Congratulations, members of the Law & Order: Social Media Unit.
I’m sure some of you are feeling mighty vindicated in the wake of Jussie Smollett’s arrest. Nearly a month after the “Empire” actor drew an outpouring of national sympathy for a racist and homophobic attack in downtown Chicago, he was arrested on Thursday for allegedly faking a threatening letter sent to FOX and paying two brothers he knew as extras on the show to attack him.
The motive? A bigger paycheck and career visibility, according to Chicago police.
READ MORE: Jussie Smollett quiet after posting bond, leaving jail
Even though Smollett has yet to actually be convicted of a crime, for some, this dramatic turn of events including his arrest, mugshot, and bail hearing are in itself enough.
Though his “Empire” castmates; filmmaker Ava DuVernay; Presidential candidates-slash-Senators Cory Booker and Kamala Harris; and even comic Mike Epps rushed to Smollett’s defense, others, especially here in my hometown of Chicago, were far more skeptical.
What’s with the need to debunk Smollett’s attack?
The virtual water cooler conversation ran the gamut and included clearly homophobic theories that Smollett was trying to cover injuries related to a Grindr date gone awry. Another theory eluded that the attack was clearly staged because White, MAGA-rabid racists aren’t familiar enough with “Empire” to target its Black, gay star.
I acknowledge that this instant need to debunk Smollett’s attack disgusted me because it is not as far fetched as my fellow Chicagoans would like to believe. I said as much in a Tweet not long after the news broke.
The boldness levels it took to target Jussie Smollett should alarm you. The word “alleged” in “alleged hate crime” is only because of journalistic protocol. This is a hate that is REAL and manifesting. The subhumans who hurt him are symptoms of this country’s grave disease.
— Kyra Kyles (@thekylesfiles) January 30, 2019
But, if we’re questioning why racist and homophobic (a pretty credible pairing) attackers would know an “Empire” star by sight, consider that bigots are well connected to the pulse of pop culture. You don’t exactly have to be a fan of “Empire” to know one of the few Black, openly gay characters on a hit television show. Plus, trolls have ample access to Twitter, Instagram, YouTube and the comment fields under articles like this one.
“Empire,” while not currently at its zenith, is popular enough to have spawned parodies, including “SNL” sketches, one of which aired as recently as this past Saturday. “Them Trumps,” which reimagines 45 as a Lucious Lyon type renamed Darius, is a rather on-point send-up of both the show and the farce we call the White House.
As for behaving as if Chicago’s downtown is some crime-free racial utopia, that’s about as realistic as expecting it to have 75-degree temperatures in December.
READ MORE: Nigerian brothers confirmed to be in surveillance video showing attack against Jussie Smollett
It was barely two years ago in that very same downtown area that a White nutcase spat on a fellow Starbucks patron, who is Black, and told him his children were “disposable vermin” before calling another Black man a slave, according to CNN.
Even if you discount that disgusting example, the center of the city is not too far from some of its most racist neighborhoods, including Bridgeport. For those who just come around here for the Taste of Chicago and do not know the actual lay of the land, Bridgeport is the same problematic neighborhood where last August, a White man, later determined to be a firefighter, pulled a gun on a Black man who was merely running errands. The White man pretended to be a police officer to justify his overzealous protection of “his” neighborhood. The incident was not even adequately investigated months after it took place, according to the victim, Jermayne Smith, who told CBS-2 that the gun wielder said: “What are you doing in the neighborhood? Get on the ground before I shoot you.”
Stories like those may sound like scenes from “Mississippi Burning” but they are not ripped from a 1950s headline. This is in fact America today.
This is partly why I immediately supported Smollett. I could honestly conceive of no reason why a gifted actor, singer and activist for human rights would put his promising career in jeopardy.
READ MORE: Defense to rest case a day after Chicago officer who killed Laquan McDonald testified
But my innate understanding of the Chicago way and professional experience with Smollett from my days at EBONY, is not the only reason I didn’t break out my cereal box badge and try to prove him to be a whole lie.
The biggest reason is that the entity so convinced of, so disgusted by his so-called fraudulent actions is the same entity who leaked “Gossip Girl”-level information about this case like clockwork.
It’s also the same entity who, not so many months ago, failed to stage a similar big, bad press conference (such as they did in the wake of Smollett’s arrest) to disavow former police officer Jason Van Dyke.
It would seem that Van Dyke would be far more deserving of a public shunning, as he was convicted of the murder of 17-year-old LaQuan McDonald after “faking” that McDonald posed a threat to him. The fury that Chicago Police Superintendent Eddie Johnson displayed today about Smollett’s supposed flouting of the truth was markedly absent in his milquetoast statement regarding the Van Dyke verdict, considering the trial proved one of his own had lied, and clearly tried to press others to lie as well. These untruths sent a young Black teenager to his grave after 16 shots and initiated a city cover-up worthy of a “Law & Order” season finale.
Playing for the wrong team
While some of my fellow Chicagoans are busy gloating about their “True Detective” instincts or bemoaning the blow to Chicago’s reputation, I am more saddened that this incident reveals members of marginalized groups are a lot harder on our own than we are on those who actually oppress us.
Smollett, as an individual, isn’t capable of setting any group of individuals, Black or gay, back in history any more than Liam Neeson has turned the progress clock back for the Irish or the actions of hundreds of Barbecue Beckys actually besmirching White womanhood.
More pointedly, if you find yourself on the same side as repugnant pundit Tucker Carlson or the MAGA maniacs who feel “vindicated” this is the ONE time they aren’t at fault, I’m not sure that warrants a congratulations.
That definitely doesn’t sound like the roster of a winning team. Does it to you?
Kyra Kyles is a nationally known multiplatform media executive, author, and speaker on media diversity. In addition to her 20-plus years as a journalist, including a tenure as Editor-in-Chief and Senior Vice President of Digital at EBONY and a multimedia correspondent/columnist for the Tribune Company, Kyra is the Chicago-based co-founder of content development collective, Myth Lab Entertainment and a contributor to outlets including TheGrio and Bustle. Follow and interact with her via @thekylesfiles on Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter.
The post OPINION: Chicago and it’s police department are hypocritical as hell for blaming Jussie Smollett for ‘smearing’ the city appeared first on theGrio.