The National Black Justice Coalition released a statement this week alleging anti-Black and anti-LGBTQ+ bias in the ongoing prosecution of actor Jussie Smollett. The statement, released in cooperation with Black Gifted and Whole, the National LGBTQ Task Force, The National Center for Lesbian Rights, the Black AIDS Institute and others, urged Special Prosecutor Daniel K. Webb to drop the charges against Smollett.
“While we do not condone the filing of any false claim, particularly of a hate crime, Mr. Smollett’s ongoing prosecution raises serious concerns in the civil rights community,” said NBJC Executive Director David J. Johns, lead author of the letter.
The Smollett case began in January of 2019. Smollett, who was at the time played Jamal on the hit Fox series “Empire,” reported to the Chicago police that he was assaulted by two white men who shouted racial and homophobic slurs. Further, Smollett told police the assailants poured an unknown chemical substance on him and put a noose around his neck.
Smollett’s claims were called into question when authorities raided the home of two brothers who had worked on “Empire” as extras and found evidence that Smollett had paid the men $3,500. In February 2019, Smollett was indicted for disorderly conduct for paying the men to stage a fake hate crime and filing a false police report. The following month, March 2019, the charges against Smollett were dropped in exchange for community service and the forfeiture of his $10,000 bond.
But that was not the end of Smollett’s troubles. The City of Chicago filed a lawsuit against Smollett in April, hoping to recoup the cost of overtime for police officers working the case, which totaled over $130,000. Smollett filed a countersuit in November 2019 alleging he was the victim of “mass public ridicule and harm.” In February of last year, following an investigation by Webb, Smollett was indicted for a second time. This time, Smollett was charged with six counts pertaining to allegedly making four false police reports.
The NBJC letter warns that the ongoing prosecution against Smollett is an example of anti-Black and anti-LGBTQ+ bias, wherein Black LGBTQ+ people are disproportionately targets of state-sanctioned violence and prosecution.
The statement says that when juxtaposed against the treatment of white people such as Amy Cooper, the discriminatory treatment of Smollett is clear.
“For instance, Amy Cooper, a white woman who called 911 to lie that a Black man was threatening her (after he asked that she leash her dog) in New York City; Kristen Michelle Rimes, a white woman in South Carolina who was arrested after lying that a black man attacked her in a parking lot; and Holly Hylton, a white woman and Starbucks employee who became infamous for calling police on two Black customers,” the letter said. “… In these three cases, white women lied to police, threatening the lives of Black people, and faced no meaningful consequences.”
The letter also argues that the ongoing prosecution of Smollett is a waste of Chicago’s limited criminal justice resources, pointing to at least five unresolved murders of transgender women. Instead, the letter strongly requests that the city would do better to prioritize its resources to solve those hate crimes.
“At a time when Chicagoans face local public health, safety, and housing crises, and ongoing work to heal the deep and systemic wounds that challenge the city, especially related to anti-LGBTQ+ violence, the prosecution of Jussie Smollett is a waste of finite resources,” the letter said. “A number of special prosecutors turned this case down before, which leaves us wondering why you are pursuing charges now.”
In addition to the letter, an online petition has been signed by nearly 1,500 people calling for the charges against Smollett to be dropped. View the petition at bit.ly/justiceforjussie.