In the opening scene of tonight’s episode of American Crime: The People vs O.J. Simpson, Johnnie Cochran is pulled over in 1982, while driving a Mercedes in a white section of Los Angeles, with his two daughters in the backseat. Cochran acquitted himself as best as one might imagine given the circumstances, and when the police realized he was an Assistant District Attorney, they let him go.
It was that moment in the television series that helped shape the episode. In the Simpson case, the strategy shifted, as the defense decided to elevate Cochran’s role and make the case about race, as it had been when he was pulled over.
But did that really happen?
It did, although the circumstances were somewhat different. It was actually 1979, he was driving a Rolls Royce with his initials on the license plate, and his three daughters were in the backseat, and in the real-life scenario, the cops pulled guns on him.
Get out with your hands up!” Cochran heard an officer scream through a bullhorn.
The cops had their guns drawn. Cochran’s children were crying. The officers searched the car, rummaging through the Euro-style leather clutch he always carried. And, voila, they found his badge from the district attorney’s office.
As has been recounted in multiple publications, Cochran didn’t file a police report. He didn’t register a complaint, and he didn’t sue. “What he did, in his own shrewd way, was to tell the story over and over and over again. It became a signature Cochran anecdote, forever memorialized in magazines and newspapers across the land. The point: Even a black man with a Rolls-Royce and his own initials on his plates can be stopped by police and treated like a criminal.”