Update: Since the publishing of this article, Jussie Smollett has turned himself into the Chicago Police and was placed under arrest, reports USA Today.
Empire star Jussie Smollett walked into an emergency room on January 29th with a noose around his neck as a victim of a hate crime. From politicians to celebrities to activists, a majority of the public rallied around him with their support and love — even President Trump. After a major shift in the investigation over the weekend, though, no one knows what to think anymore.
The veracity of the Empire star attack is seriously being called into question, following reports that cite unnamed authorities. The authorities claim that Smollett had paid two men several thousand dollars to fake an attack using a rope that they had recently purchased at a local hardware store. The two men were initially detained as suspects, their living quarters raided, but were released with no charges on Friday.
Not only were the two suspects not from “MAGA country” — they are brothers from Nigeria — but they also had worked on the Empire set with Smollett. Following their release, Chicago PD spokesperson Anthony Gugliemi released a statement that did not accuse Smollett of wrongdoing, but revealed that their interview with the two brothers had “shifted the trajectory of the investigation.” They have requested to speak with Smollett again about the new information.
Smollett’s Supporters Have a Weekend of Heavy Reflection
These revelations have left Smollett’s supporters confused, betrayed, and upset. Nana Efua Mumford wrote an op-ed for the Washington Post in which she openly shared that she had initially doubted Smollett’s experience, a feeling that troubled her deeply and had her reflecting upon her own biases. “I had a terrible feeling that I was victim blaming, or worse, that I am so brainwashed that I no longer can hear cries of hurt and outrage from my own black community,” she wrote. “Perhaps I don’t want to believe him because this is a stark and scary reminder of the poor condition of the country (and city) that I call home.”
Mumford went on to point out how damaging Smollett’s story will be to victims of real crimes if he has indeed faked his own hate crime. “Smollett would be the first example skeptics cite when they say we should be dubious of victims who step forward to share their experiences of racist hate crimes or sexual violence.“ Ernest Owens of The Daily Beast, who has since renounced his belief in Smollett, cited recent historical instances of false accusations from marginalized communities that incited ridicule from critics of social justice movements. A quick web search now pulls up plenty of YouTube videos that describe how Smollett and Empire creator Lee Daniels and even Senator Kamala Harris were in it together to orchestrate a hate crime hoax.
Writer Roxane Gay struggled but seemed to accept that Smollett’s story was false, sharing similar concerns that the incident would harm the people who need most to be believed. “Why would he think the police wouldn’t investigate? Why would he make it harder for people who actually suffer from hate crimes?” she tweeted. “The lie is so damaging. The time the CPD has spent/wasted on this. The people who supported him.” She reaffirmed that she would continue to give victims the benefit of the doubt and led the conversation away from the Smollett and toward the tangible issues of racism and homophobia, reminding her followers, “One man’s like doesn’t erase these very real problems.”
Despite the inconsistencies, I 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? That one? I’ll wait. Whatever the outcome, this won’t stop me from believing others. It can’t.
— Ava DuVernay (@ava) February 17, 2019
Some of Smollett’s supporters have refused to take sides, at this point, walking back on their previous understanding of the incident. “He might have lied. He might be [sic] not have. I don’t know,” tweeted director Ava DuVernay. She, however, expressed doubt that unnamed authorities from the Chicago Police Department are reliable sources. “Despite the inconsistencies, I 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? That one? I’ll wait.” Senator Cory Booker, who initially cited the attack to emphasize why congress should pass an anti-lynching bill — they still should — stated that he would not comment “until all the information actually comes out from on the record sources.”
Through a spokesperson, Smollett has since issued a statement reiterating that he has been truthful from the beginning. “As a victim of a hate crime who has cooperated with the police investigation, Jussie Smollett is angered and devastated by recent reports that the perpetrators are individuals he is familiar with. He has now been further victimized by claims attributed to these alleged perpetrators that Jussie played a role in his own attack. Nothing is further from the truth and anyone claiming otherwise is lying.”