Devin Carter, A&E Writer
I, like many others, was shocked when I heard of the attack on Empire star Jussie Smollett, and very saddened to hear his account of the incident. A gay black man, Smollett claimed that two men jumped him in the night, called him homophobic and racial slurs, and fled after dousing him with bleach and tying a noose around his neck. It was an obvious hate crime, and an outrage. And yet, there was a silver lining in the fact that an attack on a member of the LGBTQ community had sparked such outrage, and even President Trump condemned the attack when he had been hesitant to condemn violent acts on other occasions. I thought that this hate crime could eventually blossom into sometime good, and might even help to bring people together despite their disagreements concerning LGBTQ rights and racial inequality.
And then, the unthinkable happened. After the questioning of two suspects, the police released them, and sources started claiming that Smollett may have orchestrated his own assault. Apparently, the two suspects who were brought in for questioning are brothers who both know Smollett, with one of them even working with him on his show, Empire. According to the brothers, Smollett paid them to fake the attack.
I am a believer in due process. Because of this, I am not going to jump to conclusions. I will say, however, that if this attack was indeed orchestrated by Smollett, then he should be punished as severely as the law will allow.
That this attack was a hate crime was unfortunately not too surprising when one considers on how shaky tolerance of LGBTQ people has been in this county. Most members of the LGBTQ community have faced disapproval all of their lives, and many of them have been the victims of hate crimes themselves. In many ways, they were treated like second class citizens until a recent change in their favor over the last twenty or so years. Despite their successes, such as the legalization of same-sex marriage, people of the LGBTQ community still face hardships, both legally and socially, and in many ways do not enjoy the same rights as everybody else. Our country is at a major crossroads, with sharp disagreements concerning how we as a society should view and treat LGBTQ people. And then, of course, there is the racial aspect of this attack. African Americans have been fighting racial violence for centuries in this country, and it seemed at first that the attack on Jussie Smollett was yet another example of such violence.
If we are going to be a tolerant society, we must set precedents and show that these heinous acts are unacceptable, and punish hate crime offenders to the fullest extent of the law. However, the same must also be said for somebody who stages an incident such as this one, because they will have caused just as much, if not more, damage to the racial equality and LGBTQ causes by their own actions.
While both the racial and homophobic aspects of this assault are equally outrageous, I do not think the damage to both racial equality and the LGBTQ community will be equal, I think the LGBTQ community is likely to be damaged even more so than the African American community will be. While there is unfortunately a very long list of racial hate crimes and injustices in our country’s history, opponents of LGBTQ rights have not yet had that single, unifying incident to unite them against the LGBTQ community. At least, not in my lifetime. I think they might have that now, if it turns out that this assault was staged by Smollett.
Acceptance of LGBTQ people is still only marginal in this country, and they are still battling for many legal rights. Because of the current social and political climate, events like what happened to Smollett take on extra importance, and reactions to them will always be extreme. But now there is the possibility of him faking this attack. I will not assume in this article that he is guilty, because there simply is not enough evidence at the moment. However, if he is indeed found guilty, the law should be used against him in the same way it would have been used against his supposed attackers.
Faking an attack such as this one, and bringing things like politics, race, and LGBTQ toleration into the mix, could do an immeasurable amount of damage to all of the groups he identifies with as they struggle for legitimacy within a society that in many ways looks to deny them and view them as outcasts. The credibility of the struggle for LGBTQ rights could tarnished forever in the eyes of many, and Jussie Smollett will always be remembered as an example of how people will lie in order to lie to you about their struggles.
Of course, if you were to approach this logically, you would see that this is just one person who may have lied about an incident. Unfortunately, logic often gets thrown out the window when it comes to toleration of people who are different from one another. People are always looking for reasons to discredit the struggles of African Americans in the country, and LGBTQ acceptance also has vocal detractors who are always looking to legitimize their claims against equality. If found guilty, Jussie Smollett may have given them their rallying cry, their greatest non-religious firepower yet, and this will also only further complicate race relations.
I am always in pursuit of the truth. As I said before, Jussie Smollett right now is a victim of an assault that is currently under investigation. If that investigation reveals that he was in fact behind a deception, then we need to make an example out of him in similar ways we would perpetrators of hate crimes. Because regardless of who was behind it, the damage that this may have done to both African Americans and the LGBTQ community is immeasurable, and should be punished accordingly.
Editor’s note: After the writing of this column but before printing new information has been released. Jussie Smollett was charged Wednesday, February 21, for making a false police report when he claimed to have been assaulted by racist and anti-gay attackers.