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What Jussie Smollett’s Felony Charges Mean For LGBTQ Victims of Assault

Falsifying claims of homophobic and racist actions can lead to grave consequences for those who regularly face persecution.

On the morning of Jan. 29, actor Jussie Smollett was approached in Chicago by two people in ski masks who yelled racist, homophobic slurs at him, beat him, poured an unknown chemical (rumored to be bleach) over him, and even fastened a noose around his neck before fleeing the area. Smollett fought back, and once his assailants left he was able to make it to Northwestern Hospital, where he was received “in good condition” according to a police statement.

Smollett later expanded, saying that his attackers used the phrase “this is MAGA country,” going against adamant police statements that claimed there was no proof the words were said. If they had, it would have meant that Smollett’s assailants were employing violence and intimidation in the pursuit of political aims (aka pushing Trump’s agenda)– which is literally the definition of terrorism, as several on Twitter pointed out.

This all made for a moving and convincing story that may still be true, although new evidence suggests the opposite. Police say Smollett paid a pair of Nigerian brothers $3,500 to attack him and yell slurs, one of whom was his personal trainer. Smollett was charged with disorderly conduct for filing a false police report, which is a felony in Illinois punishable by one to three years in prison. On Feb 21., he gave up his passport, paid $10,000 bond, and was released until his next court date on March 14.

Smollett, who played a gay character called “Jamal Lyon” on the show Empire, came out as gay a few months after the series aired in 2015. Despite being hesitant to publicly announce his sexuality due to privacy and protection concerns, Smollett’s decision to come out and further embody Jamal Lyon proved inspirational for legions of fans.

In addition to being an openly gay actor, singer and songwriter, Smollett is also an activist for H.I.V./AIDS awareness and prevention. He is the son of civil rights activists and board member of the Black AIDS Institute.

Despite an overwhelming number of facts leading to the conclusion that Smollett is guilty, he maintains that he is innocent. Unfortunately this time it seems that not many people are willing to stand up for Smollett.

There have been mixed reactions to the charges against Smollett across social media. Conservatives, including President Trump, were quick to denounce Smollett, liberals and journalists who supported him, claiming the media is biased against Republicans and MAGA hat wearers. (Even though press coverage simply followed what the police report had stated about the case.) Others who supported Smollett initially began scrambling to take back their words amid feelings of betrayal and hurt at supposedly being lied to.

The people who will be most affected by this mess of a situation are minorities who are persecuted on a daily basis. Now it will be harder for LGBT and black communities report bigotry without being labeled a liar who just wants attention. Allies might also find it more difficult to be staunch supporters of bullied individuals without being called “The Liberal Who Cried Racist”. Society is going to have to work harder to perpetuate truth, and stop jumping to conclusions.

In 2017 over 8,000 people were victims of hate crimes (not including the thousands of crimes that go unreported) and around 76 percent of victims were targeted because of their race and/or sexuality.

The trend of hate crimes seems to be on the rise in the years since Trump’s election, and the numbers aren’t projected to decrease. But if there is any hope for positive change in our country, it is evident in those willing to stand up for what they believe in and rally behind the most vulnerable communities in need of kindness and protection.

Correction: This article originally alleged that Jussie Smollett was the victim of a hate crime, and assumed the motivations of his “assailants”. It is unclear whether or not the attack was malicious or staged. 

Photo: USA Today

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