Jussie Smollett has been charged with disorderly conduct for allegedly filing a false police report that claimed he was the victim of a racist, homophobic attack in Chicago last month, per the Chicago Tribune. If found guilty, the Empire actor could face probation or a prison sentence of up to three years.
Anthony Guglielmi, the chief communications officer and lead spokesman for the Chicago Police Department, broke the news on Twitter. He said Smollett is under investigation for a Class 4 felony and detectives are presenting evidence before a jury.
The Smollett investigation was a spectacle from the start, and very difficult to follow. In the report he filed with police, Smollett alleged two masked men shouted racial and homophobic slurs at him. They beat him up, tied a noose around his neck, and poured bleach over his body. He said they also yelled, "This is MAGA country!"
During police's hunt for the perpetrators, they received information that forced them to "shift the trajectory" of the case and pivot toward the possibility Smollett was an "active participant" in his own attack. The case shifted after brothers Olabinjo and Abimbola Osundairo — one appeared on Empire as an extra while the other worked as Smollett's personal trainer — testified Smollett paid them $3,000 to carry out the assault. The actor allegedly felt 20th Century Fox didn't show enough concern over a racist letter he received weeks before. The brothers claimed the three "rehearsed" the attack days prior, and that Smollett paid for the items that were used.
Smollett's camp denies that he played a part in staging the attack and says the actor is "angered and devastated by recent reports that the perpetrators are individuals he is familiar with." They claim that while one of the perpetrators is someone Smollett has previously worked with, "it is impossible to believe that this person could have played a role in the crime against Jussie or would falsely claim Jussie’s complicity."
Then, on the evening of Wednesday, February 20, Smollett was officially charged for falsifying the hate crime.
If — and this is a big "if" — Smollett did falsify the report, let's not forget hate crimes do happen, and that a large chunk of them are against black people. Hoaxes account for a tiny percentage of all reported hate crimes, and real victims should not be discredited because of exaggerated or falsified attacks. Of the thousands of hate crimes perpetrated every year, the majority are fueled by race, religion, and sexual orientation.
In the event Smollett is convicted of the charge, let's take stock of how we approach these issues. Let's not allow ourselves to discredit disenfranchised black and LGBTQ communities that suffer frequent violence and discrimination.
Just because someone lies about a hate crime doesn't mean other people seeking justice are also crying wolf.