When Jussie Smollett was trending on Twitter in late January, I was shocked to learn the reason. He claimed to be the victim of a racist and homophobic hate crime by two masked Trump supporters. Celebrities and many others on social media showed their support. I refrained from doing so, as I feel it often makes light of a very serious situation. However, there were people from the very beginning who doubted his story.
At first, I couldn't tell if these were people who wanted his story to be untrue or if there were things about his story that didn't add up. I decided to wait and reserve judgement until the story unfolded. Some weeks later, Smollett was interviewed by Robin Roberts for ABC News. As I watched the interview, I had a gut feeling that something wasn't right. Smollett came across like he wasn't being entirely truthful. The moment that got me was when he hesitated mid-answer when talking about the two men in the surveillance video.
Well, it turns out that was the very moment that caused everything to shift for police. After some additional investigation, it was revealed that these were two Nigerian brothers who were friends with Smollett. They told police that Smollett paid them to orchestrate the attack. For several days, questions were being asked about his motive. The truth is, there is no motive that makes sense when staging a hate crime. However, when the Chicago police held a press conference to announce their conclusion, the truth was an even bigger slap in the face.
Police say that Smollett orchestrated the attack to gain a higher profile in order to raise his salary. When you stage such a vicious attack, it makes it more difficult for real victims of hate crimes. I worry that future victims will hesitate coming forward because they may feel they don't have enough evidence or won't be believed. Thus, leaving their attacker to do the same to someone else. But to fake a hate crime for such a frivolous and superficial reason feels like an even deeper stab in the heart.
I'm also angered by the extreme hypocrisy this story has brought out in people. His fellow celebrities are treating him with a sort of kindness I don't think we would see if he were a white heterosexual conservative. I also think this "listen and believe" mentality has gone way too far. I understand why people automatically believe those who claim to be the victim of a hate crime. When people report hate crimes, they're usually unsure of who their attacker was. Unlike a rape allegation, there isn't someone specific on the other end. The possibility of someone unfairly losing their reputation and livelihood over a false allegation seems less plausible.
Yet, we end the careers of men who are accused of rape without any evidence against them. Celebrities rally in support at award shows with their "Time's Up" pins and #MeToo speeches. However, in this particular case, Smollett's peers are claiming to wait until the case unfolds. Keep in mind that this is coming after the police investigation when all the evidence they had against him was announced. Everything from checks to receipts to surveillance videos. And prior to this coming to light, people were called racist and homophobic for being skeptical.
A certain amount of skepticism is healthy in cases like these. It doesn't mean we should assume the victim is telling a lie. It also doesn't mean we should dissuade them from coming forward. The entire reason police solve these crimes and bring people to justice is because of their skepticism. Otherwise, these sorts of investigations wouldn't pan out properly. Call me crazy, but I don't believe we should just "believe all victims." I think remaining neutral is a much better way of handling situations like these.
At the end of the day, Jussie Smollett hurt the very people he claimed to support. It is my hope that future victims of hate crimes don't let this situation keep them silent. If something happens, I hope they report it to police. They shouldn't worry about not having enough evidence or whether they'll be believed. It is so important for us to keep bringing these sorts of attacks to people's attention. If there's a closer watch on them, hopefully the amount that occurs decreases.