On The Surface, and Beneath The Surface
Remembering Attorney Johnnie Cochran
Recently many of us were shocked and saddened at the death of Attorney Johnnie
Cochran.  As one newspaper commentator wrote, “Johnnie L. Cochran Jr., whose
fierce, flamboyant and electrifyingly effective advocacy in the O. J. Simpson murder
trial captivated the country and solidified his image as a master of high-profile
criminal defense, died yesterday at his home in Los Angeles.”  Beneath the surface
of this tragedy is that so few people realized the greatness of Johnnie Cochran.

On the surface, to many people Johnnie Cochran was symbolic of the polarizing
effect the O.J. Simpson Case had on America.  Beneath the surface, but often
overlooked is Johnnie’s sacrifice, his tenacity, his wisdom, his contribution and the
total positive impact of his life on the African-American community specifically and
American justice generally.

Anyone ever caught standing, walking, running, driving, or shopping “while Black”
understands what I’m referring to.  Prejudice, discrimination and intolerance run so
deep in the United States, that in the final days of the O.J. trial, I was called upon at
my place of employment to explain why the trial was taking specific twists and turns.  
The irony of someone being stopped from doing his job to explain the actions of
people nearly 3000 miles away is itself a criminal act.  That act of insensitivity which
bordered on a violation of my civil rights inspired the booklet
Letter to a White
Associate.  The day of O.J.’s acquittal, a young female student slammed a door in
my face as I was entering Cleveland State University, an “institution of higher
learning,” where apparently she was learning nothing.  My purpose for being at that
institution was to volunteer my services to the community as I had done so many
times prior.  Now if I was guilty, what did much of America have to say about O.J. or
Johnnie Cochran?  You remember, you were there.

On the surface, had Johnnie Cochran not been African-American, he would have
been praised and almost glorified for his wit, his wisdom, and his contribution, yet
too much of America will remember him in a different light.  That is tragic, because
we understand that beneath the surface, to be as good as he was, accomplish what
he did, and leave the legacy honest Americans will acknowledge, as an African-
American, he had to be “One Fantastic Brother.”

It will be up to African-Americans to remember and report on the true Johnnie
Cochran, because he is now part of a proud black history.  Our children and
grandchildren, and those that follow need to know of his accomplishments, as they
need to know of others, who quietly and consistently perform in the trenches, always
challenged, often ignored, sometimes misunderstood and usually misrepresented.

The accomplishments and very survival of future generations is directly related to
the degree that we share our true challenges and accomplishments.  We cannot
wait fifty years for the History Channel to report on the true Johnnie Cochran.  We
cannot wait as we waited to hear the true story of the Tuskegee Airmen, the Red
Ball Express, and the Scottsboro Boys.  We must spread facts as fast as we spread
gossip.  We cannot wait, because on the surface America has judged Johnnie
Cochran on media sensationalism and institutional racial stereotypes.  We cannot
wait, because beneath the surface, the inspiration of Johnnie’s life can become the
seed for a generation of lawyers, community leaders and others, who may be  
temporarily disguised as unchallenged, poorly motivated young African Americans
standing on a street corner.

Johnnie was well known for his handling of police brutality cases on behalf of black
clients and for representing celebrities in trouble. Both experiences proved valuable
at the Simpson trial.  Johnnie relied on his knowledge of the Los Angeles Police
Department gleaned from his days in the Los Angeles city attorney's office.

He defended Elmer Pratt, a leader of the Black Panther Party also known as
Geronimo. Mr. Cochran represented Mr. Pratt when he was convicted in 1972 of
murdering a 27-year-old schoolteacher on a tennis court in Santa Monica, and
worked tirelessly to overturn that verdict.  In 1997, Mr. Cochran was part of the team
that convinced Judge Everett W. Dickey of Orange County Superior Court to void
the conviction and free Mr. Pratt because prosecutors had withheld crucial evidence
about a witness.

Johnnie founded a successful national law firm, The Cochran Firm, devoted mostly
to personal injury cases, and authored "A Lawyer's Life," one of his two

He served as the host of programs on Court TV and as a legal commentator on
NBC and elsewhere.

