The Implications of the Jussie Smollett Case

Image via Getty/VALERIE MACON

Image via Getty/VALERIE MACON

In late January, Empire star, Jussie Smollett, claimed to be the victim of a vicious hate crime, causing immediate outrage. However, on March 8, Smollett was charged with 16 felony counts for alleged lies he told during the investigation of his case, raising a lot of eyebrows until March 26, when all charges against Smollett were suddenly dropped. In the span of a few months, he went from innocent victim to deceitful liar, but what actually happened?

Let’s begin with the events leading to the alleged attack, which occurred on January 22nd. Prior to the incident, a suspicious letter was sent to the Fox studio with the heading “MAGA,” which contained a threat directed toward Smollett. The ransom style letter, made out of scribbles and magazine clippings, read “you will die black f*g.”

A week later, Smollett reported an attack near his apartment in Chicago. His report described two masked males dressed in all black, who brutally beat him, yelled racial and homophobic slurs, dumped bleach on him, and tied a noose around his neck. They also reportedly yelled “this is MAGA country,” before fleeing the scene. However, despite the disturbing details of the incident, Smollett was apparently reluctant to report the crime, and was also reported to have the rope still around his neck while the police interviewed him.

As with many alleged attacks, people had doubts about this story. Smollett addressed this skepticism with a statement assuring the public that he was completely honest about everything that transpired. But on February 16, the plot thickened. Nigerian brothers Olabinjo and Abimbola Osundairo, two suspects in the case, confessed to detectives that they were paid by Smollett to attack him, creating even more confusion about the alleged attack. These confessions were corroborated when Chicago detectives found rope, masks, and bleach in the brothers’ home — all items used in the attack.

Now that the hoax theory was gaining some traction, Smollett was arrested on February 21st on the basis of filing a false police report. He plead not guilty on March 24th, and met with his lawyers in preparation for his next hearing, but shortly after his arrest, the Cook County State’s Attorney Office dropped all 16 counts of disorderly conduct, and wiped Smollett’s record clean. Smollett paid $10,000 in a bond forfeit, and did two days of community service before walking completely free.  

More important facts of the case are as follows:

  • One of the two brothers appeared on Empire, which creates a connection between the victim and suspect.

  • Jussie Smollett allegedly paid $3,500 to the brothers, which he said was payment for “personal training.”

  • Eddie Johnson, CPD superintendent, claims Smollett staged the attack due to being dissatisfied with his salary.

  • Joe Magars, state prosecutor, said he believes Smollett is guilty of staging the attack; however, the decision to drop the charges was based on the grounds that payment and community service will suffice for Smollett’s alleged hand in this crime, as the department needs to prioritize other violent crimes.

  • Smollett continues to stand by his innocence and denies having any part in his alleged attack.

JERK is not taking a stance on Jussie Smollett’s innocence or guilt, as we still do not know all of the information, but it’s still important to acknowledge the social implications behind this incident.

If Smollett is indeed guilty of financing his own brutal assault and framing it as a hate crime, it is highly problematic and discrediting to both the black and LGBTQ+ communities that have actually experienced horrendous violence. The use of a noose would be particularly upsetting in this scenario because of its clear ties to racial cruelty. On the other hand, if Smollett really was a victim of this brutal hate crime, then the fact that this country’s legal system managed to turn the case around and blame the victim, as is so often seen in sexual assault cases, is absurd.

Whether Smollett is innocent or guilty, there is concern that this case will discourage victims of hate crimes to come forward for the fear that they too may be accused of lying. If Smollett did stage his attack, then it becomes a valid reference point for those who do not believe victims in these cases. In addition, officials like the Chicago police may start responding to hate crimes with much more skepticism, which is unfair to actual survivors. Moreover, since Smollett is a celebrity and had the money to pay off his bonds, he was let off with almost no punishment for his alleged crimes.

This kind of special treatment is contrasted by the thousands of black men who are disproportionately affected by long jail sentences and imprisoned for minor crimes. Police brutality, unfair treatment, and overall hate are everyday problems felt by the black and LGBTQ+ communities, furthering the idea that American only cares about its minorities when they have money or celebrity status. While this case may just be another topic discussed on your Twitter feed, it reflects this country’s constant racism, classism, and homophobia while also highlighting the flaws of the U.S. legal system.

No matter what the truth is, this attack does not bode well for the people who are fighting to be heard and seen and believed.