Op-Ed: Smollett Should Be Behind Bars

Jussie Smollett at the Los Angeles special screening of 'Alien:

Actor Jussie Smollett now faces civil charges for faking a hate crime. Photo purchased from BigStock.com

Jussie Smollett, best known for his role as Jamal Lyon on Empire, should be behind bars.

In January, he staged a brutal hate crime to enhance his profile and further his career. 

Despite the Chicago Police Department’s abundant evidence to the contrary, Smollett, who identifies as gay, still maintains his innocence against charges that he planned a late night attack by two white assailants, had an unknown substance poured on him, and a noose tied around his neck.

Immediately after filing the police report, his fanbase encircled him with support.

“My body is strong but my soul is stronger,” Smollett said in a statement following his report to police. “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.”

In that same statement, he also claimed that he was “working with authorities and have been 100 percent factual and consistent on every level.”

Shortly into their investigation, however, police determined that Smollett had paid two African American assailants to take part in the planned attack—a far cry from what he claimed.

According to a recent New York Times article, “the actor practiced and staged the charade and paid two co-conspirators—Abimbola and Olabinjo Osundairo—to carry out the attack, authorities say, because he was dissatisfied with his salary on the show ‘Empire,’ for which he has a starring role.”

While Smollett was assaulted, the details of that assault matter. Smollett paid his attackers to harm him for personal gain, tarnishing his reputation in the process.

Thus far, the repercussions Smollett has faced for his actions have been few and far between. He initially faced multiple criminal charges, including filing a false police report, but they were all dropped, amidst significant controversy, after police spent weeks investigating the false claim.

“Our officers did a great job,” Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel said in a March 28 press briefing. “They took a crime that was called a hate crime for sexual orientation and for race. They took it seriously. They dedicated their resources to deal with it, to find out who perpetrated it and we found out that the person calling the police was the perpetrator.”

“This is a whitewash of justice,” Emanuel also said, referring to the dropped charges.

Now, Smollett is now facing a $130,000 civil suit due to his refusal to reimburse the city for looking into his fake report. But nothing can make up for the damage done by Smollett’s lies and abhorrent behavior. Indeed, his actions have undermined the credibility of legitimate reports of hate crimes.   

Along these lines, journalist Pierre-Antoine Louis recently wrote a New York Times article, reflecting on his own experiences as a gay, black man.

“We have to fight twice as hard for acceptance, and often within our own communities,” Louis wrote. “Our marginalized identities increase our chances of both racist and homophobic attacks.” 

Louis’s points are entirely valid, and I fear that Smollett has made even more hate-crime victims feel that they won’t be believed.  This is a travesty of justice, and I hope that people continue to speak out against how the Chicago’s Cook Country State Attorney’s Office mishandled the case. 

Smollett should be punished, and not just by paying his way out of the situation, or having his career suffer. He should face prison time.

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