He represented Abner Louima, the Haitian immigrant tortured by police officers in
the bathroom of a Brooklyn station house in 1997, eventually helping to settle Mr.
Louima's civil case for $8.75 million.

He also briefly represented Kadiatou Diallo, the mother of Amadou Diallo, who was
killed by four police officers in 1999.

He and Benjamin Brafman defended Sean Combs, the rap star, in a weapons case
in 2001. Mr. Combs was acquitted.

Johnnie Cochran helped pay a libel judgment against the Rev. Al Sharpton, erasing
a political liability, "because," Mr. Cochran said, "New York needs Al Sharpton."

Johnnie Cochran went into private practice in 1966 and made a name for himself in
police brutality cases but handled hundreds of other cases, too.

He represented Michael Jackson, the pop star, in his first child molestation case.
Johnnie Cochran helped negotiate a settlement of a civil case in 1994, and
prosecutors dropped the criminal charges.

In all of his cases, Johnnie Cochran showed notable flair and creativity.

When a client accused of robbery said he was a victim of mistaken identity, Johnnie
Cochran asked the victim to point out the robber from the witness stand.

"Without hesitating," Johnnie Cochran recalled, "she pointed right at the man sitting
at the defense table and said firmly, 'That's him, sitting at the table.' "

"But knowing I was going to ask that question," Johnnie Cochran continued, "I'd
seated my client among the spectators and had a man of about the same build
sitting at the table." His client went free.

Johnnie Cochran's opposition to the death penalty was tested in 1998, when his
younger brother, Ralonzo, was murdered. He asked the district attorney, without
success, not to seek the death penalty. The killer was later sentenced to 75 years
to life.

Johnnie Cochran spoke with pride about catching Mark Fuhrman, then a Los
Angeles police detective, in a lie about whether he had ever used a racial epithet.

But Johnnie Cochran's legacy may well be captured in a little rhyme he used to
convince the Simpson jurors to let his client go. He reminded them that Mr. Simpson,
asked by prosecutors to try on a bloody glove found at his house after the killings,
struggled without success to pull it on.

"If the glove doesn't fit," Johnnie Cochran said, "you must acquit."  Johnnie Cochran
said the line was suggested by another member of the legal team, Gerald Uelmen,
and sometimes he seemed to grow tired of the references to it and parodies of it in
the popular culture.

"It's the line that eventually will be cited by Bartlett's Familiar Quotations," he wrote,
"the line endlessly quoted to me by people, the line by which I'll be remembered,
and I suspect it will probably be my epitaph."

Johnnie L. Cochran Jr. was born in Shreveport, La., on Oct. 2, 1937. His father,
Johnnie L. Cochran Sr., a pipe fitter and later an insurance executive, moved the
family to Alameda, Calif., in 1943.

The younger Cochran graduated from the University of California, Los Angeles in
1959, with a degree in business administration, and from Loyola Law School three
years later.

In addition to his contributions in the field of law, Johnnie Cochran contributed
generously of himself to the cause of civil and human rights.  A talented attorney on
the surface, and a true gentleman and scholarship beneath the surface.

Johnnie Cochran is survived by his wife, Dale Mason; two daughters, Melodie
Cochran and Tiffany Edwards; a son, Jonathan; and two sisters, Pearl Baker and
Martha Jean Sherrard.

Publisher’s Comment:  On three occasions, I had the opportunity to be in Johnnie
Cochran’s presence, and each time found  him to be cordial, humble and a credit to
humanity.  Thanks to my Sister Jean Ford who has lived in Southern California for a
number of years and was able to impart some lesser known but significant facts
about Johnnie Cochran’s life.  



Honoring Mothers
and Fathers

Women of The Word

Chester's Fine Cuisine
Grand Opening

The Few, The Proud,
The Marines
Steven Crudup

Johnnie Cochran

Andrea Maxie

Capital University
Celebrating 25 Years

Supporting Our Youth
Chavon Brown &
Deborah Edwards

WEA Red Carpet
Achievement Awards

Denzel Washington

Andy Ronney's
Tips for
Telemarketing Victims




VISIONS Newsletter - May-Jun, 2005 - Published Bi-Monthly