More often than not, we are on the edge of our seats, glued to the TV as national news stories unfold, taking various twists and turns for weeks before arriving to the truth. From police car chases to murder investigations and missing persons cases, people show that no matter how jaded life may make us, humans have an innate tendency to seek justice.
So when people, like "Empire" actor Jussie Smollett, lie, cheat or play the system, the repercussions are brutal. There's an audience of millions waiting to escort the perpetrator to jail with pitchforks.
But when news broke last month that Smollett had been attacked and targeted by Trump supporters due to his race and sexuality, the outpouring of emotion was quite different. Coworkers, fans and the like sent love and healing his way after details of the alleged attack. Smollett said that racial and gay slurs were hailed at him, bleach was poured on him and a noose was tied around his neck.
But in just less than a month, the story has taken many twists and turns, and we have all been along for the ride. The Chicago Police Department (CPD), after a thorough investigation, said that it believes Smollett staged the fiasco, paying two Nigerian brothers to attack him all because he was unhappy with his salary on "Empire."
In a press conference, Eddie T. Johnson, superintendent of the CPD, said he is left with his “head hanging” as to why a Black man would use the pain and symbolism of a noose to make false accusations. Johnson said Smollett “took advantage of the pain and anger of racism to promote his career,” and that he wished that “the families of gun violence got this much attention.”
People who grapple with the fear of hate crimes daily feel betrayed and angered. Being targeted for one’s race or sexuality is a real fear with a disturbing and sad history. To use this fear as a publicity stunt, which has the potential to discredit real victims of these crimes, is almost unfathomable. If Smollett is proven guilty, the societal and political ramifications of his deception will be immense and negative.
“Hate crimes will publicly be met with skepticism from here on out,” Johnson said.
Trump supporters, who feel rightfully vindicated after being framed, may turn a blind eye to real hate crimes in the future. This deception does not only stain Smollett, but also it has the potential to be looked upon as a reflection of the entire Black and LGBTQ+ community.
“It saddens me for real victims of crime, for minorities who have endured violence in the name of hate,” said Bill Hinkle, an editorial producer of CNN. Hinkle also said that he and his ex-boyfriend were attacked 15 years ago on Hollywood Boulevard as men hailed gay slurs at them and beat them up. He knows the reality of hate crimes on a personal level, and like many who are people of color or part of the LGBTQ+ community, understands that the already-skeptical public will only use Smollett as an example to invalidate real and future victims.
There is a clear rise in hate crimes, with false reports being extremely rare. The CPD and news outlets spent money — and a lot of it — to investigate and tell Smollett’s story. If Smollett is found guilty of fabricating this hate crime, it will affect the attention given to hate crimes in the future. People may be more hesitant to give attention to a story that may be fake in the long run.
This publicity stunt will potentially act as another weight on the backs of marginalized groups, making the public majority more insensitive and skeptical of the very real struggles and issues prevalent within their communities. While celebrities may never give up the unquenchable thirst for fame and money, they affect not only their reputations, but also the reputations of their communities.
If guilty, Smollett selfishly cast a very deep scar on the communities he is a part of. The Black and LGBTQ+ communities don’t deserve to be invalidated, but then again, history proves that the United States will take any chance it can to invalidate any voice that isn’t white and straight.