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20 Fordham Urb. L.J. 571 (1992-1993)
The Big Black Man Syndrome: The Rodney King Trial and the Use of Racial Stereotypes in the Courtroom

handle is hein.journals/frdurb20 and id is 581 raw text is: THE BIG BLACK MAN SYNDROME: THE
Lawrence Vogelman*
I. Introduction
Nearly everyone had a reaction to the verdict in the Rodney King
Case  -   some ignored the trial and concentrated on the riots in
Los Angeles; others, with broad strokes, dismissed the population of
Ventura County, California, as obviously stupid, blind and racist;
others maintained it was just another example of the criminal justice
system's failure to deal with the victimization of people of color.
Then there were the trial lawyers and trial advocacy pundits. The
ultimate monday-morning quarterbacks, we dissected the case to
try to figure out where the mistakes were made.
In this Essay, I will first make some observations about trial advo-
cacy. Then, I will address the Rodney King case, specifically discuss-
ing what I have coined the Big Black Man Syndrome. Next, I will
discuss some ethical and practical considerations in the use of ethnic
or racial stereotypes in the courtroom. This Essay will then turn to
my one sentence, disturbing analysis of what really happened in that
Simi Valley courtroom. I conclude with some thoughts about what
my analysis means to the students, teachers and practitioners of the
art of advocacy.
II. The Art of Advocacy
The easiest, and most serious trap that any teacher of trial advo-
cacy can fall into is forgetting that trial advocacy is an art, and treat-
ing it as a craft. I stand in front of a room full of students or lawyers
* Clinical Professor of Law, Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law, Yeshiva Univer-
sity; B.A., Brooklyn College, 1970; J.D., Brooklyn Law School, 1973. The author has
been teaching trial advocacy to attorneys and students throughout the country for the
past 15 years.
1. I use the phrase Rodney King Case deliberately. Some criticized this terminol-
ogy, pointing out that Mr. King was a victim and the case should more accurately be
called the Los Angeles police officer beating case, or the like. I found this argument
politically very attractive. Upon reflection, however, I believe that the case was much
more about Rodney King than it was about the officers. That is the thesis behind this

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