Early Tuesday morning on January 29th, ‘Empire’ actor Jussie Smollett reported to the Chicago police that he had been assaulted in what was described as a “possible hate crime” by the Chicago Police in a statement released by a spokesperson for the department. Details were later released about the alleged crime: supposedly two unknown men sporting President Donald Trump’s infamous “Make America Great Again” hats had assaulted Smollett, pouring an unknown chemical substance on the actor while beating him, yelling homophobic and racist slurs at Smollett, an black and openly gay man. The two assailants had allegedly tied a noose around the actor’s neck and ended the attack by exclaiming “This is MAGA country!”
As the media reported on the matter the immediate reaction was strong on both sides of the political spectrum and the general public. There was an outpouring from celebrities, politicians, and social media influencers alike with many sharing sentiments that the supposed incident was not surprising in today’s hyper-polarized media and political climate. To many, the incident was deemed plausible on many social media platforms. With an FBI report released in 2017 (with updates in data since) showing that hate crimes have been on the rise for the past three years with close to 60% of being motivated by race or religion, and close to 50% solely being anti-black this attack was something that many in marginalized communities, those that Smollett himself is a part of, felt was a very real ordeal.
On the opposing side to those voicing support for the actor, many questioned whether or not the alleged assault against Smollett was a hoax for attention. As reported by The New York Times, many readers had written in to the editors detailing their skepticism. The plausibility of two men screaming “This is MAGA country!” at the actor in one of the most liberal cities in America seemed far-fetched as well as Smollett’s random appearance at the police station with the noose still around his neck. Some also noted his healthy and unscathed appearance in his first interview with host Robin Roberts on the morning television program Good Morning America.
In that interview Smollett defended himself against those doubting his account, saying, “I am telling the truth,” and went on to call out the double standard of race at play in the ordeal telling Roberts, “It feels like if I had said it was a Muslim, or a Mexican, or someone black, I feel like the doubters would have supported me much more.” He ultimately stated that he, as well as other victims of hate crimes, should be believed. The actor also discussed the image of the two alleged assailants released by the Chicago Police Department saying that the image vindicated him. When asked why he felt the two people’s pictures could be the attackers he simply responded, “Because I was there.”
In a shocking twist to the story, Smollett was arrested on February 21st after turning himself in to the Chicago Police early that morning. The Cook County District Attorney indicted and charged the actor with 16 counts of felony disorderly conduct in relation to the police report he had filed as well as lying to law enforcement, falsifying information, and forcing them to open an investigation. As reported by The New York Times, Smollett, “practiced and staged the charade and paid two co-conspirators,” brothers Abimbola and Olabinjo Osundairo to carry out the staged attack because the actor was dissatisfied with his earnings from the show ‘Empire’ in which he had a role. The backlash was swift. Fox, the studio which produces the show, immediately cut his character out from the remaining episodes he was scheduled to appear in and condemned the act. In a press conference during the aftermath of the bombshell development superintendent of the Chicago Police Department, Eddie T. Johnson, condemned the supposedly staged attack and voiced visible frustration, arguing that the resources used in that investigation could have been diverted and used for those who were actually suffering. Johnson went on to say that, “I just wish that the families of gun violence in this city got this much attention.”
In the wake of new developments to the story, the outcry against Smollett and the act he carried out was widespread. Members of the black and gay communities felt betrayed as the actor took every day experiences for the communities and used it for his own commercial gain, in the end only hurting the very people he represented. At Ramapo some voiced the same opinions. Senior Austin Li said, “This staged attack only makes things worse for the victims of the actual crimes taking place,” he added, “very few hate crimes are reported out of fear of not being heard or properly investigated, and this will only make them more afraid to come forward and the accounts will not be believed.” Similarly, Mrs. Mitchell, the Gay-Straight Alliance Club Advisor and English teacher at Ramapo called the incident, “Unfortunate for the LGBT community,” saying that, “it was sick on his part to fake what minorities he represents go through.”
As reported by The Washington Post, “The Cook County State’s Attorney’s Office on Tuesday [March 26th] dismissed the multi count indictment against ‘Empire’ actor Jussie Smollett,” which sparked, “widespread confusion,” and anger from many. Chicago mayor Rahm Emanuel called it a, “white wash of justice,” at a press conference presenting an irony in the fact that statistically black men are more likely to be prosecuted and convicted of crimes than their white counterparts according to statistics published by the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People. The case was closed by the Cook County prosecutors and police evidence was sealed blindsiding many officials. According to The New York Times the case ended in a, “diposition.” Mr. Dan Laner, a history and law teacher at Ramapo clarified what that meant saying, “This means it is very likely Smollett will have to go to rehab and serve community service hours as his sentence.” As of the writing of this article much remains to be solved, leaving the general public in the dark as to what really happened and why all charges were dropped leaving the question still the same: was this a hate crime or a hoax?
Featured Photo: (Empire actor Jussie Smolett Photo courtesy of Variety.com)
By: Dan Lopez, Staff Writer