On Tuesday's episode of The People v. O.J. Simpson: American Crime Story, the roots of Johnnie Cochran's (Courtney B. Vance) mistrust of the Los Angeles Police Department were made plain. The episode opens with a scene of Cochran getting pulled over while driving his two young daughters to lunch. This apparently isn't the first time Cochran's been stopped for no reason, and only after the policeman realizes the black man driving a fancy car is an assistant district attorney does he let Cochran go, with no apology.
Later, one of Cochran's daughters asks whether the policeman used the N-word after he asked Cochran to get out of the car. "He didn't have to," Cochran replies, before instructing his daughter never to use that shameful word.
Fast-forward 20 years, and both the prosecuting and defense teams on the O.J. Simpson trial are preparing their opening statements. The prosecutors are sticking to their narrative of spousal abuse-turned-murder and relying on the overwhelming DNA evidence against Simpson.
Unfortunately, the witness responsible for presenting the DNA evidence is Mark Fuhrman (Steven Pasquale), the detective who found the bloody glove at Simpson's house, and who also has a checkered past that includes allegations of racism and bigotry. After meeting with him, Christopher Darden (Sterling K. Brown), aware that the defense could easily tear Fuhrman to pieces, tries to convince lead prosecutor Marcia Clark (Sarah Paulson) to drop him from the witness list, but she refuses.
In court, trying to preemptively lessen the blow of what he knows the defense will bring against Fuhrman, Darden pleads with Judge Lance Ito (Kenneth Choi) to not allow the N-word to be used in the court proceedings. "The N word is a dirty, filthy word, Your Honor," Darden says. "It is so prejudicial and inflammatory that the use of it in any situation will evoke an emotional response from any African-American. ... You mention that word to this jury, it will blind them to the truth. They won't be able to discern what is truth and what's not. It will impair their judgment. It will affect their ability to be fair. It'll force the black jurors to make a choice - whose side are you on, the Man's or the brother's?"
No sooner does he sit down than Cochran jumps all over his words like a vulture onto prey, calling Darden's argument "deeply demeaning to African-Americans."
"I would like to apologize to African-Americans across this country. It is preposterous to say that African-Americans collectively are so emotionally unstable that they cannot hear offensive words without losing their moral sense of right and wrong. They live with offensive words, offensive looks, offensive treatment every day," Cochran says. "I am ashamed that Mr. Darden would allow himself to become an apologist for Mark Fuhrman."
After his tirade, as he's turning to sit down, Cochran has two very pointed words for Darden: "N---a, please." Cue Marcia Clark burying her head in her hands. (Later, Cochran begins his opening statement at the trial with a quote from Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.)
In the wake of the remarks, Darden gets brutalized in the press. An L.A. Times poll the following day says that 76 percent of African-Americans don't believe he's doing a good job. One editorial refers to him as an Uncle Tom. Darden wants to grant interviews to black press outlets to defend himself, but District Attorney Gil Garcetti (Bruce Greenwood) tells him to keep his mouth shut.
"I think he got an unfair shake," Brown tells TVGuide.com about Darden. "I think black people saw him as something that he wasn't. ... He wanted to be seen as someone of integrity who stood for his people."
As the trial gets underway, jurors pay a visit to Simpson's home, which has been significantly African-ized by Cochran & Co. so it will play well to the (mostly black) jury. Gone also are the nude pictures of Simpson's girlfriend Paula Barbieri (replaced with prominent photographs of his mother). His Heisman trophy, however, remains. During the jury visit, after an enraged Simpson (Cuba Gooding Jr.) yells at Darden for sitting on a bench in his backyard, Cochran has a piece of advice for the younger lawyer: let the white folks on the team handle Fuhrman. Darden is skeptical about the offering, but his father suggests that, after eviscerating him in court previously, perhaps Cochran was perhaps just trying to help him out, "black man to black man."
After doing a dry run with Fuhrman in which the detective swears he's never used the N-word in his life, Darden again tells Clark that they shouldn't put him on the stand. Clark refuses, and Darden takes Cochran's advice, asking if someone else can question him. Clark argues that Darden should take Fuhrman because it will "present better," but when Darden presses her to admit that she only wants him to question Fuhrman because he's black, Clark's refusal to acknowledge race again takes hold and she says that she'll question Fuhrman herself.
The episode closes with an ominous shot of Fuhrman admiring the "World War II memorabilia" he had told Darden about - a collection of Nazi medallions.
See what else Sterling K. Brown has to say about Christopher Darden's inner conflicts during the trial in the video below: