Jussie Smollett: Reactions reveal a warped vision of social justice writ large

Mr. Smollett lied to the police and fanned the simmering flames of racial resentment, but many progressives think he’s not to blame.  Instead, it’s the justice system itself or perhaps local politics in Cook County, anything but the man who perpetrated the crime.

Last week, Jussie Smollet was convicted by a jury of his peers on five out of six counts including lying to the police and obstructing justice for intentionally planning and perpetrating a sick racial hoax.  The disgraced actor and singer had hired two acquaintances to “attack” him on a Chicago street, douse him with some unknown liquid and put a noose around his neck, so he could claim he was assaulted by racist and homophobic Trump supporters.  The story, such as it was, was always ridiculous:  The fake attack occurred in the wee hours of the morning on a frigid night, no explanation was provided for how these supposed MAGA red-hats would recognize Mr. Smollett in the first place, much less be armed with a noose and bleach, and just roaming the streets.  The “victim” then wore the noose and carried his Subway sandwich back to his expensive apartment before calling the police.

Unfortunately, the many obvious questions his claims of a racist and homophobic attack should’ve prompted were quickly cast aside in favor of a more progressive narrative:  Mr. Smollett had been the victim of a cruel hate crime, attacked for the color of his skin and his sexual preference, the same as an uncounted number of other Americans just like him.  The mainstream media and primarily Democrat politicians piled on, mercilessly, painting the United States as a landing seething with hatred and violence under President Trump.  Then candidate Joe Biden tweeted, “What happened to @JussieSmollett must never be tolerated in his country.  We must stand up and demand that we no longer give this hate safe harbor; that homophobia and racism have no place in our streets and in our hearts.  We are with you, Jussie.”  President Biden’s future Vice President, Kamala Harris, also jumped in with a tweet.  “This was an attempted modern day lynching.  No one should have to fear for their life because of their sexuality and the color of their skin.  We must confront this hate.”  Progressive firebrand Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez took a similar approach, tweeting “There is no such thing as ‘racially charged.’ This attack was not ‘possibly’ homophobic.  It was a racist and homophobic attack.  If you don’t like what’s happening to our country, then work to change it.  It is no one’s job to water down or sugar-coat the rise of hate crimes.”

The subtext was clear:  First, there was no doubt whatsoever that Mr. Smollett was attacked in this manner, and no skepticism whatsoever about his claims.  Second, and far more insidious, the country itself, or at least the retrograde Neanderthals presumably in the Republican Party are to claim for their failure to confront the hatred in our midst.  They are the ones giving hate “safe harbor” and a place on our streets.  They are the ones not working “to change it” and watering down or sugar-coating “the rise of hate crimes.” Thus, the fault lies entirely with them, perhaps even more so than the attackers themselves were the story actually true. Unfortunately, Jussie Smollett’s guilty verdict hasn’t prompted any soul searching or improvements in their analysis.

CNN is now busy promoting the idea that Mr. Smollett was only charged and went to trial because he is black in the first place.  Therefore, Isaac Bailey knows “What Jussie Smollett’s guilty verdict tells us” and that’s about the use “of the flawed criminal legal system to put an imperfect Black man in his place even when other options are available and would lead to a more just outcome.”  Mr. Bailey compares the case to Amy Cooper, who was engaged in a racially charged incident in Central Park, when she called the police on a black man in May 2020, claiming he had threatened his life and tried to assault her after they got into a dispute over her unleashed dog.  In his mind, the “criminal legal system should have handled the Smollett case similarly to the Cooper case, because it’s not clear who benefits from the harsh punitive punishments Smollett now faces” and by “appointing a special prosecutor, a judge wasted taxpayer dollars to further punish a man who had already been punished by derailing his burgeoning acting career with his own stupidity.”  Besides, “it’s not particularly surprising that it is the Black man who might lose his freedom while the White woman might parlay her false claim into a payday.”

