The NAACP's Horrifying Cowardice on Jussie Smollett
Over the weekend, the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) hosted its 50th annual Image Awards. At the awards, comedians Chris Rock and Trevor Noah slammed Empire star Jussie Smollett, who was nominated for an Image Award but did not win. Smollett did not show his face, but the NAACP did not rescind his nomination for the award. The NAACP has not spoken about the Smollett case since blaming President Donald Trump for it, and the group asked Chris Rock not to joke about Smollett.
All of this suggests a disgusting cowardice on the part of the NAACP. The organization rushed to champion Smollett when he claimed that masked white attackers wearing MAGA hats had screamed, "This is MAGA country!" before seizing him, putting a noose around his neck, and pouring an unknown bleach-scented liquid on him.
NAACP President Derrick Johnson condemned the "racist and homophobic attack," and alleged that the "rise in hate crimes is directly linked to President Donald J. Trump’s racist and xenophobic rhetoric."
Smollett's claims are far from the whole story, however. In February, police announced that they had begun investigating Smollett upon discovering evidence that suggested the Empire actor had paid Olabinjo "Ola" Osundairo and his brother 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 last week, 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 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.
Through all of this, the NAACP has been silent. The organization did not withdraw its disgusting suggestion that Smollett's hate hoax is Trump's fault. It did not rescind the nomination of Smollett for an award, and according to Chris Rock, organizers told him not to make any Smollett jokes at the Image Awards.
"They said no Jussie Smollett jokes," Rock said, according to The Hollywood Reporter. "I know. What a waste of white skin. You know what I could do with that light skin? That curly hair? My career would be out of here. F**king running Hollywood."
"What the hell was he thinking?" he continued. "From now on, you're Jessie from now on. You don't even get the 'U' no more. That 'U' was respect. You don't get no respect from me."
Rock wasn't the only one. The Daily Show host Trevor Noah also attacked Smollett at the Image Awards, noting that the charges may have been dropped, but the Empire star was not exonerated. "I feel like one of the Ten Commandments is 'Thou shalt not lie,'" Noah quipped.
The black leadership organization Project 21 called for the NAACP to rescind the Smollett award nomination back in February. Jerome Hudson, a spokesman for the organization, slammed the NAACP's cowardice in remarks to PJ Media.
"It would have just been the easiest thing at the time," Hudson said of the NAACP rescinding the award nomination. "They had cover to rescind the nomination."
Yet the NAACP's silence on the case is also an insult to the black families who have lost loved ones to unsolved murders and other crimes. The unsolved murder rate in Chicago, especially for black victims, is horrifically high.
"This was a rock-solid case," Hudson said. "In many of the other cases in which black men are sending other black men to their graves, it’s hard to find a case because people don’t come forward. For families who are burying their loved ones ailing in that city who will never get justice because of corruption or malfeasance or just a culture of fear, those are the people I think, when you talk about rules for the elite and rules for the rest of us, those are the people [the NAACP] spit at in the face."
"Chicago is so different when it comes to black on black crime. It is unique. The police never get this opportunity, or very rarely get an open and shut case, and when they do, they can’t even take it to trial," Hudson remarked. He noted that police "had every piece of evidence — they even had the grand jury agree to bring charges against them — but the state's attorney's office stopped it from going forward."
"And for the NAACP, the oldest and most influential civil rights organization for black people, to honor that man is a true disgrace," the Project 21 spokesman declared. "That’s the backdrop of the awards."
Smollett's nomination for an NAACP Image Award "after enlisting two black men to orchestrate a hate crime that implicated supporters of President Donald Trump is the latest example of why the NAACP is nothing more than a craven extension of the Democratic Party," Hudson said. "There are real victims of hate crimes in America. Jussie Smollett is not one of them, and in the time that it took to investigate what law enforcement believes was a fake crime, dozens of true victims of violence in Chicago were severely underserved."
Indeed, 18 people died in the first few weeks after Smollett's story, and between 20 and 24 detectives were assigned to the Smollett case. Victims of violent crime in Chicago are less likely to find justice because the Smollett hoax tied up police staff.
In addition to them, Smollett's hoax and the dropping of charges against him will make it harder for victims of true hate crimes to gain a hearing. As Chicago Police Superintendent Eddie Johnson said, "My concern is that hate crimes will now publicly be met with a level of skepticism that previously didn't happen."
While I personally disagree with the idea of separating crimes into different categories based on an alleged "hate" motivation, it is important for black people and LGBT people who are victims of heinous crimes not to suffer under a suspicion that they might be crying wolf like Smollett. All crimes should be thoroughly investigated and weighed impartially and Johnson was correct that this hoax will likely make justice more elusive for true victims.
Johnson, as a black man who spent his life in Chicago, expressed the horror of Smollett attempting to exploit the "pain and anger of racism to promote his career."
"I’m left hanging my head and asking why. Why would anyone, especially an African-American man, use the symbolism of a noose to make false accusations?" Johnson asked.
Jerome Hudson, the Project 21 spokesman, explained the significance of the bleach-smelling liquid — it seems a reference to the idea of "bleaching" black skin to make it white.
After the charges were dropped, Smollett's lawyers even argued that the Osundairo brothers were wearing "whiteface" in the incident.
While it is good that Smollett did not win the NAACP Image Award, the NAACP has remained silent on his hate hoax after blaming Trump. This is an insult to the black murder victims in Chicago, the victims of true hate crimes, and the black community that looks to the NAACP for leadership.
The organization's cowardice on this issue and its unwillingness to correct the record are nothing short of astounding. If Chris Rock wasn't just joking but telling the truth that Image Awards organizers asked him not to bring up Smollett, that's just one more example of this horrible cowardice.
The NAACP must apologize for blaming a hate hoax on Trump when in fact the hoax was orchestrated to paint Trump supporters in a bad light. It must apologize for not rescinding Smollett's award nomination. It must distance itself from Smollett, in order to protect true victims and restore its leadership position on race issues.
Make no mistake: The NAACP allowed Smollett to stoke racial tensions to promote his career, and it cynically used that event was a political cudgel against Trump. It has not reversed its position or apologized, and it seems to want to sweep the issue under the rug, after using it as a political weapon.
The black community should be outraged, just like Jerome Hudson, Chris Rock, and Trevor Noah.
Follow Tyler O'Neil, the author of this article, on Twitter at @Tyler2ONeil.