On Jan. 29th, actor and performer Jussie Smollett was allegedly attacked returning from a Subway at around 2 a.m. As he crossed an intersection, he heard, “Empire” followed by a series of racial and homophobic slurs. Then the reported attack began by two white men, resulting in bruising on his face, ribs and clavicle, with bleach found on his clothing and a rope tied around his neck. The phrase, “this is MAGA country” was also said during the attack. The attack followed a letter that was sent seven days prior to the studio where Empire is filmed saying, “you will die” with “MAGA” written as the return address.
While, initially, Smollett received an influx of support, things soon began to change following the arrest of Olabinjo and Abimbola Osundairo. After being taken into custody, the Osundario brothers revealed that they were paid by Smollett, in the amount of $3,500, to stage the attack. Reports say that Smollett messaged Abimbola Osundario, “Might need your help on the low. You around to meet up to talk face-to-face?” prior to the attack and that less than 18 hours after the incident, a call was made between the two and another 9-minute call while the brothers were in Turkey.
On Feb. 21, Smollett turned himself in to the police on a felony charge of disorderly conduct in filing a false police report. In a police press conference, CPD Superintendent Eddie Johnson claims that Smollett used the attack to boost his status because he was, “dissatisfied with his salary.” Fox, who has mostly supported Smollett through this ordeal, came forward to say that they were never approached by Smollett in regards to a raise and have cut Smollett’s character, Jamal, out of the remaining two episodes of the current season; his character’s overall fate still left to question. Throughout this whole ordeal, Smollett has maintained his innocence.
While Smollett’s actions present a major legal issue, it also presents the question of what Smollett’s actions, if convicted, mean on a larger, social level. For an African American gay man to fake an attack on himself calls into question the validity of other hate crimes and diminishes the suffering these individuals go through.
Kayla Cruz, a freshman at UNCG, comments, “I think cases like these are super destructive and set back any progress made. Let’s be honest, this country is set up against minorities, and especially with [this incident] centering [around] a famous African American man, it feeds into the mindset that hate crimes aren’t real.”
Cases like Smollett’s are not common, but they do occur. The director of the Center for the Study of Hate and Extremism at California State University in San Bernardino, Brian Levin, reported that there we 21,000 hate crimes reported between 2016 and 2018. Levin says he has only counted 49 fake reports. Even though that number is miniscule compared to the real reports, a widely-publicized incident like Smollett’s calls attention to that number and puts doubt into people’s minds about which cases are true or false. Ultimately, this creates the most conflict for victims of hate crimes. With already preconceived doubt towards victims, the Smollett situation may incite fear into victims and cause them to not come forward. As Cruz stated, this would cause a major step back from the progress made in believing victims and taking their cases seriously.
Ultimately, the question of whether Jussie Smollett did, in fact, fake an attack on himself is still yet to be answered with certainty, though the evidence is mounting against his favor. As the case proceeds, the social and legal backlash towards Smollett continues to accumulate, and what comes next is still left to be answered.
Categories: Arts & Entertainment