On January 29, 2019, "Empire" actor Jussie Smollett claimed to be attacked by two men in Chicago who tied a rope around his neck, doused him in an unknown substance, and yelled racial and homophobic slurs. The attack was initially handled by the Chicago Police Department (CPD) as a hate crime and the department available resources to solve the case.
The media treatment of the assault due to Smollett's celebrity status catapulted it to the national level and brought undue criticism to Chicago and put the city's reputation in the spotlight.
In the immediate aftermath of the attack, Smollett was treated as accordingly: as the victim of a hate crime. CPD handled the case with the highest degree of professionalism and with the utmost integrity.
Yet, the way the media handled the case coupled with the initial outpouring of support from high-level activists and politicians activated issues dividing America today. The issues range from racism and homophobia to distrust in the media and politically motivated attacks. In our current political climate, this case ignited deep-seated tensions.
The most damaging part of this case though was the level to which it dragged Chicago and its police department's reputation through the mud.
On February 21, 2019, Superintendent of the CPD, Eddie Johnson held a press conference to deliver key facts about the case, how it was handled, and the effects it's had on the city.
First, he reiterated Smollett's treatment as a victim until the story began to unfold after the attackers were arrested. Second, he questioned why an African American individual would use the symbolism of a noose in a racially-motivated attack in this "publicity stunt." Essentially, Smollett "took advantage of the pain and anger of racism to promote his career." Johnson's main pain-point was the incomparable level of media attention given to this case compared to the media attention given to the numerous victims and families of murder violence in the city. Third, this was a huge waste of time for CPD, and although no other cases were impacted, it is still "resources and time [they] will never get back."
The only thing Smollett managed to accomplish was bringing Chicago national attention for the wrong reasons. The city's reputation was dragged and all because of a hoax.
The least he can do is issue an apology and pay restitution to the CPD who work tirelessly to solve real, impactful cases each and every day.
The CPD works every day to uphold their oath and serve the citizens of the wonderful city of Chicago by keeping them safe and solving all the cases they encounter. Yes, certain cases might be more complicated and not as cut-and-dry as the Jussie Smollett case, but this case in no way, shape or form, reflects positively on the CPD. It brought the city's policing reputation into the spotlight due to the enormous volume of unsolved cases. While some say the CPD rushed to solve this case, I think the political pressure and media attention put undue stress on the department to perform.
This case is not only damaging to the CPD's reputation, but to Chicago's reputation as a whole.
It exposed Chicago as the murder capital with an immense volume of unsolved cases and put the blame on CPD's policing. However, if every murder case received the same amount of consistent media attention as Smollett's did, then perhaps more could be done in terms of people coming forth with evidence and pressure being put on the attackers.
Smollett also caused unjust damage to future victims of hate crimes by staging his attack.
Future attacks will be treated with undue skepticism from the outset because of this case. We have enough doubt about the victims of rape and sexual abuse, and now we will have doubts about hate crime victims. Where does it stop? We can only hope the next victim is not treated unjustly and is given due process to make their claims and given a fair investigation.