Fox TV drama “Empire”
actor Jussie Smollett plays on the show the gay character Jamal Lyon.
In real life, Smollett is an African American gay male. Smollett has
been charged with concocting an elaborate racist and homophobic
assault against himself. Smollett’s fan base, needless to say, is
flummoxed. So, too, are many Americans trying to push through this
deeply polarized moment.
big question now is how Smollett’s case will affect public
perception of hate crimes, especially impacting people of color and
has essentially set back the progression of both black folk and the
LGBTQ community all while playing right into the hands of MAGA,”
one online comment stated.
hearing the story, Smollett had a groundswell of support. Smollett
said he was assaulted by two men outside of Subway in the wee hours
of the morning who shouted “This is MAGA country” and
they put a noose around his neck. The investigation has disclosed the
following: Smollett knew the two men who are Nigerian-Americans, one
has appeared on the show Empire, the rope to make the noose was
bought at a nearby hardware store, and the bruises on his face and
body were self-inflicted, and Smollett paid the two men $3,500 to
attack him. However, new evidence reveals that Smollett’s
payment according to what he wrote on the memo line of the check was
for Smollett is now an unreliable narrator of his attack who
intentionally has made himself a fictitious victim. I ‘ve been
asking myself the same question as Chicago Chief police, Eddie
Johnson asked during his press conference, bringing the public
up-to-date on Smollett’s case: “Why would anyone,
especially an African-American man, use the symbolism of a noose to
make a false accusation?”
hoax dredges up the country’s horrors of lynching and gay
bashing. For me, three hate crime incidents came to my mind
immediately as an African American lesbian. Emmett Till, James Byrd,
and Matthew Shepard.
Till was lynched in Money, Mississippi in 1955 and James Byrd in
Jasper, Texas in 1998. Byrd’s killing was called a “lynching
-by- dragging.” Matthew Shepard was gay- bashed to death in
Laramie, Wyoming, in 1998. I give thanks to President Obama signing
into law in 2009 the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd, Jr. Hate Crimes
Prevention Act, also known as the Matthew Shepard Act.
Smollett is innocent in the eyes of many African Americans- straight
can’t blindly believe Chicago PD. The department that covered
up shooting Laquan McDonald over a dozen times? That operated an
off-site torture facility?” “Selma” film director
Ava DuVernay wrote in a tweet. “That one? I’ll wait.
Whatever the outcome, this won’t stop me from believing others.
the many inconsistencies and gaping holes in Smollett’s story,
there are communities of people of color in urban cities that have
every reason not to trust the police findings, especially the Chicago
PD, a city still recovering from the wounds of the coverup shooting
for Laquan McDonald. In 2014, McDonald, 17, was fatally shot sixteen
times by white Chicago police Jason Van Dyke. Van Dyke reported his
life was in danger because McDonald was packing a small knife with a
blade. Van Dyke’s report was backed up by his fellow officers.
However, when the police dash-cam video was released of the shooting,
McDonald was walking away when shot.
sort of incidents with law enforcement has a long, troubling history
with African American and Latino communities. For example, in 1989,
I was pastoring a church in NYC during the Central Park Five incident
which became a media sensation. Five African American and Latino
teenagers from Harlem were convicted of raping a white woman while
she was jogging Central Park. The white woman was a Wellesley
colleague who then worked at a Wall Street investment bank, and the
mother of one of the accused boys was one of my parishioners.
the trial, then citizen Donald Trump placed full-page ads in the four
NYC dailies advocating for the return of the death penalty. In 2002,
an investigation found that DNA evidence pointed to the actual rapist
who confessed to the crime. The teenagers who aged into young men
were incarcerated for a crime they didn’t do spent between six
and thirteen years in jail.
many of these communities, Smollett is perceived to be innocent, and
his chances of getting a fair trial are not possible. Smollett will
be seen as another victim heading toward the country’s
industrial prison complex which disproportionately incarcerates black
and brown men of color.
hate crime will regrettably affect public perception of hate crimes
but shouldn’t. However, there has been an uptick of
bias-related incidents and hate crimes since Trump has taken office.
We have seen a rash of white people calling the cops on blacks,
synagogues defaced, and 11 worshippers killed in Pittsburgh.
Smollett’s hoax no doubt has tapped into our fears about our
safety and our concerns of a country so polarized that we are
all reports of hate crimes should be taken seriously. One hoax is no
excuse for law enforcement not to do their job and see each case as a
separate incident irrespective of the court of opinion.
belief that Smollett’s actions make it bad for people of color
and LGBTQs to come forth in the future with their reports of hate
crimes buys too easily into the notion that “one bad apple
spoils the whole bunch.” Such a belief, in and of itself, is
bias, suggesting people of color and LGBTQs are a monolith, and all
whites call cops on black people for “being black,” each
case is handled individually, although the police might have
suspicion for the real nature of the call.
the court of opinion, Smollett is guilty. However, if in the court of
law, Smollett is found guilty, he does not fully grasp the magnitude
of both his lie and crime. His actions dishonor black activist and
journalist Ida B. Wells’s Anti-Lynching Campaign that took
afoot in the 1890s. This year will be the eightieth anniversary of
Billy Holiday ’s recording of “Strange Fruit,” a
protest song against lynching. And, just last year, the National
Lynching Memorial opened to remember and honor the lives of men and
women who were victims. Sadly, in 2019, the Senate is still trying
to pass legislation to make lynching a federal hate crime.
may well have suckered us all. However, to not take each report of a
hate crime seriously, because of his fraudulent actions, would be a