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The Hawk News

The Student News Site of St. Joseph's University

The Hawk News

The Student News Site of St. Joseph's University

The Hawk News

The repercussions of Jussie Smollett’s case


How the situation impacts perceptions of hate crimes

The situation surrounding Jussie Smollett, actor and activist who is best known for his role on the hit Fox show “Empire,” has disappointed me thoroughly.

Not solely because an actor I had enjoyed seeing on screen would possibly do something so heinous, but because of the horrific implication this is going to place on the victims of very real hate crimes.

Also I want to preface this piece by saying that I will not speak on the reasoning behind Smollett’s actions, nor am I necessarily saying that Smollett did perpetrate this ruse.

I don’t think it is necessary to play into the speculation of whether or not this story was a ploy to garner attention for his own selfish gain.

For me, it is more about how Smollett’s supposed decisions have greater ramifications than simply dubbing him a liar. It’s much greater than that, because as we know, when one black person steps out of line in this country, the blame is apparently on all black people and affects all black people.   

There is a chance that the possible orchestration of this incident by Smollett could have negative effects on real activism and civic engagement pertaining to and centering on black people’s actual experiences with visceral and violent racial antagonism.

The Jan. 29 assumed attack against Smollett, where he was beaten and doused in bleach at 2 a.m. in Chicago, was initially horrifying to hear about. The fact that he had a noose affixed around his neck struck fear in my heart. Not simply because this was an act of absolute barbarism, but that a racist and homophobic act such as this could happen in a relatively progressive city.

Initially many people, especially prominent black people in the entertainment industry like Smollett’s co-stars Terrence Howard and Taraji P. Henson, stood by Smollett. We all stood by Smollett.

As a black community, we came together to lift Smollett up because he was a familiar face, a famous face who still experienced the violent effects of systemic racism in this country regardless of how much money he had.

We looked to Smollett and said, “Here, now you have a famous person who was attacked due to his race. Here, now you have to see the validity in Black Lives Matter, to see the legitimacy in black people’s struggles.”

This isn’t the case any longer because of major doubt casted by the Chicago Police Department’s investigation. We upheld and cosigned these claims because we thought they were true (and some still think they are true), because we know that these kinds of actions happen to everyday black people. 

The sad thing is that now the alleged stunt calls into question the validity of actual victims of hate crimes, actual victims of police brutality, actual victims of any antagonistic and violent action taken against a black body simply because it was a black body.

We are sitting in this limbo of uncertainty around Smollett’s claims, but even worse, this case has also detracted from what we know as definitely real, extremely painful and demoralizing experiences of racial antagonism.

Eddie T. Johnson, the superintendent of the Chicago Police Department, said it himself, “I just wish that the families of gun violence in this city got as much attention.”

Whether or not this was a ruse, Smollett’s case has detracted from media coverage, and in the case of Chicago specifically, funds and resources that could have been used to investigate other crimes that affect the black community were rerouted for Smollett’s star-studded sham.

Media coverage is still focused on Smollett and his alleged hoax. Countless news outlets from the New York Times to USA Today are reporting on the Smollett case as it develops. And now prosecutors have charged Smollett with a felony count, where he is facing up to three years in prison and is only garnering more attention due to the story’s salacious quality.

The writer for the National Review’s “G Files,” Jonah Goldberg, even joked about the situation, addressing people within his readership who may be “pretending to be readers as part of some elaborate ruse to get more attention.”

Not only has the continued reporting on this story caused a distraction from real ongoing cases of police brutality and gun violence, the story has also given license to some to make a mockery of real systemic issues in our country.

In the end, whether Smollett orchestrated the story or not, the doubt surrounding an incident like this and the evidence levied against the actor calls into question the validity of all real crimes like these that will come to pass.

America is a country where black people are always unsafe, no matter money, no matter fame. This used to be an indisputable fact, but now the naysayers have the ammo to claim fake news.

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