By Zachary Blackwell

Elm Staff Writer

The volatile political climate of the United States today has led to the proliferation of tense and touchy situations nationwide. The country has grown more fragmented and divided recently over various issues, but especially issues of how identity is perceived.

Reports of hate crimes and other discriminatory incidents have been put under the microscope and heavily scrutinized. While this has led to a better understanding of problems that different groups of people face, it has also been used by some individuals to take advantage of previously-existing divisions for their own purposes. Could the case of Jussie Smollett be an example of this?

Smollett, an established actor best-known for his starring role in the television show “Empire,” has been in legal trouble following his report of a hate crime in downtown Chicago. Smollett, who is a gay black man, allegedly told Chicago police that he was attacked on Jan. 29 by two masked men who shouted homophobic and racist slurs at him, tied a noose around his neck, and poured chemical substances on him, according to the New York Times. However, about a month later, the police arrested Smollett, under the suspicion that he had not only falsely reported the incident, but also that he had staged the attack.

The police allege that Smollett had hired two brothers for $3,500 to help him stage the attack on himself, according to CBS News. They also allege that Smollett staged the attack to promote his career and raise the salary he receives. Smollett denied the allegations but was initially charged with 16 counts of disorderly conduct. However, the Cook County State’s Attorney’s Office dropped all charges, which has angered local law enforcement and politicians alike.

But the dismissal of charges has not led to the end of Smollett’s legal issues. On March 28, Chicago’s Department of Law sent him a letter threatening to bring him back to court for making false statements if $130,000 were not paid to the city compensating for the costs of the investigation.

The finances behind the case are by far the least concerning factor, though. The decision made by the Cook County State’s Attorney’s Office to hastily drop all charges is a very concerning one, because of how sudden it was. Going from 16 counts of disorderly conduct to zero within mere days does not appear to be because of transparency, or the pursuit of due process, but because outside forces were brought into the case, inevitably a result of national media attention. More attention on cases like these may also result in more outside political influence, which can allow for the mishandling of an important case like Smollett’s.

We shouldn’t ignore why Smollett’s case is so important for us to understand.

A hate crime (which is what Smollett alleges his attack to be) is taken seriously, and it should be. However, if Smollett has really falsified a hate crime in the pursuit of his own interests, he has trivialized true victims of hate crimes nationwide.

People who have not been entirely convinced of the negative impacts hate crimes have on people will likely see this case differently than those who are convinced. They may be more hesitant to take real cases seriously. Although the actions of Smollett should not affect how hate crimes are perceived in the United States, his claims are irrevocably tied to what other people suffer through. The real crime Smollett has committed is using what is a prominent issue in the United States for his own personal ambitions.

The Elm

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