.
For the average white person, who has neither heard about nor been the victim of such police malfeasance, such a charge is ludicrous.
The ultimate tragedy of the racial divide -- of how the chasm between us prevents us from understanding each other's realities -- is how it affected the Simpson trial, where race shouldn't have been the issue.
The issue was gender. I believed from the start, and believe now, that Simpson is guilty. I believe he killed Nicole Simpson and Ron Goldman in the classic fit of jealous rage. The reports that he had previously beaten Nicole while they were married and stalked her when they were estranged convinced me. Some men, do, at times, go over the edge and kill their wives or girlfriends. Even Curtis Boulware and the crew at AfriCentrics conceded that. On very rare occasions, it's the woman who goes over the edge. But read the statistics. Most of the time, it's us guys. Must be something in the testosterone.
On Sept. 11, a man in Scotts Mills, Ore., tracked down his estranged wife and killed her and their three daughters. The same day -- a bad one for deranged ex-husbands and an even worse one for their ex-wives and children -- Mark Clark blew himself, his wife and their three children into eternity by setting off a bomb in his station wagon behind an Essex shopping center.
The racial issue never crossed my mind in the beginning stages of the Simpson case. That's odd, I know, given my views on interracial marriage. But I only thought of the race angle later, after that racist idiot Fuhrman got caught in a lie. But even then I considered race secondary to the real issue: the persistent problem of men brutalizing and murdering women.
I had read too many police reports during my stint on the cop beat in Anne Arundel County in which men -- black and white -- were charged with either beating or stalking their wives and girlfriends to entertain any notions about race being a significant factor in the Simpson case.
The initial reaction of pundits to the Simpson verdict was how it would affect race relations and the jury system. Very few, it RTC seems, are concerned about gender relations. Which is why I fear for the women.
Gregory P. Kane's column appears on Wednesdays and Saturdays.