A Cook County grand jury indicted Smollett in a Cook County court on March 14 on 16 counts of disorderly conduct, to which Smollett pled not guilty.
“The media has been shameless in this,” Co-Chairperson and Field Organizer of the Chicago Alliance Against Racist and Political Repression Frank Chapman told F Newsmagazine. “I have never seen that many television cameras and reporters in any case I’ve been at court for. Laquan MacDonald’s case was a high-profile case but they didn’t stack it up like that … Why the Roman carnival? Because he’s famous, black and gay.”
Smollett allegedly staged an attack and then claimed he was the victim of a hate crime. Chicago Police Superintendent Eddie Johnson announced at a press conference on February 21 that Smollett paid two men he knew $3,500 to fake the attack.
Superintendent Johnson criticized the media attention on the case, noting that he wished “the families of gun violence in this city got this much attention.” He maintained that Smollett had been treated as a victim until “we received evidence that led detectives in another direction.”
“This publicity stunt was a scar that Chicago didn’t earn and certainly didn’t deserve,” Johnson said.
Smollett has also been charged with a single felony count for allegedly faking receiving hate mail the week before the attack.
Prosecutors outlined their case against Smollett at the conference, claiming that Smollett, dissatisfied with his salary, instructed his alleged attackers to put a rope around his neck, call slurs, and pour gasoline over him. The prosecution speculated that Smollett thought this attack would help promote his career.
Tina Nguyen for Hive observed the Smollett case as an example of the GOP’s resentment for being labelled a racist party. “The opportunity to take the rare, public victory lap, then, was irresistible for some,” Nguyen wrote. Debra Heine was one of the many reporters to take this lap.
“There were inconsistencies in Smollett’s story from the beginning, not to mention a continuous flow of leaks from Chicago cops indicating that they were investigating a potential hoax,” Heine wrote for PJ media.
In an article for AZ Central, Bill Goodykoontz responded as a former police reporter to accusations of media bias, writing that reporters must “go with as much information as you can as quickly as you can get it; there is a tacit understanding on everyone’s part that the story will evolve.”
In a statement released February 16, Smollett’s attorneys wrote that “like any other citizen, Mr. Smollett enjoys the presumption of innocence, particularly when there has been an investigation like this one where information, both true and false, has been repeatedly leaked.”
On Twitter, Ava DuVernay spoke against rushing to accept Smollett’s guilt.
“Despite the inconsistencies, I can’t blindly believe Chicago PD,” DuVernay wrote. “The department that covered up shooting Laquan McDonald over a dozen times? … I’ll wait. Whatever the outcome, this won’t stop me from believing others. It can’t.”
When speaking on the phone with F Newsmagazine, Chapman voiced his own doubts about the Chicago Police Department. “I don’t know what motivated the police but I know they’re not to be trusted, based on past actions. They portray themselves as pursuers of justice in hate crime cases, but that’s not their record,” he told F News.
“The Chicago Police Department did something they very rarely do in the African American community: they did a thorough investigation and came up with evidence within 48 hours… of a hoax. That’s energy they don’t usually spend on our community.”
Activist and CEO of Project Islamic Hope Najee Ali held a press conference denouncing the alleged actions of Smollett.
“Jussie Smollett is nothing but a modern-day version of Tawana Brawley,” Ali said, referring to the alleged rape of Tawana Brawley in 1987. Brawley, then 15, accused four white men of raping her and leaving her in a garbage bag, covered in feces, with racial slurs scrawled on her body. A grand jury concluded that Brawley was not the victim of sexual assault that night and she may have staged the state in which she was found.
“Smollett’s actions and lies will make real incidents of racists attacks and homophobia much easier to immediately dismiss,” said Ali in his statement.
When asked about Ali’s statement, Chapman was critical: “Who gave him investigative powers? Has that organisation done their own investigation or are they going by what the police said? For people to jump the gun … that’s contempt prior to investigation. They don’t have the authority to try him. You don’t determine guilt and evidence like this.”