More than a year after Empire star Jussie Smollett perpetrated the hoax heard ’round the world, Chicago’s Democrat Mayor Lori Lightfoot finally accepted the obvious: he did the crime, he needs to do the time. This represented a key reversal for the Democrat, who had long said she wanted to put the Smollett episode behind her.
“He needs to face the charges. He committed a crime, and he needs to be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law, and we are going to continue to aggressively make him accountable for the wasted police resources that went into investigating what turned out to be a total hoax,” Lightfoot said on Sunday.
Last January, Smollett infamously claimed that masked white attackers wearing MAGA hats screamed, “This is MAGA country!” before seizing him, putting a noose around his neck, and pouring an unknown bleach-scented liquid on him. This supposedly happened on one of the coldest nights of the year, when Chicago was colder than Antarctica. Police later discovered evidence Smollett had paid Nigerian brothers Olabinjo “Ola” Osundairo and Abimbola “Abel” Osundairo to attack him. Unearthed evidence included receipts showing the brothers buying the rope used in the attack and a check Smollett gave them.
After police arrested Smollett, prosecutors charged him with 16 felony counts. Mysteriously, the prosecutors dropped all 16 counts. Smollett and his attorneys insisted he had been telling the truth from the beginning, but the police and even former Mayor Rahm Emanuel did not buy it. Emanuel called the dropping of the charges a “whitewash of justice.” President Donald Trump has called for a federal investigation into the case.
Yet when Lightfoot came into office, she said she wanted to put the episode behind her. She originally criticized the mysterious dropping of the original felony charges saying, “We cannot create the perception that if you’re right or famous or both that you get one set of justice — and for everybody else, it’s something much harsher.” Then she minimized the case, saying it “doesn’t rank as a matter of any importance to me.”
Yet the case is extremely important — and not just because Smollett’s hate hoax received wall-to-wall media coverage.
As the evidence of the hoax became undeniable, former Chicago superintendent of Police Eddie Johnson called on Smollett to apologize.
“Absolute justice would be an apology to this city that he smeared, admitting what he did. And then be man enough to offer what he should offer up in terms of all the resources that were put into this,” Johnson said in a scathing press conference. He named three groups of people who deserve more than an apology from Smollett, and President Donald Trump named one more.
“Bogus police reports cause real harm. They do harm to every legitimate victim who is in need of support by police and investigators as well as the citizens of this city,” Johnson said. The Chicago Tribune‘s John Kass reported that between 20 and 24 detectives were assigned to the Smollett case. In the same period, “there were some 18 people killed in Chicago after Smollett began telling his story in late January.” Vulnerable people need the police to protect them, and when police are busy chasing down false leads, they can’t be keeping the streets safe. Smollett needs to apologize — and settle the score — for tying up police resources that could have saved some of these victims.
Johnson also warned that Smollett’s crying wolf would undermine the voices of true hate crimes victims.
“I’m also concerned about what this means moving forward for hate crimes,” Johnson said. “Now, of course, the Chicago Police Department will continue to investigate all reports of these types of incidents with the same amount of vigor that we did with this one. My concern is that hate crimes will now publically be met with a level of skepticism that previously didn’t happen.” Smollett’s hoax will contribute to suspicions that victims of hate crimes are also crying wolf.
Johnson also warned that Smollett’s hate hoax gave his city “a scar that Chicago didn’t earn and certainly didn’t deserve.”
“How can an individual who has been embraced by the City of Chicago turn around and slap everyone in this city in the face by making these false claims?” he asked. “Chicago hosts one of the largest pride parades in the world, and we’re proud of that as a police department and also as a city. We do not nor do we ever tolerate hate in our city whether that hate is based on an individual’s sexual orientation, race, or anything else. So I’m offended by what has happened and I’m also angry.”
Yet Smollett did not just give Chicago a black eye. The Empire actor also demonized supporters of President Donald Trump by associating them with this alleged crime. He said the men who attacked him yelled, “This is MAGA country!”
“[Jussie Smollett] – what about MAGA and the tens of millions of people you insulted with your racist and dangerous comments!?” Trump tweeted.
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) February 21, 2019
Lori Lightfoot was right to finally admit the importance of Smollett’s hoax and the need to bring him to justice. He was indicted on six charges of disorderly conduct for filing false police reports earlier this month and expected to appear in court on Monday.
Lightfoot’s reversal might suggest that even Democrats and liberals have finally come around to acknowledging Smollett did something wrong. It seems unlikely, however, that Cook County State’s Attorney Kim Foxx — whose office dropped the charges after Foxx herself meddled in the case despite having recused herself from it — will offer any sort of apology. The police were condemned as the “Blue Klux Klan” at one of Foxx’s press conferences last year. The voters need to hold Foxx accountable for this and her alleged anti-police corruption.
Tyler O’Neil is the author of Making Hate Pay: The Corruption of the Southern Poverty Law Center. Follow him on Twitter at @Tyler2ONeil.