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Chicago’s mayor and police superintendent are livid about prosecutors dropping charges against Jussie Smollett, the black and gay actor accused of faking a hate crime against himself in January.
Mayor Rahm Emanuel and Superintendent Eddie Johnson held a press conference Tuesday, just hours after the state’s attorney’s office announced that all 16 charges against Smollett were being dropped. The most serious offense, falsifying a police report, carried a maximum sentence of five years in prison.
It’s clear that Chicago officials were blindsided — and infuriated — by the news.
“We found out just about when you all did,” Johnson said.
“How dare him. How dare him,” Emanuel said, referring to Smollett.
Smollett had told police said that two masked men — screaming “MAGA country” and racist and homophobic slurs — attacked him on the streets of Chicago one night in late January. He said they beat him, poured bleach on him, and put a noose around his neck. By Feb. 21, police had arrested Smollett and said he’d paid two brothers $3,500 to stage the attack.
On Tuesday, however, prosecutors said they’d reviewed “all of the facts and circumstances of the case,” like Smollett’s volunteer service, and decided to dismiss the charges against him. Smollett’s lawyers said that his record was being cleared, his case sealed, and that he would forfeit the $10,000 that he paid as part of his bond.
“Do I think justice was served? No,” Johnson said. “I think this city is still owed an apology.”
“America could know the truth. But they chose to hide behind secrecy and broker a deal to circumvent the justice system,” he continued.
Johnson and Emanuel stressed that the Cook County grand jury reviewed only a sliver of evidence in the case and concluded it was sufficient to bring charges against Smollett. Because Smollett’s case was sealed by a judge, however, that evidence will not be available to the public.
Earlier on Tuesday, Smollett maintained his innocence in a press conference alongside his lawyer Patricia Brown Holmes. “I’ve been truthful and consistent on every single level since day one,” Smollett said. “I would not be my mother’s son if I had done one drop of what I was accused of. This has been an incredibly difficult time, one of the worst in my life.”
That only made Emanuel and Johnson more angry.
“There’s no sense of ownership of what he’s done. He says he has been wronged? This is an unbelievable let-off, scot-free. No sense of moral responsibility, besmirching the name of the city,” Emanuel said. “Is there no decency in this man?”
Emanuel said the $10,000 that Smollett forfeited “doesn’t come even close to what the city spent on resources” to investigate his claims. “Our officers did hard work day in and day out working to unwind what happened that night,” he said. “The city saw its reputation dragged through the mud.”
Prosecutors had no issue with the police investigation or the evidence that led to the charges against Smollett, assistant state’s attorney Joe Magats told the New York Times. “We didn’t exonerate him,” Magats said. “Here’s the thing: We work to prioritize violent crime and the drivers of violent crime. Public safety is our number one priority. I don’t see Jussie Smollett as a threat to public safety.”
In addition to the financial cost of the investigation, Emanuel also stressed the ethical cost of abusing hate-crime laws that protect LGBTQ people from discrimination and violence.
“To use that law, the principles and values behind that law, to self-promote your career, is a cost that comes to all the individuals, gay men and women, who may say they were a victim of a hate crime and who will be doubted,” Emanuel said.
“This was a hoax on the city, a hoax on hate crimes, a hoax on people with good values — people who were empathetic at first and he used that empathy for one reason,” the mayor added. “It is wrong. Full stop.”
Cover image: Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel, right, and Chicago Police Superintendent Eddie Johnson appear at a news conference in Chicago, Tuesday, March 26, 2019, after prosecutors abruptly dropped all charges against "Empire" actor Jussie Smollett, abandoning the case barely five weeks after he was accused of lying to police about being the target of a racist, anti-gay attack in downtown Chicago. (AP Photo/Teresa Crawford)