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March 30, 2005

Johnnie Cochran: Ordinary Hero

It's going to take a long time to get out all I want to say about Johnnie Cochran, especially now that Harold Cruse is gone. I met Johnnie on several occassions and I was good friends with one of the attorneys at his firm in Los Angeles, the firm that was there before he got supersized.

Cochran was your basic hero, the kind of crusader who never went off the deep end, a man who understood what was possible and never stopped being a champion or a defender. I think Ira Reiner had some fairly uncouth things to say last night on Warren Olney's show, then again Ira Reiner is not famous as Johnnie Cochran, and it shows.

I knew Johnnie from the perspective of black cultural nationalism, which is nothing more or less than that set of values that make blackfolks work together within America for their common benefit. Johnnie represented black law because Johnnie not only did the work, the integrative mainstream work, but he did the meta-work, opening doors, showing pathways and mentoring. He wasn't just a symbol, he was an active part of the process of getting kids into the profession. As such, there was a certain amount of BS that flew by the wayside. You couldn't complain about blacks not being properly represented in the legal profession or that nobody was doing anything about police brutality, because not only was Johnnie doing that, he had a chain of folks he could point to. He was to black law students what John Slaughter has been to black engineering students - the man that made so much happen.

Johnnie had a unique way about him. He was larger than life in quiet ways. He was both unassuming and unflappable. He made you think that, here was a man who had everything going for him, and yet he remained personable. He wasn't just 'the man' he was a node in a network, and when you knew that you could network with Johnnie Cochran, that was powerful inspiration indeed. At least that's how he appeared to me.

I first met him at a graduation affair. My friend 'Dianne' had just graduated from Law School and at the humble home of one of the others in her graduating class, people had gathered to munch, mingle and celebrate. There was an odd mix of the connected, family members, experienced attorneys, politicos and neighborhood folks and friends at the small gathering. Some of them whispered to me how much Johnnie had made connections with just about every organization of black law students. In the living room, the atmosphere was relaxed, while some serious political rap session was going down in the kitchen. There was a brief ceremony and Johnnie, along with the graduates decked in Kinte scarves, joined hands in a circle of prayer. Johnnie seemed, nothing more or less than everybody's kind and wise uncle.

What impressed me most about Cochran, was not the man himself but what he was trying to prove in the Reginald Denny case. If you haven't heard yet, he took on the LAPD in a new and unique way by defending the civil rights of a white man, at least that's the soundbite version. His case was essentially that Denny and several others suffered because police had made a strategic decision not to defend the lives and properties of people in black and latino neighborhoods. Since I am a big follower of Loury, Massey & Denton this was a new angle that made perfect sense to me. I don't know whatever became of the Denny case, but the implications of what might have been (and still may yet be) are fascinating.

Like most people, I know that Johnnie Cochran was police brutality's enemy number one. And I know that he was involved in most of the city's most notorious cases. What I didn't know was that 'If it doesn't fit, you must acquit' was not his idea. I'll try to find out more if I go to the funeral.

The last time I saw Johnnie was just a day before the OJ verdict. I saw him at the San Francisco airport. He stopped to say hello and I wished him good luck. He actually looked like he needed it.

Also: This time NPR got it right. I expect to hear a lot of idiocy about Cochran, but I'm not going to dignify it. I'll tell you that right now.

Posted by mbowen at March 30, 2005 04:52 PM

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I think Johnnie Cochran was a Gifted person, God saw the need, and he was just what sooooo many people needed,I know apart of many people went with him the day GOD called him home, and departing, he leaves us behind, The FOOTPRINTS on the Sand and to me with a Memory like this one, I think His Job was well done, I did not know him personally, but in my Heart Of Hearts I will Always remember that he was just who he said he was; Johnnie L. Cochran for his purpose in Life Will Still Stand, like he once said; You Do Well By Doing Good !
Linda Marilla

Posted by: Linda Marilla at April 3, 2005 05:09 PM