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We can learn from the Smollett case

E.J. Hersom | U.S. Department of Defense

Lights, camera, action!” assumed a whole other meaning for Empire star Jussie Smollett, a black homosexual man whom the media pushed into the spotlight after he claimed he was attacked in a hate crime with the statement of “MAGA,” a reference to President Donald Trump’s catchphrase, at the forefront. While new developments concerning supposedly false claims and contradictions regarding the Jan. 29 attack arose, support for Smollett turned into scorn. However, people should not sweep the case of Smollett under the rug just yet.

The alleged hate crime rapidly garnered mass media attention from celebrities and politicians, all expressing love, support and a condemnation of the attack. Smollett’s on-screen mother, Taraji P. Henson, encouraged him to “walk in your truth,” HuffPost reported, while Sen. Kamala Harris called the attack “an attempted modern day lynching.” Maybe she was right; Smollett did say his attackers put a noose around his neck.

However, plot holes began surfacing in the script, questioning how Smollett’s attackers knew he would visit Subway at 2 a.m., why Smollett refused to hand over all of his phone records and why he paid $3,500 to his alleged attackers.

While it makes sense Smollett would at least pay cash if he orchestrated the attack, Chicago Police Department Superintendent Eddie Johnson stated on Feb. 21 that Smollett staged the whole attack because he wanted a raise, CNN reported. Seems like a lot of trouble to go through for a raise. Whatever happened to just asking?

The Chicago Police Department also believed that it wasted its time and resources investigating the allegedly false attack when it could have spent them elsewhere. While possibly true, it is unlikely that as much attention will be given to normal cases in comparison with celebrity ones, even as Chicago’s mayoral elections approach.

#JusticeForJussie quickly vanished. Politicians and celebrities evaded questions on the Smollett case, although Smollett’s on-screen father Terrence Howard lent his unconditional support. Trump later tweeted, “What about MAGA and the tens of millions of people you insulted with your racist and dangerous comments!? #MAGA.” How ironic when he lied and cried “McCarthyism” after he falsely accused former President Barack Obama of wiretapping Trump Tower.

Highly publicized claims of false reports diminish the credibility of real ones, making it harder for real victims to come forward. Yet, this should not happen. It is unreasonable to judge a whole community based on an individual’s actions. Smollett’s allegedly false orchestration is on him, and people should not let it contaminate the slew of real hate crime reports. If Smollett lied, only his reputation is tarnished.

Many assumed the MAGA-hat wearing Covington, Kentucky, teen threatened a Native American man, yet evidence suggested that this was not the case and media coverage died down, America reported. Whatever happened to giving the benefit of the doubt? Yet, if hate crimes were uncommon, people would be less inclined to quickly believe Smollett — or even the Covington teen — until concrete facts were presented. Unfortunately, the FBI reported that hate crimes increased to 8,828 in 2017.

It is not shameful to want accountability, especially when others have not faced it and injustices are normalized. After all, Carolyn Bryant who accused Emmett Till of whistling at her, culminating in his lynching, still has not faced charges, despite lying about the whole situation. It is funny how the police department arrested Smollett, but no one ever arrested Bryant over false claims. Police even released Smollett’s alleged attackers after doubts arose.

Smollett is not the only celebrity who supposedly led the public astray. Swimmer Ryan Lochte lied about being held at gunpoint during the 2016 Summer Olympics but received community service and no jail time, according to The New York Times.

Meanwhile, Smollett faces up to three years in prison. Perhaps this suggests a double standard, one that treats Smollett as if he is guilty until proven innocent, not innocent until proven guilty.

Claiming false attacks alludes to something deeper, one that suggests the plights, issues and safety standards of marginalized communities are not addressed, which should never be the case. Meanwhile, taking a side and ignoring murky cases is problematic as turning against one another creates a divisive atmosphere that benefits nobody.

Reinforcing one’s beliefs and biases, rather than refuting them, is more common because it is easier. Paying attention to credible sources, putting aside biases and maintaining an objective perspective is harder, but this alleviates tense situations.

Real hate crimes are still happening and they need the amount of attention Smollett’s case received. While the American system is not perfect, putting faith in the justice system and due process may help uncover an impartial truth.

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