Capital Gazette wins special Pulitzer Prize citation for coverage of newsroom shooting that killed five

Nicole Simpson, famous in death

THE BALTIMORE SUN

LOS ANGELES -- The police have put up green fencing along the sidewalk at the northwest corner of Bundy Drive and Dorothy Street to keep people from spilling out into traffic, and for the time being they've prohibited parking altogether on adjoining blocks. It doesn't discourage anyone.

If anything, it only helps to make the house on the corner that much more special, to enhance the feeling among those who steadfastly come here that they have found their way to a shrine.

Nicole Brown Simpson, who was murdered here alongside her friend, Ronald L. Goldman, has accomplished in death what she never did in life -- she has a niche in the psyche of Los Angeles.

And now her house has become one more of the places to see, one more of the touchstones. Grauman's Chinese Theater, the La Brea tar pits, the Queen Mary, the boardwalk in Venice, the big Hollywood sign: These are the sights the tourists come to.

Ms. Simpson's house is attracting its own modest crowds, but it's not quite like the others.

Nobody's promoting it, for one thing. It's a nondescript, pink stucco house in a neighborhood of comfortable but nondescript houses. And, although tourists stop by, most of the people who come here -- those who lay flowers and rail against the verdict that set O. J. Simpson free -- are locals.

They are driven by more than curiosity, lured by more than notoriety. This otherwise anonymous house in Brentwood has become a shrine to a peculiar resentment that seems to haunt Los Angeles.

"It's anger over money and power," said John Tinyes, a 23-year-old with a modish stub of a beard. "It's really not about her anymore."

To some people in Los Angeles and around the country, Ms. Simpson has become a symbol of the price of domestic abuse. But that's not what brings people here to the house. To listen to those who come here is to get a sense of the bitter disgust that seems to flourish under the perpetually sunny skies.

To the angry people who come here, Los Angeles held out a promise and it all went wrong. And now they have fastened onto Nicole Brown Simpson as an emblem of that disappointment.

In the 80 years or so that Los Angeles has recognizably been a city, it has been a place of --ed dreams. Millions of migrants flocked here, in the expectation that this would be someplace -- different.

The unhappiness that so many found seemed all the crueler because of that. Los Angeles was supposed to be a new life -- it was the last chance at a new life -- but it didn't deliver for very many.

Kurt Graves lives in Santa Monica, and in some way the protracted attention given to the Simpson case broke a barrier for him. Something fit into place for him, and now he seems to personify anger itself.

He strides briskly up the sidewalk to the house on Bundy, a bouquet of yellow flowers in his hand. He places it inside the yellow police barrier, on the walk a few feet from where Ms. Simpson died. A wrapper around the bouquet reads, "Death for O. J. Justice for Ron & Nicole."

Mr. Graves is bitter, his eyes intense, his voice husky and slightly raised as if he's speaking to an audience. He says there must be some changes. The system doesn't work. He talks contemptuously about the riots that followed the 1992 acquittal of four police officers in the videotaped beating of Rodney King.

Those riots were a symptom in part of deep resentments within the African-American community. Now, their memory has become a focus of white resentment.

Los Angeles, it sometimes seems, is a mosaic of resentments. For some groups -- Latinos, Asians -- the bitterness didn't happen to intersect with the Simpson case. For others it did. For all, one thought seems to be uppermost: Everybody gets a break except for us.

Throughout Los Angeles, a large number of white people are angered by Mr. Simpson's acquittal and say that it just shows how a rich man can buy justice. A large number of black people are angered by the reaction of whites and say it's really racism at work.

Actually, many of the people who come to the house on Bundy find it galling that a man who's rich and black has won acquittal in this case.

A lot of whites here declare -- unpersuasively -- that they never used to be racists but events over the past few years have changed that. More accurately, perhaps, the King and Simpson cases have gouged through the pretenses by which people like to lead their lives.

"You know, it has become a racial issue, and I'm so angry, because it shouldn't be," said a woman, a French immigrant, who identified herself only as Anne-Marie. "I came here when there was segregation. And now we're back there. It's setting us back 40 years."

She, too, had brought a bouquet to the house on Bundy, a bunch of pink roses. Attached was a note that read, "I cry for you and your families."

She tried to explain why she was moved to act. After all, there were 856 murders in Los Angeles in 1994. What set this one apart?

"She was a beautiful white woman," Anne-Marie replied, "and he was black."

The house sits on the low-priced side of San Vicente Boulevard, a street of cafes, bookstores and real estate agencies that bisects Brentwood. To the north of San Vicente, on the slope that leads up to the Santa Monica Mountains, is the mansion where Mr. Simpson lives, and where his wife lived when they were still together. Here on the south side of the boulevard, bungalows and Spanish-mission condos cluster together.

When Ms. Simpson left her husband, she moved down the hill and down in the world. That's all too evident to the sidewalk crowd.

"It's like it's white against black," said Audree Vetter, who had driven up from her home in suburban Orange County, where Ms. Simpson's parents still live.

"I question why she didn't go back down to Orange County. Why didn't she try to get away?"

To have returned to Orange County would have been to return to a wealthy, decidedly conservative, well-groomed suburb that stretches from the southern reaches of Los Angeles down toward San Diego.

Life is orderly. Orange County is smug. Things aren't raw there; people there have already made it.

Ms. Simpson went back only in death, to a grave in a Roman Catholic cemetery in a town called Lake Forest. A few tourists do seek it out, but the mood is different.

"It's such a terrible way to leave this world," says Lorri Toolen, a salesclerk in Lake Forest. "But, for me, she isn't larger than life. O. J. isn't larger than life. The memory will fade."

Maybe in some way that's why Ms. Simpson chose not to retreat to this preserve of privacy and comfort -- because in Orange County no one is larger than life and memories always fade.

Los Angeles was a place to cling to the dream. Los Angeles was a place where you could stroll along San Vicente Boulevard, stop in and have a cappuccino and biscotti at the Dolce Cafe, or an egregiously elegant pizza at Mezzaluna (where Ron Goldman was a waiter), where you could be as friendly or aloof as you wanted but where, every day, someone was sure to nod and maybe murmur to a companion, Guess who I just saw?

Now, because of the way Nicole Brown Simpson died, people are coming to Brentwood in search of something to remember her by. Fame found her in death.

Some, of course, are simply tourists -- white and black. A father brings his daughters and snaps their picture in front of the potted plants that have been placed snugly around the house as if to hide its shame. A family from Florida; one from Buffalo.

For others this is no diversion. A car drives by and a white woman angrily gestures to the small crowd on the sidewalk, her thumb down like a Roman emperor's. What exactly is she angry at? Does it matter? She's angry.

Kurt Graves, the angry man, lingers as though he's drawn here by something that won't let him go.

He never knew Nicole Simpson. Neither did the woman who came by and started crying, murmuring, "Poor child! Poor children!" It's not a question of private empathy. Ms. Simpson has become a fixture in their imagination. They see what they want to see. She is the idol of their resentment.

Copyright © 2019, The Baltimore Sun, a Baltimore Sun Media Group publication | Place an Ad
66°