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How Jussie Smollett’s Alleged Lies May Harm Future Hate Crime Victims

Clarion photo Sophie Weir

By Kira Chan, Editor-in-Chief

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Singer and actor Jussie Smollett of the hit Fox show “Empire” gained national attention in late January when he filed a police report detailing an extremely racist, homophobic, and vicious attack. However, the Chicago Police Department recently released information showing that he orchestrated the attack himself, hiring two men to make it look like he was the victim of a hate crime. This has sparked debate over believing victims, as well as concern about the impact that Smollett’s actions could have on future victims of hate crimes.

This case started on Jan. 29 when Smollett filed a report to the police detailing a horrific attack in which two men said offensive slurs to him, poured chemicals on his body, and put a noose around his neck. In the days following, celebrities took to social media to express their concern and support for Smollett, and used it to speak out against racist and homophobic hate crimes. Two suspects caught on a nearby camera were arrested, but in hour 47 of their arrest, they began cooperating with the police and revealed details of Smollett’s alleged plan. Smollett then shifted from a victim to a suspect.

On Feb. 21, Smollett was charged with felony disorderly conduct for the false report, which is punishable for one to three years in prison. It was revealed by the Chicago Police Department that one of the men who was a suspect was a set worker on Empire, and he and his brother were hired by Smollett for $3,500 to stage an attack on him. The motive has been said that Smollett didn’t feel as though he was getting adequate pay from his salary from “Empire.” The investigation is still underway; Smollett paid a $100,000 bail to be released from jail shortly after being detained, and police continue to look into the details of the case. The two men that were hired have also spoken out, saying they feel “tremendous regret” over their participaction.

If what the Chicago P.D. say is true and he did file a false police report, his actions have extremely detrimental consequences for future crime victims. He represents marginalized groups that are often disregarded by the law, namely the black community and the LGBTQ+ community, and is taking steps back for these groups and activists who have fought hard to gain acceptance in society and have their reports of discrimination taken seriously. The black and LGBTQ+ communities already have difficulty being considered and respected in terms of the law, and Smollett’s alleged actions made the practice of believing victims worse for those who now try and file hate crimes. They may face even more skepticism from law enforcers who may discredit their claim, invalidating a real victim who didn’t fake their crime.

Furthermore, it is already difficult for victims to come forwards in hate crimes, often due to fear of stimulating further violence. Having such a public case of someone faking a hate crime for attention is not an encouragement for victims to believe that the law be on their side. This situation comes at a time when hate crimes are on the rise; The FBI revealed that hate crimes went up by a 17 percent increase in 2017, so this issue is not stopping. The worst part is that, if Smollett did in fact orchestrate this, it was for a publicity stunt and money, a selfish move for people who will now be negatively affected by his actions. As stated by Chicago Police Department superintendent Eddie Johnson, “Jussie Smollett took advantage of the pain and anger of racism to promote his career.”

Racial bias in the judicial system is extremely prevalent, and has been for a long time. For example, Jim Crow laws enforced racial segregation in the U.S. from the late 18th century to the mid-19th century, however the same racial divide is seen in action today. This bias can be seen in areas such as traffic laws, the drug war, and the death penalty. An example of this is in Mississippi where the population of gang members are 51 percent white, but every single person prosecuted under the state’s gang laws from 2010-2017 was black, according to the Mississippi Association of Gang Investigators. Another example is from a report by the Sentencing Project who found that blacks and Latinos make up 51 percent of the population in New York City, however they also made up 80 percent of misdemeanors. When those with power disregard victims, especially minorities, and favor white males especially, it creates a divide and discourages people from speaking up as they predict the outcome or not being believed. If Smollett lied, it is fuel for the divide of race in the courtroom and skepticism over people of color, a disappointment to victims who may feel less inclined to speak up.

On the contrary, there is still the debate of believing the victim no matter what, something that is absolutely vital in today’s society, and in this case, it was extremely important to believe Smollett. For example, in terms of sexual violence, the National Sexual Violence Resource Center published a report stating that less than 10 percent of sexual assaults were false reports, a very low number, however it is still a societal norm to disregard sexual abuse victims. Due to a lack of believing victims, perpetrators aren’t charged or even seen as suspects. When a case isn’t taken seriously and the victim is disregarded, it further encourages people not to come forward because they may feel as though they won’t be supported by the law, even if they are in the right. Additionally, due to the bias in the judicial system and the power of social media, there is also question over how this situation would be responded to if he was white; would he be believed more? If he was a woman, would the public have a different response?

In Smollett’s case, what he claimed to experience was an awful hate crime and definitely needed to be taken seriously; it was a vicious and harmful verbal and physical attack, and I think it was handled appropriately by the Chicago Police Department. But, if he orchestrated the attack, which the investigation is beginning to lead towards, that is much worse than the crime itself. It’s disrespectful towards people who will now be victims of his actions and further sets a bad example for people who look up to him.

As for Smollett’s future with “Empire,” it won’t be a surprise if he is permanently written off the show. The executive producers announced on Feb. 22 that he was not included in the last two episodes of season five, which is airing in March. As a main character from the very first season, he has no doubt been an asset to the show’s extreme success. However, according to CNN, he apologized to the show’s cast and crew for any “embarrassment” that they may have felt about supporting him, but he remains to claim that he is innocent; another part of this story that isn’t quite adding up. After previously discrediting the rumor that Smollett would be written off the show, 20th Century Fox released a statement saying, “We are evaluating the situation and we are considering our options.” Based on the skepticism by many supporters of the show, and the negative attention that Smollett is receiving, it is most likely his run with “Empire” will be cut short.

While this story continues to unfold, it is unsure what is in store for Smollett’s future. What I can say is that, whether or not this actually was staged by him, his reputation and status as an actor and activist has been destroyed. He caused harm to the groups he represents, damaged the future for hate crime victims, and set a bad example of how to take advantage of people’s emotions for personal gain.

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About the Contributors
Kira Chan, Editor in Chief

Hi! I’m Kira Chan, the co-editor-in-chief of the news section. This is my third year on the Clarion and I’ll be graduating from Cleveland in 2019....

Sophie Weir, Editor in Chief

I’m Sophie, and I’m a senior at CHS and a the arts and entertainment editor in chief for the Clarion. This is my third year on the Clarion. My favorite...

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How Jussie Smollett’s Alleged Lies May Harm Future Hate Crime Victims