News broke Tuesday morning after representatives from the 36-year-old Empire actor’s legal team issued a statement claiming there would be a “huge announcement” made at 10:45 a.m. Sixteen felony charges against Smollett were dropped and his $100K bond was forfeited.
This surprise court appearance comes just weeks after suspicions rose of Smollett staging the attack that took place on January 29th in Chicago. The star claimed he was at a Subway restaurant at 2 a.m. when two unidentified assaulters attacked him, shouting racial and homophobic slurs and using a noose. He claimed the men screamed pro-Trump phrases as well, such as “Make America Great Again.” The controversy began shortly after the news broke when incriminating evidence against Smollett was found.
“Today, all criminal charges against Jussie Smollett were dropped and his record has been wiped clean,” a statement from Smollett’s attorney, Mark Geragos, read. “Jussie and many others were hurt by these unfair and unwarranted actions… it is a reminder that a victim, in this case, Smollett, deserves dignity and respect.”
He continued to claim Smollett was “vilified and made to appear as a perpetrator.”
— CNN (@CNN) March 26, 2019
Smollett walked out of court with a smile on his face, his record expunged and his case sealed. He went on to make a press statement, saying, “I want you to know that not for a moment was it in vain. I’ve been truthful and consistent on every single level since day one.”
He continued on to add, “This has been an incredibility difficult time. Honestly, one of the worst of my life.” He concluded by saying that he wishes to continue on with his life and career.
The actor is not out of the woods yet, though. There is still an ongoing investigation surrounding a supposedly fake death threat that was mailed, allegedly sent by Smollett. For now, he is considered not guilty but not fully exonerated.
Eddie Johnson of Chicago Police expressed his frustration towards the dropped charges, “At the end of the day, it’s Mr Smollett that committed this false claim upon two individuals and who also testified, but also on the city. One action, yes, we’re looking at the state’s attorney. It’s not on the level from beginning to end and there needs to be a level of accountability throughout the system, and this sends an ambiguous message that there is no accountability and that is wrong.”
“Do I think justice was served? No … I think this city is still owed an apology."
— CNN (@CNN) March 26, 2019
Many people of both political alignments are quick to attack and doubt Smollett, regardless of his innocent status. Many are upset by the sealing of this case. Many are going to be hurt. Though it has seemingly reached its end, the after-effects reverberate among marginalized communities.
Because of the controversy and mistrust stirred up by these events, Smollett is not the only one harmed in this attack. It seems as though the public is desperately waiting for the opportunity to disprove hate crimes and prejudice. After Smollett, a gay black man, was found to be guilty weeks ago, the public showed its true colors. People began to claim they suspected he was lying from the start, others blamed liberals for believing him — an alleged victim of racism and homophobia. It is feared that victims will be discredited more often than they already are after this case. In instances of falsified and controversial hate crimes, real survivors lose merit.
Whether or not the attack was staged or not, the public will forever view it as a hoax. Unfortunately, they might view real hate crimes in the same light, skeptical after such a public ordeal.
And on a smaller scale, even if Smollett is innocent, the consequences of dropping these charges are detrimental to his career. His role on Empire managed to survive the attack, technically, as he was not fired from Fox 20th Century, but his public image is now in shambles. He will never lose the guilty image that is permanently branded into his reputation. Any role he is given will be a controversial discussion. Viewers will recognize him as the actor that possibly staged a hate crime.
The case has lasted for nearly two months now, dragged on by public debates, sit-down interviews and surprise court appearances. It has been filled with shock, doubt and anger at every stage. Despite the swift and unsettling sealing, Jussie Smollett’s innocence was unstable in the past few weeks and remains unstable in the public eye. The news that came early in the year is still affecting us now and will continue to. Victims, in a society where they already struggle to be believed, will have to deal with the aftermath of this event for years to come.
Featured Image Via NBC