By ALAN SMASON
At the time of the first reports of what was initially termed a “hate crime,” much of the nation focused its attention on the attack that landed actor Jussie Smollett in the hospital. The hospital room image of the gay, African-American and Jewish actor with a swollen face and lacerations garnered prominent headlines in the entertainment, LGBTQ and Jewish world.
Smollett, who had come out on “The Ellen Show” three years ago became a highly visible member of the entertainment world with his recurring role on ABC’s series “Empire.” But, after Chicago police began to investigate the attack and examining video obtained from area cameras where Smollett claimed to be beaten by two men, it became apparent that he felt he wasn’t visible enough.
According to Chicago investigators, Smollett hatched a plan in which two Nigerian brothers – one of whom had appeared on “Empire” – would don ski masks and lay in wait for him as he walked alone on a deserted Chicago street. Police now believe Smollett intended to gain sympathy from members of his own self-identified communities and become a galvanizing symbol against hate crimes.
Initially denying reports that he was in on the scheme, Smollett changed his story when confronted with overwhelming evidence or the complete lack of substantiation by investigators, who had questioned inconsistencies in his claims. Smollett turned himself in and was arrested by authorities, appearing in court yesterday.
While one might consider, this ill-advised, unsuccessful scheme to have sacrificed Smollett as the only victim. He did, after all, suffer a now-embarrassing beating either at his own hand or by his alleged accomplices. The real victims are the citizens of Chicago, whose resources were put to a test investigating a fake crime and the LGBTQ, African-American and Jewish communities he claims to represent.
Quite rightly, members of those other communities and those within our own are concerned that actual hate crimes will now receive short shrift from authorities who might perceive real hate crimes as potential hoaxes.
A generation of gains achieved by victims of hate has been set back by what appears to be Smollett’s unthinking actions with a possible motivation to get a larger salary on his show.
Meanwhile, legitimate victims of hate crimes may now be reluctant to come forward, hoping to avoid public scrutiny. There is no doubt anti-Semitic attacks have been on the rise globally and this takes attention away from the problem and misdirects it, much to the horror of those charged with protecting our freedom, such as the Anti-Defamation League.
Not only is Smollett charged with a felony for filing a false police report in Chicago, but he could face time in federal prison for his actions.
Smollett was escorted from court on Thursday by a legion of bodyguards protecting him from a gaggle of reporters demanding a statement from the mute actor. Those bodyguards were apparently paid by the show’s producers, but even they have had enough of this debacle.
They have made plans to cut the actor’s scenes from this season’s two final episodes and it appears they will now permanently sever his contract with the show.
The scheme blew up in a way Smollett could not have imagined and now there is no one to blame but himself. There is also another ignoble consequence of his shameful actions. His talent as an actor has not only been sullied and tainted by his very actions might lead the public to associate his surname with that of a verb. To smollett a crime could take on the same implications of actions similar to the way the names Bobbitt and Lewinsky achieved infamy in years past.
Shame, Jussie. Shame on you.