The latest episode of “The People v. OJ Simpson,” entitled “A Jury in Jail,” includes an awkward racial conversation about Ross Stores v. Target Corp.
“The deputies, they’re not fair,” an African-American juror named Tracy tells Judge Lance Ito. “The white jurors get better treatment than us.”
She elaborates: “Like when they took us out shopping, they gave them an hour at Target and only gave us thirty minutes at Ross!”
“Them?” Ito asks. “Us?”
“They know that blacks like Ross more!” says Tracy.
“Is that, uh… is that true?” Ito asks.
Tracy explodes: “Of course it is, everybody knows that.”
There’s a cut to Johnnie Cochran, who gives a quick nod: It’s true, everybody does know that.
So… did it really happen? Welcome to OJ Fact Check.
DID A JUROR SAY BLACK PEOPLE PREFER ROSS?
Like all small, silly arguments, this one is incredibly complicated.
THE POINT OF THE SCENE
It reveals the frustration of the juror — who among us wouldn’t focus on petty minutiae while locked down during an endless trial? — and foreshadows the extent to which race touched every aspect of the trial.
We also see how Cochran, with a small nod, asserts himself as a voice of all African-Americans, and how Ito lets it go. Is Cochran really qualified to say where an entire race of people likes to shop? There was so much racial sensitivity around the case, the show suggests, that no one dared challenged a sweeping generalization.
WHAT DO ROSS AND TARGET HAVE TO SAY ABOUT THIS?
Ross didn’t reply to a request for comment. Target said in a statement to TheWrap:
Target has almost 1,800 stores and operates in nearly every state in the country. We look to be inclusive and provide a shopping experience and merchandise that is appealing to the diverse interests, lifestyles and preferences of our guests. … [W]e had nothing to do with this episode, so any further questions are not appropriate for Target and should instead be directed to those producing the show.
FX did not reply to a request for comment.
There was a fight over Ross and Target. But it did not break down as straightforwardly as the show suggests.
Jeffrey Toobin, author of “The Run of His Life,” the book on which the series is based, describes the spat thusly:
There was also what Judge Ito bemusedly referred to as the “famous Target/Ross shopping incident,” which involved one juror’s complaint that one group of jurors had an hour to shop at the Ross discount store and thirty minutes at a Target emporium, whereas other jurors had only a half hour at each.
The trial transcripts are even more complicated. Here’s testimony from one of the deputies who monitored jurors and made sure they didn’t talk about the trial — or try to just flee their judicial captivity. You may want to just skip this whole, long section:
Juror 1492 asked us to go to Ross because that was one of the few places that she can go to get her correct size type clothes. So we agreed that we would go to Ross and Target. We had two groups that day. We had a group that wanted to go to both Ross and Target and a group that wanted to go to Target only. I took the group that wanted to go to Target only. Deputy “H” took the group that wanted to go to both Ross and Target. Once my group went into Target and we got done, we left Target and we went to Burger King. We went to Burger King in an effort to kill time to wait for the other group that had to go to both Ross and Target. Once the second group left Ross, they went into Target. Once they got done with Target, they came over to Burger King. Everyone had a chance to buy at Burger King if they wanted to. Then we left Burger King and went to the beach. … We basically let them know they have approximately an hour to get their shopping done. We don’t stick to the hour because a lot of people take a lot of time in looking at one particular piece of clothing or whatever it is that they’re looking at. So even though we say we would like to get in and out in approximately an hour, we normally take much longer than an hour.
In Toobin’s account, everyone had the chance to go to both stores, which would suggest there was no race-based preference for one store over the other. In the deputy’s account, everyone also had a chance to go to both stores, and the group that went only to Target actually got less time to shop for clothes.
Neither the Toobin account nor the deputy account suggests any scenario in which the white jurors received more time than the black jurors.
But: The show did condense a lot, as it tends to do.
For example: Remember that the show says the juror who complained about Ross v. Target was named “Tracy.” Toobin’s book says her name was actually Jeanette Harris. There was another Tracy on the jury, according to Toobin, who had “alleged foot odor.”
This was surely an unfair allegation, because both Target and Ross sell great products for that sort of thing.
“The People v. OJ Simpson” airs Tuesdays at 10 p.m. on FX.