On January 29, 2019, people across the country, many of them celebrities, took to social media after learning that actor Jussie Smollett was allegedly attacked in Chicago. Smollett filed a police report claiming that two men, who appeared to be white supporters of Donald Trump, yelled racist and homophobic slurs at him, tied a noose around his neck, and poured a chemical-like substance on him. Smollett, who is an openly gay black man, garnered widespread support after the alleged hate crime, until suspicion arose surrounding the merit of his claims.
Police investigated various people they believed to be suspects in the case, and were lead to a CBS report claiming that the two supposed suspects were paid by Smollett. Not long after the initial report on February 20, Smollett was criminally charged with staging the incident himself, as well as filing a false police report. The next day, he turned himself in to the Chicago Police, who told the public that Smollett staged the attack to promote his career and increase his salary.
As the scandal erupted and more evidence surfaced, Smollett’s image began to crumble. As a star on the Fox TV show Empire, his character was written off the final episodes of the latest season. According to the Los Angeles Times, Fox released a statement about how the past few weeks had been “incredibly emotional” and, “While these allegations are very disturbing, we are placing our trust in the legal system as the process plays out.” Smollett was charged with 16 felonies pertaining to the false reports he made to the police.
Despite the many accusations, all 16 chargers made against Smollett were dropped after he pleaded not guilty. Recently, Chicago city officials sued Smollet for $130,106 in order to compensate for the costs of police overtime spent investigating his case. He has not yet paid this bill, though the stated deadline has passed.
Though Smollett is free to continue his career, speculation remains surrounding his claims, and prosecutors have stated that this does not exonerate him. The Los Angeles Times also reported that the Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel believes the case to be a “whitewash of justice.” Others who originally supported Smollett have now condemned his actions and the outcome of the case, which most have seen as furthering the political, social, and racial divides in the United States.
It seems that the truth is yet to be uncovered about what happened regarding the alleged attack. Critics say that staging this false attack makes it more difficult for true hate crime victims to seek social justice and real change. Many of the claims made by Smollett about the incident have ignited significant political controversy, especially because of his claim that the attackers were Trump supporters. It seems that no matter what happened, this scandal has revealed the polarization of American culture and the deepening divides between those of different social, economic, and political backgrounds in our country.