On January 29th, I wrote a piece titled An Almost Lynching about the hate crime that had been perpetrated upon a black, gay actor named Jussie Smollett. I was appalled that he had been beaten, had racial and homophobic epithets thrown at him, and a rope had been placed around his neck in what appeared to be a threat of lynching.
Since then, there is considerable doubt surrounding Mr. Smollett’s version of the events and a possibility that he himself staged the event. The jury is still out, and while Mr. Smollett has been charged by Chicago police, he has not been tried and convicted. In this country, at least last I knew, a person is presumed innocent until proven guilty, and Jussie Smollett has not been proven guilty. His legal team released a statement saying …
“Mr. Smollett is a young man of impeccable character and integrity who fiercely and solemnly maintains his innocence and feels betrayed by a system that apparently wants to skip due process and proceed directly to sentencing.”
The Chicago police claim to have evidence, Mr. Smollett denies it. I make no judgment at this point, but I will say that if it turns out this ‘crime’ was in fact a hoax in order to increase Mr. Smollett’s star power, as his accusers claim, then I, along with the mainstream media, jumped the gun. For now, however, I have a more important point to make.
Whether Mr. Smollett is innocent, or guilty as charged, this incident has done significant damage to both blacks and the LGBT community. If it turns out that Smollett did, in fact, stage the attack, that it was naught more than a publicity stunt to focus attention on him, to give him a career boost as the Chicago police claim, then the next black person … and the next and the next and the next … will be doubted, rather than taken at their word. Remember the story of the little boy who cried wolf? Well, this is the same, and not only will Smollett be called a liar, but so will those who come after him.
Take it a step further … as blacks and gays who are truly attacked are taken less seriously, their credibility challenged, those haters will feel more emboldened, freer to perpetuate hate crimes, knowing that the burden of proof will fall on the victim. And thus, the train will pick up speed as it goes downhill and soon, a crime against a black or gay person will be like sexual assaults against women where the victim most often remains silent, knowing what will happen if she comes forward. In 2017, hate crimes in the U.S. increased by 17%. The numbers are not out yet for 2018, but I would bet it was even higher than 17%. WHY???????? In 2018, the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) tracked 1,020 hate groups in the U.S. – white supremacists, neo-Nazis and others – compared to under 500 in 1999.
Conversely, if the Chicago police are mis-reading the evidence and not doing their due diligence to uncover all the facts of the matter, if they are willing to blame Mr. Smollett and make the evidence fit their preconceived notion, then this sets a dangerous precedent. We already have police departments across the nation whose members often display a racist animosity toward blacks. I lost count a few years ago of how many unarmed black men had been killed by police. And I have friends who have personally experienced police harassment that no white man would be exposed to.
Our society has, over the past few years, become more bigoted, more racist, and more violent. As I’ve read news story after news story, blogs, comments and social media posts in the past few days, the thing I’ve noticed is that most seem ready, even eager, to assume that Mr. Smollett is guilty of perpetuating a hoax for personal gain. No benefit of the doubt. No ‘wait and see’. He is black and he is gay, so … he must be guilty, right? What if it had happened to … Justin Bieber?
I cannot possibly address all the issues in a single post, but if I have a point (sometimes I wonder) it is that we must not rush to judgment. Jussie Smollett is presumed innocent until proven guilty. The presumption of guilt goes against the Constitution and it goes against being a humanitarian. If Mr. Smollett is proven guilty beyond a shadow of a doubt in a court of law, then so be it, but until that time, let us not rush to judgment. There is enough widespread bigotry in this country … let us not add to it.