Star of Fox television series “Empire” Jussie Smollett walks after 16 charges against him here dropped early last week. The decision has received backlash across the country, including a protest and counter protest outside Cook County administration offices in Chicago yesterday.
On Jan. 29, Smollett, who is black and gay, alerted police that two masked men attacked him in downtown Chicago. The two men were said to have yelled homophobic and racial slurs at Smollett and then proceeded to put a rope around his neck while pouring a chemical substance on him.
As law enforcement searched for the two men involved, Smollett released an initial statement that read, “Let me start by saying that I’m okay. My body is strong but my soul is stronger. More importantly, I want to say thank you. The outpouring of love and support from my village has meant more than I will ever be able to truly put into words.”
According to The New York Times, Smollett was also aware that his story might be followed by skepticism claiming that it could be a conspiracy theory. In response to those accusations, Smollett released another statement to bring clarity to those that remained skeptical.
“I am working with authorities and have been 100 percent factual and consistent on every level," the statement read. "Despite my frustrations and deep concern with certain inaccuracies and misrepresentations that have been spread, I still believe that justice will be served.”
However, Smollett was arrested on Feb. 21 by the Chicago Police Department on allegations that the actor staged his own assault. He was released on bail afterwards.
On March 26, prosecutors have dropped all 16 charges against Smollett. This decision has angered many people, including Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel, who voiced his opinion on the decision, calling it “a whitewash of justice.”
“You cannot have, because of a person’s position, one set of rules apply to them and one set of rules apply to everybody else,” stated Emanuel.
Prosecutor Kim Foxx explained in an op-ed for The Chicago Tribune that the decision to drop the charges does not imply innocence or guilt but, rather, a lack of sufficient evidence.
“There was considerable evidence, uncovered in large part due to the investigative work of the Chicago Police Department, suggesting that portions of Smollett’s claims may have been untrue and that he had direct contact with his so-called attackers,” Foxx wrote. “Claims by Smollett or others that the outcome of this case has ‘exonerated’ him or that he has been found innocent are simply wrong. He has not been exonerated; he has not been found innocent.”
Foxx further stated that falsely reporting crime is not only morally wrong but a crime in and of itself and that she does not condone such actions.
Assistant Professor of Sociology Dr. Ruth Wienk has studied hate crimes in detail throughout the past couple of years and presented some of her findings at the 2017 Annual Society of Criminology meeting.
Wienk explained that, when someone falsely reports a hate crime, it does take away from their credibility. She said her research, however, typically found reports of hate crimes to be genuine.
“When someone falsely reports, it tends to be sometimes used to say this isn’t a problem because people are just false reporting,” said Wienk. “What we find is that very few of the hate crimes were false reports.”
According to Statista, there were 1,020 documented hate groups in America during 2018, and the most commonly victimized racial or ethnic groups are black or African-American individuals. Statistics do not include cases that occured apart from hate groups.
Visiting Lecturer in Christian Ethics Kevin Snider explained that because honesty and trust are linked, false claims can inflict collateral societal damage.
“We need honest exchanges for our society to flourish, and when we engage in false reporting of any kind, we undermine that flourishing,” said Snider. “Falsely reporting any crime is harmful to both social trust and trust in the individual’s integrity, but it strikes harder when the crime is considered especially bad.”
Senior exercise science major and member of the Black Student Union Nae Cummings said she feels that, regardless of the veracity of Smollett’s claims, those who are truly victims of hate crimes now have to work harder to prove it.
“I think it will make it easier for people who commit hate crimes to get away with it,” Cummings said.
She added that the community should use the Jussie Smollett case to open up discussions about ways to better the society for everyone.
“I would bring awareness by making it a topic of conversations and making our community a safe place for people to be themselves,” said Cummings.