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No-show Simpson a topic for participants, vendors Not-guilty verdict celebrated, but some feel he has let blacks down


WASHINGTON -- O. J. Simpson never surfaced at the Million Man March, but the same cannot be said of feelings generated by his double-murder trial.

The racial tensions exposed by the Simpson case were apparent at the demonstration here yesterday. Vendors were selling out of O. J. Simpson-related merchandise, such as shirts that read "O. J.'s Free."

More than 100 men from St. Louis marched in black baseball caps with the words "Not Guilty" stiched in red.

And in speeches meant to unify black men, both Jesse L. Jackson and Louis Farrakhan drew on the nation's racially split reactions to the Simpson verdict.

"Why was the reaction to the O. J. verdict so different?" Mr. Jackson asked. "Because there were wounds unhealed."

Mark Fuhrman, the Los Angeles police detective whose record of racial slurs made him infamous during the trial, was a popular target of anger.

Engineer from Aberdeen

"Mark Fuhrman is the reason why we're here today," shouted Troy Williams, 28, a welding engineer from Aberdeen. "How are we ever going to get anywhere with people like him around?"

For a short time last week, there was some speculation that Mr. Simpson, or his attorney, Johnnie L. Cochran Jr., might participate in the demonstration. Some march participants were disappointed Mr. Simpson did not show up.

"Everybody was expecting him to be here," said Robert Bell, 31, a public utility worker from Cleveland.

"It's important for him to see the support of the business community behind him. Then maybe he wouldn't forget about the black community like he did before."

In his speech, Mr. Farrakhan said Mr. Simpson had lost touch with the black community.

Posh neighborhoods

" When they become mega-stars, their association is no longer black," Mr. Farrakhan said. "They meet in parties in posh neighborhoods that black folk don't come into, so their association becomes white women, white men, and association breeds assimilation.

"And if you have a slave mentality, you feel you have arrived now because you can jump over cars running in airports, play in films. I'm not degrading my brother; I love him. But he was drawn out. He didn't sell out, he was drawn out."

Robert Nichols, 27, said it was ironic that so many black men felt empathy for Mr. Simpson.

"O. J. is a different type of black person. He never embraced the black community and now that's the only one embracing him," said Mr. Nichols, who left his Silver Spring home early yesterday morning to sell O. J. Simpson T-shirts.

Display angers some

Corey Brown, 26, sold $10 T-shirts emblazoned with an expletive over police-style mug shots of Mark Fuhrman in the cross hairs of a shotgun. And although Nation of Islam guards had told Mr. Brown to fold his shirt so that the expletive would not show, people still gathered to buy his product in bunches or simply take pictures of it.

Some participants bristled at the display, saying it only enhanced negative stereotypes of African-American men.

"That contradicts everything we're trying to do here today," said James Preston, 48, a management analyst for the U.S. Treasury Department.

"Shouting curses -- that's exactly the kind of stuff we're trying to get away from."

Still more demonstrators said the day had very little to do with Mr. Simpson and the trial controversy. Such talk, they said, distracted from the themes of unity that ruled the day.

"I don't want to talk about O. J.," said Duane Allen, 23, who works at the Chart House restaurant in Baltimore.

'This is about brotherhood'

"The verdict is what it is and let's leave it at that. This is about brotherhood."

But others said there was no way to separate the march from the Simpson verdict. Both are about justice, they said.

"For one time, a black man had enough money to make the justice system work in his favor," said Earl Smith, 57, a security manager from the Bronx, N.Y.

Added Baltimore resident Dwane Boggs, 37: "We finally won one. And we know what injustice is."

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