Of course, Mr. Bailey knows the two cases have next to nothing in common, even admitting the “two cases are of course different.”  For starters, Ms. Cooper was engaged in a real incident with another human being.  She might have exaggerated or even lied about it, but the person was actually there and they apparently got into some kind of dispute over her dog.  It wasn’t staged or planned intentionally, no one was paid to participate like some bad con in a B-movie.  Neither was it her second attempt at stoking racial unrest as it was with Mr. Smollett, nor was Ms. Cooper motivated by personal gain.  In addition, she personally apologized afterwards and the black person involved, Christian Cooper (no relation), accepted the apology, saying it didn’t seem necessary to bring charges.  The police were involved only briefly, ultimately dropping the charges after Ms. Cooper took part in a program to address racial biases.  On the other hand, the Chicago police assigned 12 detectives to Mr. Smollett’s case, spending some $130,000, and the FBI was also involved.  To this day, he maintains his innocence and said he never lied.  He could’ve confessed and likely plead the charges down, but chose not to.  This is entirely on him and his own arrogance, but Mr. Bailey would prefer to blame the justice system itself.

He is not the only one, either.  Zak Cheney-Rice, writing for New York Magazine, insists this “wasn’t about Jussie Smollett” at all, believing instead that “the matter of his guilt has eclipsed the bigger question of whether he should have been prosecuted at all.”  Mr. Cheney-Rice seems to believe Mr. Smollett was prosecuted for primarily local political reasons, because a decade ago Cook County had “trampled ethical and legal boundaries” while pursuing “slam-dunk” convictions.  The corrupt prosecutor who originally dismissed the charges, Kim Foxx, attempted to change all that by turning away some 5,000 cases, “mostly concerning low-level shoplifting and drug offenses,” after she was elected in 2016.  According to Mr. Cheney-Rice, she “made good on many of her campaign promises” and oversaw “dips in crime,” which must be excluding the murder rate as 2021 is expected to be the worst in that regard since 1996.  Regardless, this making good on her promises apparently infuriated the police for some unsaid reason and the Jussie Smollett situation “was all the opportunity her opponents needed.” In other words, poor Mr. Smollett was completely railroaded, the victim rather than the perpetrator.  Even worse, the political fall out nationwide has put conservatives in control of the narrative.  “And they’re winning. Their framing of the Smollett case has turned what used to be a local police vendetta into a national cause. The right of prosecutors to be lenient in a region with one of the most barbaric criminal-justice track records in the United States is now being openly disputed by state-level lawmakers. This was always the point, of course. Jussie Smollett was just them getting lucky.”

Nor is Mr. Cheney-Rice alone in covering the story from the “evil” conservatives are winning perspective.  MSNBC opinion columnist Zach Stafford can’t even bring himself to admit that Mr. Smollett is guilty, noting this not once, but twice.  He wonders whether Mr. Smollett “is wrongly being punished or if he did stage an elaborate hoax, as the jury decided,” as if there was any doubt.  For good measure, Mr. Stafford adds later, “Sure, Smollett may have lied — or at least was found guilty of it.”  Either way, the real winner here is Donald Trump somehow or another.  “It doesn’t matter if the actor, who starred on ‘Empire,’ really was beaten up by people yelling ‘This is MAGA country!’”  All that matters is the “indisputable victims of hate crimes will now carry an even heavier burden of suspicion” and the “only winners found as the dust settles are the members of the right,” those who have “made the Smollett case their go-to example for how the left operates and how it wrongly makes villains out of Donald Trump supporters.”  In this warped reasoning, Mr. Smollett himself bears absolutely no blame at all, nor is it relevant that this is precisely how the left operates as evidenced by these very examples.  The narrative is king, and it must be bent to the overarching notion that black and LGBTQ+ people are getting beaten in the streets on a daily basis, even if the most high profile examples turn out to be lies.  Incredibly, Mr. Stafford accuses Mr. Trump of “gaslighting” America, while of course gaslighting everyone himself.

Alas, none of this is surprising:  Social justice demands group accountability rather than individual justiceThe details of a specific case or the culpability of an individual are irrelevant in this regard, and it doesn’t matter whether or not Mr. Smollett exploited racial tension for his own gain, lied to the police department, or wasted valuable resources that could have been used solving real crimes. These truths are all subservient to the greater “truth” that conservatives in general and Donald Trump supporters in particular are actively waging a war against people of color and the LGBTQ+ community, unleashing unchecked hate in the country for their own political ambitions.  Lest there by an doubt:  You and your family will readily be sacrificed on this insane altar.  It’s only a matter of time before your individual rights get in the way of their progressive goals.

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