Lead Story West Edition

Barbershop customers divided on O.J.’s pending release

SOUTH LOS ANGELES — O.J. Simpson can still stir the emotions of people.

Never was that more evident than July 22 — two days after a Nevada parole board granted the former NFL star parole after he has served nine years of a 33-year prison sentence for armed robbery and kidnapping charges — on a visit to a couple of local barbershops. Love him, hate him or stuck somewhere in the middle, folks still have something to say about the man.

Carl, owner of South West Vacuum & Repair in South Los Angeles, who was getting his hair cut at Lawson’s Barbershop, can’t understand why Simpson was given the time he was handed because he was trying to get his stuff back.

“How are you going to give somebody nine to 33 years for going and taking his own stuff?” he asked. “I haven’t been able to figure that out. I kind of had my doubts of them giving him parole, but I’m glad they did.”

Simpson, 70, could be released as early as Oct. 1. A Nevada parole board voted 4-0 to grant Simpson parole, after a roughly 90-minute hearing in which the former running back and actor said he had been a model prisoner. Simpson also repeatedly apologized for his role in the crime.

“I’ve spent nine years making no excuses about anything,” Simpson said. “I am sorry that things turned out the way they did. I had no intent to commit a crime. … I tell the inmates all the time I don’t want to hear about your crime. You know, … in here we’re all convicts. I’m a convict. Do your time and don’t do anything to extend your time.

“I told the warden when I got here … that I would be no problem. I believe in the jury system. I will honor what the jury said and I will be no problem, you know, and I think I kept my word.”

After being acquitted in 1995 by a criminal court jury in the murders of his ex-wife, Nicole Brown Simpson and her friend Ronald Goldman, but later found liable for their deaths in a civil trial, Simpson became a living symbol of race polarization in America.

Carl believes people should cut the 70-year-old Simpson some slack and allow him to have some peace.

“People should leave him alone,” Carl said. “Whether it’s true or not, he never started no fight in the street or nothing. The way that people are talking now, that’s what he’s going to do, get out and pick fights and all this other stuff. I don’t believe that. I just think that they should leave the man alone.”

The owner of Tolliver’s Barbershop, Lawrence Tolliver, was blunt with his take on Simpson going free.

O.J. Simpson

“O.J. should do like the people I saw at the Bill Pickett Rodeo last weekend,” Tolliver said. “He should ride off into the sunset and be quiet and not be heard from again.

“He should do like [actor] Robert Blake (another celebrity acquitted of murder). … We don’t need nothing about him, you made it OK, so just go ahead. We’re not concerned about you now. You’re 70 years old, learn from your mistakes, and be quiet and have a happy ending to your life.”

As far as Simpson being incarcerated in the first place for the crime he committed, Tolliver pointed to the so-called “Trial of the Century” as a major reason why the former Heisman Trophy winner found himself behind bars.

“He made bad decisions to bring people with guns,” Tolliver said. “I think that all that time was predicated on what happened here in Los Angeles. I think the sentencing was over the top.

“Here again, you have to understand that you’re a target, so you have to be cleaner or live cleaner than everybody else. He wasn’t very smart in going on that caper. But he did nine years. No one else in the group did any time like that. They picked on O.J., but he put himself in that situation.”

Simpson was convicted in the Nevada incident on Oct. 3, 2008, 13 years to the day after he was acquitted of murdering Brown Simpson and Goldman.

“He just got trapped into a situation that he should never have got involved with,” Yusuf Muhammad said. “They gave him that time because they were after him about those murders.

“There’s no way you’re supposed to do nine years for the crimes he did. It’s his property. He did nine years for that. He should have gotten the parole. He should have gotten it sooner. He did nine years. The only reason they probably gave it to him is because of behavior.”

When Simpson walked after that first criminal trial, America imploded in racial angst. This time around, there is a general sense that people have moved on with their lives.

Social media went a bit crazy, but the hysteria around Simpson is nowhere near the race-toxic climate that it was 23 years ago. That could be because of time. It also could be that Simpson has become irrelevant in a lot of people’s eyes.

Rick, a customer at Tolliver’s Barbershop for three decades, has some empathy for Simpson, but not a whole lot.

“If you’re a model prisoner inside, be a model citizen when you get out,” Rick said. “He did something wrong. They were after him. You should have had more sense than that. I think he did his time.”